So you’ve had quite a summer of fun and now it’s time to go back to school. As your school course load and extracurricular activities kick into high gear, the very real issue of how you’ll pay off your student loans may be hanging over your head. With the average student debt for the graduating class of 2015 at $35,000, you definitely aren’t alone. But you don’t have to wait until you graduate to get a handle on things. Here are some ways you can keep your student loans in check while still in school:
Apply for scholarships.
Can you say “free money?” You don’t necessarily need to have graduated at the top of your class or invented a life-saving device to be awarded scholarships. With the wide range of funding out there, you might be surprised at what you qualify for. Sites such as Fastweb and CollegeNET.com are great places to start looking for scholarships.
Work during the school year.
Having a job while school is in session may be a bit of a balancing act, but the extra income could go toward paying for your expenses to help you take out less student loans. While in grad school Eric Rosenberg of Personal Profitability worked a full-time job while also taking on a full course load. “Earning a full-time accounting income helped me pay many of my costs as they came up, and got me in the habit of making student loan payments early on,” Rosenberg explains.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box: you can start your own side business, open your own Etsy store, or scour sites as Craigslist or TaskRabbit for gigs. You’ll also pick up on some business-savvy skills, which will definitely come in handy when it’s time to job hunt after graduation.
Know what you owe.
If you can’t swing paying off part of your loans while still in school, spend some time looking carefully into loan-repayment options before you graduate, and come up with a game plan for after you graduate. If you are thinking of taking on additional loans on top of your existing ones, look into the terms and at all your options before making a decision.
Start paying off loans while still in school.
As interest on your student loans starts to accrue as soon as they are disbursed, paying off just the interest can help lower your overall debt. If you’re not sure how to do this, you can reach out to a financial aid adviser at your school or directly to your student loan provider.
Revisit student aid options each year.
So maybe you applied for aid for your first year and didn’t get as much financial aid as you would have hoped. If there was a change in your or your family’s financial situation, you may be able to qualify for more aid. It doesn’t hurt to ask, so reach out to your financial aid office to see there is funding available.
Curb other forms of debt.
While taking on student loans, making sure you limit other forms of debt will ensure you don’t find yourself in financial hot water. If you are feeling a little nervous about going overboard, you can use a handy app such as CardNav by CO-OP, if it’s offered by your credit union, to set a limit on the card or receive alerts once you’ve hit a certain amount. You can also opt for a lower spending limit on your card.
While student loans may be overwhelming, you can take steps now to make sure you have a better handle on them. What you do now counts, and the more proactive you are, the less you’ll have to stress about later.