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College Talk

How to get your degree without all the debt.

Article courtesy of Member One Federal Credit Union

American college grads now collectively owe about $1.5 trillion in student loans—and nearly two-thirds of that debt is held by women. While it’s true that more women than men are now attending college, on a student-per-student basis, women are borrowing more than men—and may face a harder time paying that debt off, given the gender wage gap that continues to exist. College can still be a good investment in your future, but the less borrowed the better. Here’s what you, or the college-bound young woman in your life, can do to help minimize student debt. 

Stay open-minded when choosing a college. 

Many families go by “sticker price” when deciding on a school, but that can be a mistake because the published tuition may not be what you’re expected to pay. Some pricy private schools actually have more available aid to offer to qualified, less affluent students. On the other hand, don’t assume that a bigger tuition bill equals a better education. Many state schools today offer quality degree programs comparable to the big names. Apply to a mix of public and private colleges and favor the school that offers you the best financial aid package. And don’t overlook community colleges. Two years at one of the 23 schools in the Virginia community college system can save you tens of thousands in tuition. 

Appeal your financial aid. 

Many families don’t realize that a financial aid offer is potentially negotiable. We’ve all heard that women are less likely than men to negotiate, so here’s a chance to change that. If your preferred college offers you a financial aid package that’s insufficient, let them know that you’d love to enroll but need more help making it affordable. If another school has offered you a better aid package, mention that and ask your dream school whether they’d be able to match it. 

Keep hustling. 

Working through college doesn’t have to be detrimental to grades, and it can actually be an opportunity to gain career-relevant skills for the future. Work-study programs are convenient because they’re on campus and allow student employees to tackle homework during downtime. Co-operative education programs provide structured work experiences where students gain real-world knowledge while getting paid and earning college credit. And don’t forget, college is a great time to tap into your entrepreneurial spirit! Modcloth’s Susan Gregg Koger is one example of a female entrepreneur who got started in her dorm room. 

Make scholarship searching a priority. 

Yes, finding and applying to scholarships takes work—so treat it like a job because it can potentially pay very well. Every dollar you’re awarded in scholarships is potentially one less dollar you’ll have to borrow. Dedicate at least a few hours each week to scholarship applications, and look for opportunities in creative places where you might face less competition. Think community organizations you belong to, your parents’ employers, or even your local bank or credit union. 

Join Member One here each month for more money-saving tips and financial advice! Be sure to visit their website, www.memberonefcu.com, for more info on their products and services. Member One Federal Credit Union is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration.