College is a significant investment and how to pay for it can be a major source of concern for parents and students. However, there are ways to reduce the amount of debt you take on when preparing for higher education.
Outstanding student loan debt has now reached $1.2 trillion, according to 2013 estimates from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Yet there are ways to help reduce the amount a family or student has to borrow to fund a college education, if families start early.
"It's never too late for families of college-bound students to reduce costs, if they consider options well before senior year," said Cynthia Tidwell, CEO and president of Royal Neighbors of America, one of the first women-led life insurers in the U.S.
Royal Neighbors has also awarded more than $4 million in college scholarships since 1962. "The key is to think creatively -whether it's earning college credits in high school, using financial tools that allow for cash savings, or researching scholarship options - don't mortgage your own financial future or saddle your child with debt that could keep her or him from reaching their dreams," Tidwell added.
Four Ways to Reduce College Costs
1. Earn college credit in high school. Many high schools offer students the opportunity to earn dual high school and college credit, before college, through advanced placement (AP) courses. You can learn more about AP programs online.
2. Consider a community college. Average annual community college tuition and fees are less than half those at public four-year colleges and universities and one-tenth those at private four-year colleges and universities, according to a 2008 report from the National Center of Education Statistics.
3. Learn about college savings financial options. There are many different financial products to help save for college. Under certain circumstances, some colleges and universities lock in tuition for all four years. Even certain life insurance policies offer cash savings options to help pay for expenses such as college tuition, weddings, or starting up a business. Look for permanent or whole life policies with cash value accumulation options.
4. Research scholarships early. Scholarships are available for traditional and non-traditional students, but don't wait until senior year to research. Some require organizational membership, volunteer hours, or criteria that may take time for the student to be eligible.
"Royal Neighbors of America believes that every woman and her family should be financially secure and that education is the key to a brighter future," said Tidwell. "Don't be discouraged by rising college costs. There are ways to save if you plan ahead."
To learn more about scholarships and other member programs available through Royal Neighbors of America, log on to www.royalneighbors.org or call (800) 627-4762.