As they say, death and taxes are the only two certainties in life.  Well, the rising cost of college tuition is making a play to be number three on that list.  From 1980 to 2014, college tuition increased by 260% compared to only 120% on consumer items, and it’s not slowing down.  In 2014, almost 71% of students graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree came out with student loans.  According to, the current average student loan debt is around $32,731.  Those looking at advanced degrees are often over $100,000 in debt by the time they finish. It’s a scary thought.  How is a recent graduate supposed to start saving for the future when they are still paying for the past?

Believe it or not, it is possible to graduate from college without being tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.  Almost 30% of students do it now.  Freedom from this debt can give you an incredible head-start in life.  It just takes some extra work, perseverance, and a little creative thinking.

There are several ways to tackle this issue, and I would suggest using most, if not all.  With tuition continuing to rise, it’s essential to start early.  So, we will start there.

Saving Before College

Several things can be done in the years leading up to your child going to college that can help.  Here is a list of options that both parents and students can take advantage of while planning.

  • Parents helping with part or all of the college tuition – While it is fantastic if you can afford to send your child to college and pay for it outright, that is hard for most parents to do.  Giving your child the responsibility for helping to pay for their advanced education is not unreasonable and can help build character.  Consider making deals with them, such as matching whatever they can save.  This is where the creativity comes in.  There are many expenses outside of tuition.  Use those to negotiate.
  • 529 Plans & Educational Savings Accounts – Both of these are options that parents, grandparents, and almost anyone can contribute too to help pay for college.  While they have some tax advantages, there are some restrictions, so it is vital to research and determine if they are right for your situation.  Resource:
  • Your child works to save money for their college fund – There is no reason that our children cannot contribute to their future education.  Again, this can be an excellent way for them to learn responsibility.
  • Prior Learning Assessments – PLAs allow students to gain college credit while still in high school.  Depending on the high school, these include such things as AP courses, International Baccalaureate, CAEL portfolio submissions, and other non-standard learning credits.  These are often taken at a fraction of the cost of college credits and shorten your time to graduation.
  • Dual Enrollment Programs – These programs allow high school students to take college-level courses for credit alongside their high school courses.  These are usually taken at local community colleges alongside their high school courses.  Students in these programs often pay less than half the cost of tuition and sometimes no fee at all.  Resource:

Free Money

Free money is great because it doesn’t have to be paid back, and you just might be surprised at how much there is available.

  • Scholarships – Most of us are aware of scholarships given by schools but may not understand that they can come from any number of other sources, such as organizations and corporations. It’s essential to start early and apply for as many as possible.  Small amounts add up in the long run.  Resource:
  • Grants – While scholarships are usually awarded on merit, grants provide need-based funding to students.  Grants are generally offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so it is crucial to start early.  Resources:, or
  • Work-Study – These jobs are offered through a federally funded program and can help students get part-time work through their school.  All you have to do is demonstrate a financial need to be eligible.  Check with your school’s financial aid office to find out if your school offers work-study positions and how to apply.
  • Military Service – Most are aware of the G.I. Bills, but the federal government, along with many nonprofit organizations, help military members and veterans afford college.  They can pursue scholarships, grants, and federal student loans that are specifically intended for them.

Just Plain Common Sense

Let’s talk about reality!  If you choose an Ivy League or 4-year private university, tuition will be much more expensive than if you decided to attend a state school.  In-state vs. out-of-state can play a significant difference in price. It’s time to get money smart and do the math.  Maybe you attend community college for two years and then transfer to a 4-year school.  Most universities have credit share programs with community colleges.  Do your homework first, and you can save big bucks with this plan.

Plan ahead, do the research and work, and your kids can graduate college without student loan debt.  Almost $3 Billion goes unclaimed each year, mostly due to students not filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms to see if they qualify.  Higher education doesn’t have to mean your kids are tied to student loans for the rest of their lives.  Help guide them through this process and start these conversations early.

FAFSA Resource:

Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash