Graduation cap on pile of hundred-dollar bills

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Student loans are often an inevitable byproduct of obtaining a college degree -- but you should take steps to minimize yours as much as possible. The less debt you accumulate in pursuit of that diploma, the easier it’ll be to keep up with your loan payments once you graduate. Here’s how to avoid the massive amounts of debt many students accumulate.

1. Apply for as many grants and scholarships as you can

The more free money you get for college, the less you'll have to borrow. To that end, it pays to do your research and explore the various scholarship opportunities that may be available to you.

You can start by doing an internet search for "college scholarships" and taking it from there, because your search results will likely pull up a number of sites that serve as scholarship hubs. You can also explore grants or scholarships based on specific skills you have. For example, if you're extremely adept at a certain sport, you might get some free money for college as a result.

Your college guidance counselor might also be a good resource for finding scholarships, so don't hesitate to ask for help there. Furthermore, some companies offer scholarships, so it pays to see if a parent of yours works for one that does.

2. Choose a lower-cost school

Avoiding a pile of student debt could boil down to keeping your tuition costs low. And that's why it often pays to opt for state colleges over private ones.

For the 2018-2019 school year, the average cost of tuition for a four-year, public in-state school was $10,230. For a four-year, public out-of-state school, tuition was $26,290. And for a four-year private college, it was $35,830. Assuming no grants or scholarships, this means that attending a public college in your home state over a private university could save you $100,000 on tuition over four years.

Another good way to save money on tuition is to attend community college for a couple of years. For the 2018-2019 academic year, the average cost of tuition was $3,660. Since many students spend their first two years of college mostly taking prerequisites, it's a sensible means of minimizing your costs.

3. Commute to college rather than staying in a dorm

For the 2018-2019 school year, the average cost of room and board was $8,660 for two-year colleges, $11,140 for four-year public colleges, and $12,680 for private colleges. Therefore, if you're able to live at home during your studies and commute back and forth to school, you stand to save yourself a good $40,000 (give or take) over a four-year period. That will keep your total costs low, thereby minimizing your need to borrow.

4. Accelerate your studies

Enrolling for fewer semesters is a good way to save money on tuition. Most colleges allow you to tack on additional credits per semester once you’re registered as a full-time student. So if you’re able to take extra courses during your first few years, you might manage to graduate a semester or two early. And that, in turn, will limit the extent to which you need to borrow money to finance your education.

5. Postpone your studies until you've had time to work and save

Many students opt to start college immediately after graduating high school. But if you delay your studies by a year or two and instead get a job and save most of your earnings, you’ll have a means of paying for college as you go along, thereby minimizing the amount you need to borrow.

If you don’t want to postpone college, you can look at working and taking classes simultaneously. Many colleges have work-study programs designed to help students looking to go this route. Keep in mind, however, that working part-time won’t allow for the same level of savings as full-time work. Additionally, if you’re limited to local jobs (or those available on-campus) because you’re working and taking classes at the same time, your earnings potential might be capped.

The last thing you want to do is graduate college with a mountain of student debt. Take these steps to keep your loans on the lower side, and you’ll be happier once you enter the working world.