How to minimize debt while in college (beyond ramen)

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter
Do you have a question about your student loans? Email them to us at moneyquestions@yahoo.com and we’ll answer them live on Facebook Tuesday, June 19 at 2 a.m. (EST) on Facebook and YahooFinance.com.

Today, the average 2017 grad owes about $39,400 in student loans. That’s up 6% from the previous year. At this rate, the average student graduating in the class of 2021 will owe $49,740.

For those of you borrowing money for college, it’s hard to wrap your mind around these numbers and how much this debt can weigh you down later on. But the earlier you start making smart money decisions, the more freedom you’ll have to live the life you want after you graduate, says Arun Ponnusamy of CollegeWise. As chief academic advisor, Ponnusamy helps high school students and their families find the right fit for college both academically and financially.

Read on for Ponnusamy’s tips on smart money moves you can make during college to make the most of your investment.

Need-based appeals can always be made

At this point in the year, most high school graduates planning to attend college in the fall have finalized their decisions based on financial aid packages and submitted their first deposits. This means it’s probably too late to make another appeal. Ponnusamy says opportunities to increase merit-based aid (how well you did academically, athletically, musically, etc…) are closed for the most part, but that need-based appeals can always be made.

Related: There’s $350 million in loan forgiveness up for grabs: how you can get those funds

So if your family’s financial situation has recently changed  maybe a parent has lost of a job or your family is dealing with property loss due to a disaster — call your college’s financial aid office to see if they’re able to adjust your aid package in a way that is a favorable to you. “Sometimes [the people working in financial aid offices] can get a bad reputation, but they’re real people who are also invested in creating a happy, healthy community,” Ponnusamy says.  

Beware of senioritis

After a grueling college admissions process, it’s understandable that high school seniors would want to slack off a bit and take it easy. But senioritis is a problem that can result in your college admission being dropped. Ponnusamy warns slacking seniors that colleges admit you and provide merit-based aid based on the expectation of your being a certain type of student, and if you fall off the pace, they might be concerned and withdraw that offer. Think about how competitive it was to get in and how much you don’t want to go through that process again. “Remember, there’s usually a student waiting in the wings who’s ready and fired up to be a student when they show up,” Ponnusamy says.

How to graduate college with the least amount of debt

Get in early on merit-based aid opportunities for upperclassmen

As early as your first month of school, Ponnusamy advises incoming freshman to look into any merit-based scholarships you might be eligible for in your sophmore year. The deeper you get into your college experience, the fewer opportunities there are for merit-based aid. So it’s smart to be one of the first to find out if there are any scholarships you may be qualified for. For example, if there are a handful of major-specific scholarships for upperclassmen studying engineering, you can get a head start on writing your application essays and lining up recommendation letters.  

Throughout the month of June, we’ll randomly select winners and award $100 and $500 Amex/Visa Gift Cards to help eliminate your debt and conquer your finances. Visit bitly.com/yfsweepstakes to learn more and enter. Winners will be announced every Friday.

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