As the popularity of getting a college degree has increased, so has the costs to achieve this aim. With the student loan debt crisis ballooning ever higher, now sitting at $1.5 trillion total debt, it behooves all of those future college students to really do their research to avoid going heavily into the red. Here are three strategies that can help you get the most bang for your buck and perhaps help you avoid taking on thousands of dollars in debt.

Attending a Local School

If you are looking at out-of-state schools, make sure that you understand that it will cost a lot more than going to a local institution. If you factor in room and board, paying for everyday things like your meals and supplies, it can get pricey fast. Local schools allow you to stay at home and in general spend less money. Although it is not the most desirable college experience, you have to think about it this way—is all of the debt you are going to be burdened with to pay off later worth the college experience you are dreaming of now?

How Do You Fare in Academics?

Another way you can reduce the burden of your educational costs is to consider public or private institutions where you are above the average in terms of academic performance.If you are in the top percentile when compared to the vast majority of individuals applying to this type of institution, it will increase your chances of getting merit-based aid. You have worked hard thus far in your educational career. You should leverage this hard work in your favor so you can graduate with less debt and the stress that comes with that debt. 

Don’t Shy Away from Those Dream Schools

As mentioned in the article “Nip student loan debt in the bud by applying to these three types of college,”you should not be afraid to apply to your dream schools just because of the price tag, particularly from private institutions. If you are strong academically and are in the running with the rest of the pack, you may just be surprised what that type of institution will offer.

Get as Much ‘Free Money’ as Possible

This is a common piece of advice I share with parents or future students regarding college. Whether it be through scholarships, merit-based aid, or other types of financial aid, get as much “free money” as possible to cover the costs. The reason why I put this in parenthesis is that it isn’t free. You have either earned it through your hard work or you qualified for some other reason. Never settle for the loan option until you have exhausted all other options. And if it seems that the costs are still going to be too expensive, then perhaps you should consider a different school. The right institution for you is out there. You just have to put the work in to find it.