Is Public Service Loan Forgiveness not living up to its hype?

When the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program was first introduced in 2007, at first glance it seemed like a pretty sweet deal. Student loan debt holders who worked at either a federal, state or local agency or 501(c)(3) nonprofit for at least 10 years, while making 120 qualifying payments on their student loans during that time, would have the remainder of their debt balance forgiven. You’d have millions of Americans incentivized to enter into public service, while – eventually – freeing them from the financial burdens of their student debt.

But, now that we’re actually 10 years into the program and the first wave of applicants are expecting their loans to be forgiven, we’re seeing that PSFL is not proving to be all it was first cracked up to be. With so few successful accepted applications, it’s clear that the program is not benefitting loan holders as they had hoped.

Consider these numbers from the Department of Education:

Out of nearly 50,000 student loan borrowers who applied, only 420 have been approved and then only half of those have actually had their remaining loans forgiven. Two-hundred out of 50,000. Half of 1 percent.

When your mission statement is to forgive student loan debt after a decade of public service, and your success rate is half of 1 percent, there is clearly room for improvement.

Breaking down what’s behind the rejections

Incentivizing people into public service is a great idea on paper, but it only works if there’s an actual incentive at the end of the tunnel. Compounding the problem is that there isn’t an easy way to determine if you’re even eligible for the program before you devote a decade of your life to it. Applicants can spend years in a public-sector gig only to learn near the end of it that they’re not actually eligible for loan forgiveness. For over 99 percent of Americans who took up PSLF’s offer 10 years ago, nearly all of them are now getting the bait-and-switch treatment.

Communication may be an issue. One of the requirements that applicants may have failed to meet is  making 120 qualifying payments over the decade. While the Department of Education’s numbers did not parse out how many of these rejections were due to failing to make that number of payments, the requirement itself raises another hurdle for applicants; it’s not just a decade of public service AND student loan payments during that period that get your balance forgiven, but a specific number of payments over that period, which consequently may end up taking longer than 10 years to make. There’s a communications gap that is evidently creating problems for applicants years later.

Vault can help student loan borrowers understand options for their situation

For some, PSLF is a great option. For others: buyer beware. Navigating the waters of PSLF is not impossible, but it is challenging and complicated. Vault can help you evaluate all your options and map out upfront all of the potential hurdles of going this route, to help avoid the possibility of any surprises coming your way over 10 years and 120 payments later.  

Vault works with your company’s HR team to provide employees with debt-defiant student loan repayment. No tricks, no bait and switch: this is a real workplace benefit that helps you to hire and retain the best talent by contributing to employees’ student loans now, not in 10 years.

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Unpaid Student Loans Could Cost You Your Career

The depth of how student loan debt affects lives goes deeper than a number on a statement reminding the borrower that his or her monthly bill is due. Defaulting on student loans can do more than just affect your credit score – it can cripple your job choices.

According to the Brookings Institute, 30% of jobs now require a certification or license in addition to a college degree, but laws exist in 19 states that allow for state agencies to revoke licenses. Ranging from medical professionals to teachers, game wardens, police, and barbers, anyone who needs a professional license can lose it due to unpaid student loan debt. In South Dakota, they’ll even suspend your driver’s license.

While creditors find new and aggressive ways to punish borrowers who default, revoking professional credentials seems a bit drastic and counterintuitive, but yet, some states still do it as a means of punishment, or at the very least, a means to get a debtor on a payment plan.

The average teacher in Georgia makes between $37,000 – $50,000 a year, so saddling them with, in some cases, $1,300 a month student loan repayment equates to a massive portion of their paycheck. Right now, laws exist in ten states prohibiting new K-12 teachers from working until they get on a student loan repayment plan.

THE STUDENT LOAN CRISIS ISN’T GETTING BETTER

For employers, this model is catastrophic. There’s 1.4 trillion dollars in student loan debt floating around America. There’s an inevitability that some of these borrowers are working for hospitals, firehouses, or local police. Yet, these people cannot work – not because of lack of skills or training, but because a rigid system of repayment doesn’t work in their favor.

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding student loans is the severity of the issue. The average millennial carries around $45-52K a year in student loan debt, which is certainly not a lightweight monthly payment. Student loan debt is the most significant source of income debt, second only to owning a home.

Unfortunately, some of the borrowers in default may not even know they’re in default. It’s possible that with the stress and unpredictability of life their loan statement was lost in time and became an “I’ll get around to it someday” scenario.

REIMAGINING CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

While it’s evident that those in default should have consequences for not paying back what they owe, the question needs to be asked: is there a better way? We can’t strip people of their means of making a living. According to the American Nurses Association, within the next five years, there will be a nurse shortage of almost four million nurses. Houston, Texas needs over 2,000 new police officers. Firefighters are in short supply in Kentucky, New York, Indiana, and Texas. Punishing people ready to fill these roles impacts local economy, whereas a solution to work with borrowers to find a realistic endpoint would prove to be more fruitful. Collectively, we need to do better.

