Americans now owe a trillion dollars in student loan debt, which is even more than what we owe in credit card debt.
But, according to Ben Kaplan, author of “How to go to College Almost for Free,” with a little initiative, you can dramatically reduce your student loan burden. Kaplan should know - he put himself through Harvard almost entirely on scholarships.
On Thursday's State of Nevada, Kaplan shared some tips:
“There are all these resources out there but they generally don’t come knocking on your door. It’s not like you do nothing and money just falls from the sky. That’s actually why the title of my book is “How to go to College Almost for Free.” It isn’t a lottery ticket, but if you’re proactive and do the knocking on the doors - this really is possible.”
Break It Down
“On the one side you have these merit scholarships, money for scholarships based on some type of achievement. And the definition of merit, people think it’s just grades or academics, but it’s not just that, it’s very broad.
In addition, you have need-based financial aid. So that’s aid based on your family’s income and assets. And what a lot of families don’t realize is there’s way to get what is called a preferential package, which means a higher ratio of grants to loans in your financial aid package.
There's also something called free tuition credits. Something you earn before set foot on college campus. They go by different names; the most famous is AP or advance placement, and CLEP. These are credits you earn before you set foot on college campus that can reduce the cost of college, so that at most schools in the U.S., you can reduce college costs by 25 percent.
All of these pieces fit together and can dramatically reduce the cost of college.”
Don’t Be Intimidated
“One huge mistake is assuming that a merit scholarship is for some kind of super student - the student who mastered calculus at age 5, won an Olympic medal at age 9, and expands to five times his normal size when placed in water. The super kid. OK, that child is great, but that child is maybe not my child. I think the first thing to realize is that there are so many scholarships – there’s one for grades K through 12 - you can be in kindergarten and get a scholarship. There’s one sponsored by Toshiba, The Toshiba ExploraVision Awards. For this scholarship you project a technology 20 years into the future. So you might do a project on what the iPhone 27 going to look like. And you earn money for college in the form of a $10K savings bond.”
Think Strategically And Recycle
“Focus first scholarship efforts on the ones with the most recyclable components. And what I mean by that is if there is an essay that’s kind of generic – that talks about how you had a positive impact on your community – if you write that up you can recycle that for a lot of other applications. What we are trying to do is create a suite of generic, reusable material that we custom tailor for each application. What a lot of families do is make the mistake of applying for just one scholarship and they stop. But instead if you’re strategic and have these recyclable components, what happens is if you apply for one scholarship you’ve already done half the work to apply for ten. And I say from the onset, your goal should be to apply for at least 12 scholarships. This is partially a numbers game. You have to leverage your chances to win.”
Get the Student Involved in the Process
“Students who worked on the scholarship process, who are mindful that college costs money and are invested in helping pay for it, actually do better in school. The reason is because they realize it’s a benefit to be there, it’s a privilege to be there. This isn’t something that’s automatic, they had to work for it and they‘re prepared to do it.”