How to Help Your Child Graduate College Debt-Free: 16 Ways to Avoid Student Loan Debt

Being a parent is one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs out there. Children require love, time, patience –– not to mention a lot of financial resources. And that’s especially true as the cost of college has risen by an average of 78% over the past twenty years. If your child hopes to pursue higher education, it’s time to have a serious conversation about financial planning. Even if they’re not a junior or senior in high school, today is a great day to start thinking about the future. 

In 2023, many undergraduates take on student loans to help afford their college degree. In fact, 43.8 million Americans carry student loan debt. While loans can be a helpful way to pay your child’s college tuition today, they can take decades to pay off. And student loan forgiveness is still in its infancy. The best way to set you and your child up for future financial success? Help them graduate from college debt-free. 

How to minimize student loan debt

Regardless of whether or not you have the flexibility to contribute financially to your child’s bachelor’s degree, you can help them avoid student loans. We’ve put together 16 strategies for parents to help their college-bound students find alternative ways to lower their educational costs. 

1. Start saving early

Whether your child is seven or seventeen, it’s time to start saving for their college education. Open a 529 tax-advantaged savings account on your child’s behalf and contribute to it as frequently as possible. You’ll invest post-tax dollars. Whenever your child is ready to use the earnings for an educational expense, you can withdraw your savings without paying taxes on the earnings. 

2. Determine how you feel about helping financially

While a majority of parents do help their children pay for college expenses, opinions are mixed on whether that’s helpful or hurtful to your child’s success. Take some time to determine how you feel about giving your child some financial assistance — and go through your finances carefully. If you aren’t in a place to help financially, don’t let that deter you from supporting your child in other ways. 

3. Encourage your child to get a part-time job

Working in high school can be a great way to teach your child the value of a dollar while giving them a tangible way to contribute to their future. Encourage your child to explore getting a part-time job. Work together to develop a savings plan for their earnings. Maybe half goes into their college account and the other half can be spending money, for example. Especially over a number of years, this extra income can add up. And when they go away to college, finding a part-time job on campus or in the local community will be even easier with prior work experience. 

4. Educate your child about earning college credit during high school

If your child isn’t already aware, there are a number of strategies to earn college credit while still enrolled in high school. 

  • Advanced Placement courses – Your child could take an accelerated AP course, which culminates in a test that exempts students from college credits if they achieve a certain mark. 
  • High School/College Dual enrollment – Find a dual enrollment program where your child could take classes at a local community college that can count for both high school and college credit. 
  • Prior Learning Assessments – If your child has experience in the workforce, they could sit for prior learning assessments to earn credits. Put these opportunities on your child’s radar and help them take advantage. 

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5. Fill out the FAFSA® ASAP 

The very first thing on your and your child’s college process to-do list should be to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). This form automatically enters your child for federal government financial aid, work-study programs, and grants. Most aid is given based on financial need, like the Pell Grant, but some is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The FAFSA® becomes available this year in December 2023. Complete it as soon as you can to access as much aid as possible.

Even for adults, completing the FAFSA® can be tedious, confusing, and lead to mistakes. Check out our helpful FAFSA® Made Easier to take away the guesswork.

6. Look for a school that provides great financial aid

As you help your child build their list of schools, keep an eye out for ones that have a great track record of offering financial aid. You can find financial aid statistics on most schools’ websites or by calling the financial aid office. Explore rankings of schools with generous financial aid packages. And check out no-loan schools, which promise to work with students and families to create financial aid packages that eliminate the need for loans. To take your savings one step further, research tuition-free schools

7. Prioritize public schools 

The average price difference between a public state university and a private one is pretty staggering. On average, private schools cost $30,065 per year while in-state tuition at a public school comes in at $8,487 per year. Financial aid can minimize this sticker price, but in-state, public schools usually give students and families the most bang for their buck while providing quality education. 

8. Pay in-state tuition (even if you’re out-of-state)

If your child is excited about the possibility of going to a state university in Texas but you live in Louisiana, don’t resign yourself to paying out-of-state tuition. There are a handful of regional exchange programs that allow students from neighboring states to attend different state schools but still pay in-state tuition. Share these lists with your child and explore the schools that might fall under your state’s regional program. 

