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Stomping the Yard

Four Tips to Ditch Student Debt

Calling all college students!  Our new weekly column, Stomping the Yard, aims to help undergrads excel in their studies and social lives.  JETmag.com’s team of experts will show you how to get it done from the day you move into the dorms to the minute you step off campus for that first job. Submit questions and feedback for The Yard via talkback@jetmag.com.

In a recent report from College Board, the average college student borrowed approximately $7,000.00 in 2012-2013. Multiply that number by four years and many students are graduating close to $30,000.00 in debt. While most would agree that education is a worthwhile investment that will pay for itself over time, that’s a tough pill to swallow with many students graduating without a steady income.

In fact, the unemployment rate for the Class of 2014 (21-24) year olds is 8.5 percent, which is higher than the national average. Worse yet, according to the Economic Policy Institute, about 17 percent of this year’s graduates are underemployed, meaning they have jobs that don’t require the education they just received. Don’t be surprised to find that the barista serving up your Starbucks has a college degree and is desperate to pay back student loans.

Fortunately with some strategic planning, many students can avoid the sting of student debt and graduate without the burden of repayment. Here are four tips to help you out:

1) Start at Community College: At the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), tuition and fees for the first year of college are just over $16,000.00 for a full-time student. On the other hand, at Harper College, a suburban two-year college in the Chicagoland area, a full year of tuition and fees for a full-time student is just under $2,800.00.  That’s more than an 80 percent savings in tuition and fees! The first two years of college usually consist of general education requirements. Students can take those foundational courses for a fraction of the cost, and earn transfer scholarships to a four-year school.

2) Apply for Multiple Scholarships: According to Saltmoney.org, roughly $100 million in scholarships goes un-awarded every year.  Students wrongly assume that just because they don’t have sparkling GPAs that they won’t be eligible for scholarship money. Untrue! There are scholarships in all kinds of non-academic categories: bowling, cheerleading, being left-handed, being the first one in your family to go to college, living in a certain area, majoring in a particular field…the list goes on.  Just because you weren’t the valedictorian, doesn’t mean you’re not eligible for scholarship money.

3) Work at the College You Attend: As I look back at my academic career, I marvel at the fact that I have received in excess of $150,000 worth of education and scarcely paid a dime for tuition. When I was a grad student, my university covered my masters and doctoral degrees because I was a full-time employee. Even though I paid taxes on the graduate tuition, it was a fraction of what it would have cost me out of pocket to earn those degrees. Likewise, colleges have all kinds of tuition benefits for employees who work and earn degrees there. The best time to search for jobs in higher education is between January and April, just after winter break, but before classes end for the semester.

4) Volunteering: If getting a student loan can’t be avoided, look into loan repayment programs such as Americorps or Peace Corps. Each organization has robust opportunities to work off your student debt and serve through teaching, disaster relief, or helping with economic recovery. Successful participants in these programs have had an average of 70 percent of their loan debt forgiven, and many have received monetary stipends as well.

Financing a college education is not something to be entered into lightly. Earning credits on “credit” may seem enticing in the beginning, but can come back to haunt you at graduation time or worse, if you have to drop out. Failure to repay student loans can result in lowered credit scores and keep you from making other large investments like purchasing a home. Doing your research on the front-end can save you lots of money and headache down the road.

Shante-Bishop

Getting TO college is one thing; Getting THROUGH college is quite another. That’s why Dr. Shante’ Bishop offers strategic advice on being successful both in and out of the classroom. From catalogs to cap and gown, Professor Bishop shares what it takes to ‘Stomp the Yard” with confidence and clarity! You can follow Dr. Bishop on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.