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I have a close friend who had to delay her wedding plans because of the "anti-dowry" that is her student loan debt. Her boyfriend just doesn't want to be saddled with her tens of thousands of dollars of debt, especially when "job security" is a thing of the past. In my case, it took me until age 30 to pay off my college loan debts.
I don't want my two sons to be paying off their college loan debt when their own children are ready for college. I made the firm decision to steer my sons away from student loans. I refuse to co-sign for a student loan even though I did not save for my sons' college. Instead of just giving our boys money for college, we came up with a few solutions for a pay-as-you-go college education.
Here are the ways we work together as a family to get the two boys through college without student loan debt.
Start college in high school
My older son earned 22 credits for college through Advanced Placement classes while in high school. He will be able to graduate a semester early from college and have the luxury of taking a lighter load some semesters. My younger son takes dual enrollment classes, which means he earns college and high school credit simultaneously. Many community colleges and public schools offer the free dual enrollment programs.
Choose community college first
By taking community college classes for a year, my son will be able to get all of the general education requirements at a cheaper price. He can save money by living at home for a year, and earn money at a part-time job.
Carpool to cut costs
My sons are coordinating their class schedules so they can carpool to save costs. Taking the same courses also allows them to save money on college textbooks. Some community colleges are within biking or walking distance for students who live at home. My son will use his car when he transfers to the university to commute to his part-time job off campus.
Keep up with scholarship requirements
We moved to Florida specifically because we knew the state offered to pay for students' college tuition at Florida colleges and universities. They had to volunteer, keep a certain grade point average and earn high enough SAT scores for the "Bright Futures" scholarship program. We had to keep on top of the yearly legislative changes. For example, the number of volunteer hours required will increase next year, which will affect my younger son.
Save for room and board
Because I know my older son plans to live in a dormitory his sophomore year, we are already budgeting for the expense. My son knows exactly how much he needs to pay for the dormitory and for the meal card or college food plan. The scholarships pay much of the tuition costs. If my son had not earned tuition money, he probably would have to skip living on campus. It's good to learn about tradeoffs and financial responsibility at an early age. Living in a dormitory, if it fits into the family budget, can be a great experience.
My sons are avoiding the debt-for-diploma trap. Statistically that means they are less likely to be forced to move back home as part of the struggling "Boomerang generation." They are also less likely to have to settle for jobs just to pay off student loan debt or, like my friend, delay a wedding.
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