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How to avoid college loan debt

Published July 21. 2012 10:55AM

Misericordia University president and economic professor Michael A. MacDowell recently offered a number of suggestions on how students can avoid college loan debt:

*Parents of students should read the fine print on all student loan documents to determine the deferment provisions. For instance, many loans can be forgiven in part or entirely if certain careers are pursued upon graduation. However, according to Jane Dessoye, executive director of Enrollment Management at Misericordia University, you must make sure that you are aware of the provisions of forgiveness.

*Many students build up significant debt to cover tuition as well as credit card and related debt. They live like they have a good-paying, full-time job when they are a student and then, ironically, they are then forced to live like a student when they get their first job. There's plenty of time to spend money after graduation; wait until then.

*Don't borrow too much. Be prudent. Consider part-time work either on- or off-campus. It is interesting that students who work part-time actually do better academically than students who do not work at all. A good student manages his or her time well and can work part-time and go to school. Parenthetically, time management is one of the best life skills anyone can build while in college.

*Try to pay off some of the debt while you are in still in school. Many students set aside a portion of their part-time job income to pay down debt. It is difficult to give up a spring break trip, but doing so and using those funds to pay down debt and using the time to work while others are in Florida will help considerably. The earlier you begin to pay down the debt the less the compound interest you will incur.

*Graduate on time. Believe it or not, the statistics on on-time graduation provided by the federal government for a four-year college degree actually measures degree completion in six years. Large state institutions, oftentimes, fill the classes students need for graduation early. Lack of advising and other services to students at these institutions make for a longer college experience. While it may cost more each year to attend a private school, the cost of an additional one or two years in a state school, coupled with the salary forgone by entering the labor force, sometimes makes private schools less expensive in the long run.

*Don't change majors. Think carefully about a major before making a decision. Don't start taking courses in a specific major as a freshman or first-semester sophomore. Rather, finish your core requirements and/or general education requirements first. These courses transfer much easier if you choose to do so, and you won't waste semesters or years if you change majors or schools down the road.

*Don't change schools. Transferring usually adds at least a semester, if not a year, to your college time. And don't necessarily be swayed by the idea of going to a community college to save money for two years and then transferring. Unless that community college has a close, long-lived cooperative articulation agreement with the four-year institution to which you intend to transfer, you may lose a large number of credits and stay in school much longer, thereby spending more on your college education in the long run.

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