9. Research community college options

Beginning a bachelor’s degree at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school is a smart way to save money. Community colleges offer entry-level courses for a fraction of the tuition cost at a four-year school. Your child can complete their prerequisites, boost their GPA, and then complete their degree-specific classes at a traditional university. Depending upon your child’s future career path, an associate’s degree, which is earned after completing 60 credit hours at a community college, could be a great option. There are many lucrative careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

10. Allow your child to continue living at home 

While many college students like to live on-campus to get the traditional college experience, the price of room and board adds up. On average, students pay between $8,556 to $12,870 per year for housing. For many families, it’s silly to pay rent if you live close by. If your child hopes to attend a school near to where you live, they could commute to school, continue living at home, and take classes on campus. For commuter students, a mixture of online college and in-person classes can help alleviate extra costs and time commuting.

11. Help your child find off-campus housing

If your child is attending school too far away to commute, look into alternative, off-campus housing. Many college towns have inexpensive apartments or houses for students who can’t afford to live on campus. If your child is attending school with a friend, they could find a place together and skip the random roommate selection process. Don’t forget to tap into your community. Do you have friends or extended family who live near your child’s college? You could arrange affordable housing with family members or other friends with extra space. 

12. Search for scholarships

One of the best ways to lower your child’s tuition costs is through scholarships. Unlike financial aid or student loans, scholarships are essentially free money. They don’t need to be repaid, and they come with very few strings attached (most often, just the promise to keep up that GPA.) 

The perfect place to start your child’s scholarship search is right here on Going Merry. We house thousands of high-quality awards for every type of student and make it easy to apply directly from our website. As a parent, you can create an account and search for awards on your child’s behalf. Identify programs that fit their interests and student profile. And encourage them to sign up, too. When your child creates a profile on Going Merry, we’ll send curated awards directly to their inbox. With Going Merry, scholarship search doesn’t have to be hard. 

After you’ve perused our extensive database, continue your scholarship search on other websites and via your local community. Local awards can give your child a greater chance of winning as they tend to have less competition than national scholarship programs. So, reach out to your local government, social or religious community, as well as small businesses and nonprofits in your area. Many of these organizations create and fund their own scholarship programs that might not be captured on national websites.

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13. Appeal your child’s financial aid package

In an ideal scenario, your child’s chosen university will provide enough financial assistance to offset educational costs. But in the event that the financial aid package is insufficient, don’t accept the first offer. Many families appeal their financial aid decisions and earn additional assistance. Contact the school’s financial aid office and determine how they handle appeals. Then, detail exactly how much additional aid per school year your family needs and put together a thorough and convincing appeal

14. Take advantage of tax credits and deductions 

The federal government wants to empower Americans of all ages and socio-economic statuses to invest in their future through education. To help alleviate those tuition costs, they’ve created the ​​American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). Depending upon your family’s finances, you and your child could qualify for these tax deductions. These programs are similar but different in meaningful ways. For college students, the AOTC is likely the more helpful option with a maximum benefit of $2,500 per school year. 

15. Consider the military  

The G.I. bill can help military servicepeople and their dependents make college more affordable. The benefits vary but can cover some or all of your child’s college tuition. If you or another direct family member served in the U.S. armed forces, the GI bill benefits could be available to your child. If your child has an interest in strategy or defense and has the grades to qualify, joining the ROTC can set them up for a meaningful future career and take away the stress of paying for a bachelor’s degree.

16. Identify tuition reimbursement programs

Many corporations offer tuition reimbursement programs to allow their employees to pursue higher education. However, most of these programs are limited to full-time employees. If your child wants to work full-time and go to school part-time, this type of program is a great option. Depending upon the company, these tuition reimbursements can cover some or all of their tuition and educational costs. For students pursuing master’s degrees, these programs can be really attractive. 

Get matched to scholarships with Going Merry

Equipping your child with the study skills and work ethic to earn a college degree is quite a feat. And helping them graduate without student loan debt is almost an even bigger accomplishment in 2023. As the price of education rises, it never hurts to continue lowering those tuition costs. Applying for (and winning) scholarships can help your child do just that. 

With Going Merry, your child can continue their scholarship search all year round. Along the way, we’ll provide expert tips to help your child stand out from the crowd and win more scholarships. All they need to do is create a profile on Going Merry and browse our curated lists of awards. From scholarships that are easy to apply for to state-specific programs, Going Merry has it all. Encourage your child to sign up for Going Merry and you’ll be one step closer to a debt-free future for the entire family. 


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