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What you need to know about California and Student Loans

California is leading the charge in helping people with their student loan debt. For the federal government and in other states, student debt that has been canceled or forgiven is treated as taxable income.

So if a borrower has $90k forgiven, that adds $90k to their taxable income for that year. However, California has expanded income tax exclusion for canceled or forgiven student loan debt.

Starting in 2017 and lasting until January 1st, 2022, the exclusion applies to federal loan plans such as:

While this will not affect the tax status of student loan benefit such as those offered by student loan genius, California’s bill is a big step in the right direction, helping those crushed by student loan debt.

If you’re a California resident, reach out to your local representative to learn more about Assembly Bill No. 461 – Chapter 525.

If you’ve got questions we can help with, please contact us.

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There’s a common saying when interviewing, “Act like the job needs you, not like you need the job.” For the most part, this quote is pretty accurate. When you walk into the conference room, waiting for the lineup of potential bosses and coworkers to meet you and assess if you’d be good for the team, you need to keep a cool head and pull a left turn: flip the tables on them. Make them want you.

You need to become the one asking the hard questions, to make them fall in love with you.

By flipping the script and interviewing your would-be peers, you’re letting everyone know that you mean business. Answering questions with thought out replies is a significant part of the interview process, but by keeping a few questions in mind to ask when feeling out how the team and company moves shows you’re thoughtful and that you care about the position.

Confidence and composure are what the team is looking for, not how your resume reads. By creating conversation, or bouncing ideas off one another in an admittedly awkward environment relieves some of the tension but also shows that you can assume control of a situation that you’re not entirely comfortable with. People enjoy being engaged, it’s not Pavlovian, but we react in kind when an interviewee volleys the questions back and thus creates an honest dialogue vs. a rehearsed call and response.

We asked some folks who’ve been on the hiring side of the interviewing table what they’d love to hear when looking for their next great teammate, what makes them raise an eyebrow or catches them off guard. In the world of the job hunt, it’s all about impact and standing out, not just answering what you think the interviewer wants to hear.

“The interviewee should have made time to conduct strong research on the company, role, market, and form ideas about how they will add value. The most compelling candidates do their research and ask relevant questions.” – Brian, CFO/COO

It’s important to come to your interview prepared and know the company, their space and what you think they’re trying to accomplish. By asking about how the company is positioning itself against natural industry evolution, it shows you’re trying to plan the next move and instead of trying to come from behind and jump in mid-stream. Granted, no one expects greatness overnight, but it helps to feign commitment to developing the future instead of relying on status quo.

Others are all about goals and successes, finding out ahead of time where you could fit in and what is expected of your role. By asking what metrics can be hit for the most effectiveness or how you can be a major contributor to the team makes a case for an objective-minded person:

“I want them to ask about team dynamic. If they aren’t asking about what level of autonomy they’ll have, what the feedback process looks like, and how we typically communicate, then they likely aren’t looking to be engaged in the way we need them to be.”

– Beki, Project Manager

“What are the KPIs for the position, how are they measured (if not obvious), and is there a bonus in exceeding them?” – Victorio, CEO

“I also now ask what success looks like for the role. And add a time frame, like six months. It makes the interviewer distill the real aim/purpose of the job. What they say first is very telling about what they care about, e.g., You have met all your performance targets, or you’re successful in your team, or you’re taking the initiative on new projects.”

– Claire, Technical Writer

Other questions are straight ahead and get down to the brass tacks, looking to strip away any fluff. It’s important to keep the smaller, more direct questions at the forefront, too. Every question doesn’t have to be a big picture narrative, there’s plenty of room for the inquiry that strikes to the heart of why would I want to be on this team?

Can I meet some of the people that I will be working with, or managing? – Heather, Writer

What surprised you most about joining this team? – Elena, Product Marketing Manager

Heading into your interview with a few questions about the position will only help drive the point home that you’re the person for the job. It doesn’t matter if you’re trading stocks, cleaning toilets, or writing blogs, the important lesson here is to drive engagement between you and the people interviewing. You want them to see you as effective, informed, and ready to be an impact player on the team. You made it all the way to the in-person round; they like you, it’s up to you to seal the deal with some extra pizazz.

And if all else fails you can be weird and ask something like “Would you rather fight 100 horse sized ducks or 100 duck sized horses?” We don’t recommend it, but Michael, a quirky CEO went there. Don’t blame us. We’re just trying to help.

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The gig economy is now a part of everyday life. Job growth numbers factor it in, and economists have established an obsession with trying to access the long-term power of someone being able to plug in for a moment and then drop out when they feel like it.

What many people assume though, is that for folks driving for Lyft or running errands for Favor, these jobs are their only income stream.

