When talking about college debt, the statistics are never encouraging. In fact, the story gets sadder each year. The average recent college graduate has amassed a debt exceeding $35,000 and joins the ranks of 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.3 trillion in education debt. The key is to avoid being a part of this grim statistic by considering some highly effective strategies.
1) When choosing potential colleges, high school students should consider a wide range of schools. Students will find that if they apply to a college that is a tier below the level of school to which they could likely get accepted, the scholarship money will almost certainly be much greater. Students planning to major in business, for example, often seek to gain acceptance to NYU’s Stern School of Business where the cost hovers around $70,000 a year for tuition, fees, room and board. These same students could reasonably expect to be welcomed at St. John’s University in New York, St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and a host of other institutions with impressive business schools, substantially lower costs of attendance, and generous merit money (to attract strong students) which does not get paid back.
2) Once a student has received acceptances from several colleges, compare the scholarship offers. If the student’s first choice college offered less scholarship money than another, parents should call the preferred college, share the competing offer, and ask if they can match it. Also, ask if there are any other scholarships at the college for which the student would be eligible. Colleges are ranked on their yield – the percent of accepted students who actually enroll – and they are often very willing to do what they can so an accepted student will say “yes” to their offer of admission.
3) Be proactive in seeking outside scholarship money. As fans of “Shark Tank” know, there’s a highly effective app called “Scholly” that identifies potential scholarships that are both appropriate and available to college-bound students. Students go to www.myscholly.com or the Apple App Store or Google Play Store to download the application for “Scholly Scholarship Search.” They are asked to answer a question in each of eight categories and, within minutes, provided with a current list of available scholarships that are likely an ideal match. Students should also visit their Guidance Office where applications for local scholarships are available. They will likely offer scholarships in smaller amounts than those of national organizations, however the competition is much less intense.
4) File a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and answer “yes” to the question on whether the student would like to be approved for Work Study. It’s always wise to be eligible for work-related opportunities on campus, particularly if a job comes along to do research for a college professor or partake in some other academic endeavor. Work study is also a great way for students to earn spending money as the last thing they should do is accumulate credit card debit to add to any college debt.
5) Encourage students to raise their G.P.A. and SAT scores. At almost every college, the amount of scholarship money a student is awarded is based somewhat on high school grades, and to a greater extent on SAT scores. By carefully preparing for the SAT, and taking it several times in order to get the best possible score, students can maximize their merit award. This is frequently the easiest and most productive way for students to minimize their student debt.
Susan Alaimo is the founder of SAT Smart. For the past 25 years, SAT Smart’s Ivy League educated tutors have prepared students for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, Subject Tests, AP courses, and all high school subjects. Visit www.SATsmart.com or call 908-369-5362.