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If you're wondering how to afford college, consider alternative ways to pay for higher education such as Tuition Installment Plans and dual enrollment.

How Can I Afford College? Four Steps to Help You Get There

We’ve all heard the startling statistics about student loan debt. And, yes, the investment of a college degree often requires loans as part of your financial aid package.

But even if loans are necessary to help you pay for college, you don’t have to follow a trend that tags a huge load of debt to your name before you even have a chance to start your career.

If affording college sounds impossible to you, or not worth the price tag in the end, it’s probably because you’ve never considered there was another, better way to pay for college.

Here are a few steps to take to incur less debt when you graduate:

Step 1: Financial Aid and Planning

You do not – we repeat – do not have to start your college career with financial blinders on. The class of 2018 graduated with an average debt of more than $29,000.

If the majority of those same students had saved roughly $500/month for the duration of their college career, they could’ve graduated nearly debt free. If that is too lofty a goal, you could even weigh how to reduce your course load and pick up a side hustle to keep your budget more manageable.

Debt often occurs out of a lack of proper perspective. Look at the big picture of your time in college; not as a lump sum, but as a series of course credits and projected living expenses.

This is, for some students, their first foray into the “real world” — and while you’re learning about history and philosophy, you can learn how to budget, too.

Some schools, like Regent offer a Tuition Installment (TIP) plan, which breaks each semester into (five) monthly or semi-monthly (8) payments. Learn more about Regent’s tuition and costs.

Step 2: AP and Dual Enrollment Classes, Transfer Credit, and Military Credit

If you’re early on in your college search, you might not be aware that there are ways to earn college credits toward your degree while you’re still in high school.

AP and Dual Enrollment courses are, of course, a bit more challenging than your standard high school class. However, the extra work you put into those classes may save you from a big bill later on.

For more seasoned students, be sure to consider previous courses you’ve completed through other colleges or military experience. Most universities work hard to help maximize your transfer credit eligibility.

Step 3: Community College or Exploring Online Options

Another great way to save money is to go start at a college close to home, or look into colleges that offer online classrooms. This will allow you to live at home, if that’s an option, and save money on living expenses while you save up for your dream college.

Your diploma will be the same at the end of your college career, whether you spend all four years, or just a few semesters there!

Just make sure that those credits transfer and are accepted as a part of your school’s curriculum.

Step 4: Get a Job or a Side Hustle

There’s a lot of temptation to think of college as a full-time job. And for all intents and purposes, it really is. Those papers don’t write themselves, and comprehensive exams take a lot of preparation. However, all of us must learn to balance competing priorities and make the best use of the time we have in a day. Having a job – whether part- or full-time – can be a great way to save and earn money for your everyday living expenses.

Some employers will even offer a stipend or tuition remission for their employees to pursue their degree.

It’s not an easy thing to sacrifice time with friends or extra sleep on the weekends, but it will be worth saving and keeping your expenses low in the long run. Besides, most of us know our college years are fueled more by extra caffeine and grit than a full night’s sleep in certain seasons.

This is your future; this is your degree; this is your chance to reach for what will become one of the proudest accomplishments of your life. So, grab hold of good perspective, smart planning, and commitment to some extra tenacity. And let go of whatever is standing between you and the life and career you’ve always dreamed of.

This may be the first step into some of the most rewarding years of your life.