This week, I’ve got a guest post from Donald Weber, an aspiring freelance writer who has a great deal of experience with student debt. He’s working on his first website, so if you like his post, head back here a little later on this year for a link to his site. Enjoy!

Attending college is expensive — a fact that I have learned first-hand, like many other students.

My parents have saved throughout my life to help me get a degree, yet the rising cost of tuition means that I still have to take out loans. But in order to get the best possible start in life after graduation, I have worked hard to minimize my student loan debt.

Read on to learn my strategies, and join me in reducing student loans.

Applying for Scholarships

While I was still in high school, I made it my mission to find every scholarship possible to reduce the amount of money that I would need to pay in tuition, costs, and fees.

Why?  Simple. The more scholarship money that I got, the less I would need to take out in loans, and the less debt I would be in after graduation.

I started by looking for scholarships through my school guidance counselor and then branched out to looking for scholarships via local organizations like the Rotary Club and my family’s church.  Even if the amount was small, like $500, I knew that it was $500 (plus interest!) that I wouldn’t have to pay back later in loans.

Then I started looking online via sites like scholarship.com, fastweb.com, and niche.com to find even more scholarships and spent a few hours each week applying for each. While I didn’t win each scholarship, every one that I did receive helped reduce the total cost of attending college—and made my debt burden that much less.

Looking for Grants

I also began looking for grants while still in high school.

Grants are monetary awards that are typically offered to help students study in a particular area. They are available through a variety of sources including the federal and state government, directly from your college or career school, or from various organizations.

I applied for federal grants while applying for financial aid, and for state grants as well. Then I contacted my college’s financial aid office and asked for information on specific grants from the school. Finally, I searched online for grants for my particular field of study and applied to as many as I could.

Even if the monetary amount was low, I knew that getting grants could really help me minimize my debt because, like scholarships, this money didn’t have to be paid back.

Qualifying for Subsidized Loans

There are two primary types of student loans available to college students: federal student loans and private student loans.  Of the two, federal student loans are considered more advantageous, because they offer more protections and generally offer better rates (but not always!).

There are several different types of federal student loans, but for minimizing student loans, I was particularly interested in one type.

Subsidized Stafford loans.

Subsidized student loans are a special type of federal student loan where the federal government pays the interest while you are enrolled in an accredited institution at least half time and through a 6-month grace period after you graduate or leave school. Having your interest subsidized in this way can save you a pretty significant amount of money, which is why qualifying for subsidized Stafford loans is a great way to minimize your student loan debt.

However, there is a catch: these types of loans are only available to students with documented financial need.

In order to qualify, you must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, each year. Unless you are declared independent, your parents’ income will be considered as part of the application process. Because my family is low income, I qualified for subsidized Stafford loans, which helped me reduce the total amount of student loan debt that I had because interest did not accrue on these loans while I was in school.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I did have to take out some non-subsidized federal loans and private loans to pay for my college education. In order to minimize the amount of debt that I had after graduation, I decided to do something that many college students don’t realize is an option—I paid interest on these loans while in school.

By making these small monthly payments, I avoided the interest being added to the loan principal, and my debt significantly increasing after graduation.  It required a small sacrifice on my part but it paid off when I had a much smaller debt later.

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