5 Creative Ways to Reduce Student Debt

Four people sit on a bench in front of Science Hall at sunset.

Imagine getting your degree, and walking off the stage into your future with no strings attached. How would that feel? Now, let’s face it, this is not reality for the majority of students today, as student loan debt is higher than ever before. The Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit organization that aims to make higher education available and affordable for everyone, reports that the average student loan debt for 2014 New Jersey graduates (the most recent year available) is $28,318. And two years later the number is not getting any lower. In contrast, each year it grows   higher and higher.

Nevertheless, our goal is not to terrify you with alarming data. Instead, we would like to share some ways to eliminate your possibility of becoming a student-loan debt statistic. While writers filled the internet advising students to donate plasma or participate in clinical tests, our not-so-extraordinary life hacks will really help you cut that bill. The main goal is to be smart and mindful about your finances, and your future self will thank you.

Before you start, first, understand how debt works. While, it might seem obvious to you, many do not envision the concept of debt. You borrow the money, and then you have tBird's eye view of a person typing on a laptop perched on their lap, with their legs extended and crossed.o pay it back. Plus, you pay an interest, sort of a fee for lending you money. The idea is quite simple and straightforward. However, the worst part about borrowing money is the illusion that it is yours and you can do anything you want, without worrying about the consequences. Thus, one of our goals within Rowan’s Division of Student Life is to help students properly manage their finances to avoid common mistakes. In this post we will suggest to you five ways to reduce your student loan debt.

1. Spend Responsibly

While for some of you borrowing money to complete your education is inevitable, some view student loans as extra spending money.  When you start your academic journey as a freshman, you want to get the most out of your college experience. Close to your senior year, your enthusiasm for living it up with the social part of “college experience” starts to diminish, as you begin to acknowledge the fast approaching deadline of your student loan debt. Indeed, loans always should be the last option to consider.

What’s important here is to prioritize your needs and make a list of the expenses you need the money for. Eliminate unnecessary stuff: an expensive laptop, an Xbox or a PlayStation, a new wardrobe, mani-pedis, Chipotle outings and daily Starbucks runs. No doubt, these things are very comforting and satisfying. However, while you are in school, try to minimize your spending. Start cutting out shopping trips and restaurant outings now, or else forget about having a fun life for the next 10 years after the graduation, as you repay your debt. Instead of jetting off to Vegas for a vacation, you’ll be putting that extra money toward your student loan, to pay off the fun you had your freshman year.

Remember, the best parts of college life are free: social life, networking, participating in events and activities, joining Greek life or maybe even a sports team. If you lucky enough to have your grants or scholarships cover all the tuition expenses and the dorm, then why do you even need a loan?

2. Alternative Transportation

Owning a car can be very convenient and expensive at the same time. Car payments, insurance, repairs, gas and parking costs are a serious financial burden for a student. Frankly, some people find purchasing a vehicle with the student loan money a wise idea. Well, let’s see! They have to borrow more money to cover the insurance cost, gas and, of course, they still have to pay tuition. And after they graduate, the car is already four years old, and by the time they finish paying off the debt they already need a new car because the one they purchased back in college is falling completely apart. Do you see how this infinite loop works?five-creative-ways-to-reduce-student-debt-picture-_3

For Rowan residents, a bike or a longboard are the most efficient means of transportation. Not only will biking or longboarding save you plenty of money, but it is also beneficial for your health and the environment. Parking is free anywhere you ride. Plus, you will never get a traffic ticket, and no one will ever tow away your nonmotorized vehicle. Besides, you do not even need insurance other than a helmet. For those who want to venture off campus, Rowan offers Zipcar, a car-sharing service where students can borrow cars for as little as $7 per hour, with gas and tolls included in the fee.

On the other hand, for commuters, transportation is one of the major concerns. Carpooling will save you money on gas, tolls and even parking expenses if you will split them with your school buddy. It reduces the amount of carbon and other emissions released into the air. Not to mention, carpooling fights the traffic congestion.

five-creative-ways-to-reduce-student-debt-picture-_43. Books

If you like your books brand new with spotless pages, then the campus bookstore will be your favorite shop for the next four years. The bookstore is the quickest, easiest and most expensive way to buy your books. Sometimes, you can find a used edition at a half-off rate. However, the most affordable option is to buy all of your books online. Likewise, renting your books for a semester will help you save more money.

Before the beginning of the semester, email your professor and find out what books you will need for the class. Many Rowan professors are willing to help students by giving them the option to use an older edition or even by choosing a cheaper book. Find the book online, as soon as you can, to get the cheapest shipping; remember the best deals are always limited. Then place the order and save money!

The last option to consider would be checking with the Campbell Library. Library’s staff members encourage faculty to place department-owned copies of the textbooks on reserve for students to use. And if you are only using one chapter out of the book then ask your professor if the chapter is available via Blackboard or at the library. In the past spring semester, Chemistry, College Composition, Public Relations, Biology and Nursing departments placed a total of 209 items on the library’s reserve (find more information here). In a word, before purchasing a book speak with the librarian, and luckily, you will not need to buy anything at all.    

4. More classes, pay less

five-creative-ways-to-reduce-student-debt-picture-_2We cannot stress enough how beneficial it is for students to maximize how many credits they earn through flat-rate tuition. Essentially, when you register for up to 17 credits, you pay only for 12, getting the other five credits free of charge. By using the flat rate every year until you graduate, you will
save a whole year’s worth of tuition, around $12,000. In the same fashion, if you were thinking about adding a concentration to your major, with the flat-rate tuition you might be able to earn that distinction with no additional tuition dollars, simply by planning ahead.  By the way, your additional credits do not have to be in-class courses. You can easily take them online too.

5. Tuition Reimbursement Job

No one will argue that studying and working at the same time is really challenging. Nevertheless, to maintain a work-life balance after graduation that involves more than paying back student debt, we suggest visiting the Rowan Career Management Center now to ask them to help you find a job that suits your needs. While you can pick up a part-time job to earn money for food, clothes, transportation and other related expenses, you can also find a job that, on top of your salary, will reimburse you some of the tuition costs.

Most of the employers offering tuition assistance are located in big cities. However, you can find some of them in Glassboro and nearby suburbs as well. Some companies that will help you pay for your college tuition include:

  • five-creative-ways-to-reduce-student-debt-picture-_5Bank of America
  • TD Bank
  • Aéropostale
  • Lane Bryant
  • The Home Depot
  • Best Buy
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Wyndham Hotels and Resorts
  • Marriott
  • KFC
  • McDonald’s

Some companies, like Wawa and Target, offer the program as well, but only to the management team. Most of the companies require that their employees to be full-time to qualify for the program, whereas a few, like Aéropostale, Wyndham and Marriott, will grant you money for school even if you work part-time.  All of the locations have to be corporate-owned branches and not a franchise. Overall, these employers will not cover the tuition completely, but will help you pay for approximately half of your degree.

All things considered, we have given you some options to help you save on your school-related expenses. Share your thoughts on them and let us know what you plan to do to reduce your student loan debt.

By: Natalia Panfilova

Feature Photo Credit: Jen Green

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