There are no two ways around it: student debt sucks.
The typical bachelor’s degree graduate in Virginia leaves college nearly $30,000 in the hole. That burden is forcing people to wait longer to get married, buy a home, and even retire. So why would anyone take on more debt than necessary?
1. Know what you really want to do: There’s an old saying that if you don’t know where you’re going then any road will get you there. There’s nothing wrong with changing majors while in college. Lots of people do it. But that means you’re going to take, and pay for, classes that you won’t serve you in the long run. Set up a free account on the Virginia Education Wizard. Take the free assessment tests. That can give you a sense of where you’re going before you’ve ever spent the first tuition dollar.
2. Start college while you’re still in high school: How does that work? High schools around Virginia hold Dual Enrollment agreements with their nearby community college. These agreements allow students to take college-level classes while still in high school, often at a reduced price. Ask your school counselor or Career Coach about it. Use these credits to jump-start your pursuit of an associate degree.
3. Earn your associate degree first: I know, I know. You want a bachelor’s degree, and you’ll get one. But thanks to an amazing collection of Guaranteed Transfer Agreements, you can take your first two years at a community college and graduate. That can earn you a guaranteed spot as a junior at one of more than 30 universities. Oh, and by the way, community college tuition and fees are only about one-third of what you’ll pay at a public university. Did I mention that the community college class sizes are almost always smaller?
4. Get free money from the state to attend a university: Here’s another way that earning that associate degree first makes sense and saves dollars. Virginia has a little known program called the Two-Year College Transfer Grant Program that will give you up to $3,000 a year, for two years, at a university to finish your bachelor’s degree. But you have to graduate from a community college first. And yes, that’s free money!
5. Always take 15 credits every semester: No matter where you go to college, go full-time, and that means taking 15 credit hours every semester. We’ve all heard the old jokes about that last cousin who spent seven years to earn that degree. But much like sitting in a taxicab, time is money. Don’t keep that meter running one minute, or one dollar, longer than you need to.
So, what happens when you follow all five of these steps? Well, you’ll save at least $45,000 on the cost of that shiny new bachelor’s degree. That’s about one and a half times the average student debt load of a graduate in Virginia, and one more way to show that you’re smarter already.
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