Words "Debt" written in magnetic letters.

“Debt” by Christian Schnettelker
Licensed under CC-BY 2.0
Original Source via Flickr

According to a recent report, student loan debt is projected to overtake mortgage debt by the year 2042. As someone who has carried a mortgage-sized student debt for the last 10 years, I’m not surprised. A degree comes with a hefty price tag, and if you aren’t independently wealthy, then you need to find ways to foot the bill. When I enrolled in my first graduate program, I didn’t know anything about the different options out there. Because of that, I took on too many student loans for too much money with too few benefits.

I don’t want you to make the same mistakes as I did, so here are some tips to help you avoid massive student debt and the headaches that come with it:

Check with your employer.

If you work for a big company, they may have some sort of tuition reimbursement policy in place. Even some small companies offer tuition benefits. Moreover, some workplaces have special partnerships with certain schools, so you can get X % of your tuition bill paid if you go to Y University. Check with your benefits manager before you apply!

Do some comparison shopping

15 years ago, there were only a few online schools in the game. Now, online schools are everywhere! Most traditional universities have full programs online, too. So, you have plenty of options to choose from. Before you accept enrollment to a program, make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.  Look at the cost per credit. Look at online student reviews to see if the valuation is on point.

Pay per term

There are some popular online schools that charge by term instead of credit. You pay a flat fee per term, and then you complete as much work as possible within that timeframe. The format doesn’t work for everyone, but if you’re a fast learner who likes to work independently, then you might want to check out a school with a pay per term tuition policy.

Test out of core requirements

Many schools allow you to test out of certain subjects, including basic composition and math courses. You don’t want to test out of courses within your major. However, you can test out of some of those pesky general education requirements. The CLEP exam is one of the most popular credit by examination programs. However, there are other options, including the DSST program, a program that allows service members to gain credit for the knowledge they’ve accumulated during their military training and travels. Check with your prospective schools. Learn their policies. Some schools may let you test out of 3 credits; others may allow you to test out of 12 credits. Testing out of courses is a fantastic way to save some cash!

Negotiate your financial aid package

Never take a first offer. Schools need students, and you can use that to your advantage. Talk to your financial aid officer and tell them what you can and cannot swing. They may be able to find some untapped funds for you!

Only borrow what you need

Student loans are intended to cover tuition and other costs directly related to your education (books, housing, facility fees). However, if you’re an independent online student, you shouldn’t need as much money as a dependent student living on campus. Only borrow what you need! Things might be tight for a while, but you won’t have an exorbitant amount of debt when you’re done.

Bottom line: Getting a degree doesn’t have to break the bank. Do your research and look for the best financing options before you commit to anything.