For a lot of people, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Lots of people in the gig economy have full-time jobs but are using these additional income streams to pay off their bills. One of the biggest reasons folks get behind the wheels of their cars and pick up the groceries or the dry cleaning is simple: picking up gigs is an easy way to hack down student loans. A whopping 28% of drivers under 30 use ridesharing as a means to pay off their student loans.

GET YOUR RIDE ON

By adopting the famous Uber promise of “make at least $500 a week guaranteed” people are getting off work and turning on their driver apps in hopes to chip away at the mountain of debt in their lives that won’t go away. What’s worse, is that while most of us have debt due to owning a house, or a swollen credit card bill, there aren’t a variety of programs like Credit Karma or refinancing your home when it comes to student loans. Once you’re saddled with that payment, you’ve gotta pay it every month.

The average Lyft driver makes around $20 an hour, depending on the length of their day. In today’s economy that’s pretty good money for driving around town. For new graduates, that’s fantastic money. When you’re first out of school or have a degree in something that finding a job takes a little bit longer, the job market can get real tight, real quick. It’s not uncommon for working professionals, or the barista at your local spot have between 30-60K in student loan debt thanks to a crooked system of borrowing – and yet, somehow they gotta pay that debt off each month or risk default.

Because drivers make their own schedules, they’re choosing to pull a few hours a week. Nothing over the top, but enough to put all of that money away and into an account specifically to pay off more than the minimum due. Picking up around ten rides a week allows the drivers to get ahead of their bill and then move on toward bigger goals like buying a house or a better car. 31% of Uber drivers use the ridesharing app to make their house payments, proving that the side hustle is strong.

WHEN SHOULD A DRIVER GET BEHIND THE WHEEL?

The hottest times to drives is if an event is happening in town. People hate parking. Nine out of ten times, it’s easier to get dropped off than it is to deal with parking at any major event. Another great time to work is the weekend.

Because no one likes drunk drivers, the demand for ridesharing is through the roof. By working one weekend in a major city, that’s rent. And for enterprising drivers, that’s a major dent in their loans.

YOU’LL NEED A PLAN

If you’re already working and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, you’re only going to pick up rides part-time. Because you have limited time out there, it’s important to set a realistic goal of what you’re trying to pay down a month. Start small because you don’t want to burn out. Remember, you’re already working a full-time job. If you can set a goal to earn $150 a week with ride sharing, that’s $600 toward your loans. Luckily, the interest rates are usually pretty low on the loans, so the typical payment is around $250 a month. By paying it off with more than double the amount, you’ll be making waves in the principal amount.

An easy way to get this money is to stick to a schedule. Don’t deviate from it, keep your weekend mornings open for folks on a coffee run or seniors heading to church. If you work during rush hour, then make sure you’re consistent, so it becomes routine. Because the money you’re making is more or less “extra credit” vs. income you need to live on, you’ll see it pile up, and when you make that big payment, it’ll feel good to see your ugly number drop each month.

FORGET BRAND LOYALTY

If you’re looking to make money, you can’t rely on one income stream. Grocery stores are doing home delivery or in-store personal shopping. Favor or Task Rabbit pick up and deliver just about anything you need. When it comes to ridesharing, there are the two giants in Lyft and Uber and a few smaller players like Fasten. Don’t rely on just one of these platforms, get them all. If you feel like going shopping for someone for a few hours, do that. If Lyft isn’t popping off, switch over to Uber and see what their patrons are up to. You’re in control of your financial destiny.

In the end, it’s all about how hard you want to hustle. You can’t work your regular 9-5 and then try to cram in 70 hours of ride sharing. You’ll go insane, and you’ll end up spending way too much time at the McDonald’s drive-thru. There’s an adage that’s been around forever, and it’s right in this case: marathon, not a sprint. Your loans will take some time to chip away at, but if you’re diligent and stick to a plan, you’ll make an impact, and it won’t come out of your regular check. Besides, you’ll get to meet some cool people in the process.

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You’ve been preparing for this. You got the grades and have an idea of what you want to do for the rest of your life. Or maybe you don’t, and you’re winging it. Either scenario is ok. Leaving the comfort of high school is a big step. College comes in many forms, but the most critical thing you can consider right now is: where should I apply to?

Rushing to get into a good school doesn’t have to be a torturous process. It’s supposed to be as easy as making a list of colleges that look cool and apply, right? Well, it can be, but there’s a little bit more work involved than that. There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re studying brochures or obsessing about compiling every link ever to your top 50 colleges to check out.

First, you have to ask yourself: is college right for me? Societally, we’ve adopted a point of view that life begins and ends with a four-year degree. This is just wrong. There are a lot of talented, smart people who work in the trades and make a fantastic living doing so. If your idea of a great day is being outside and working with your hands, sitting in a classroom for four more years may not be the best use of time. Trade school or getting an apprenticeship with a union could be precisely what you need. Plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters make great livings. If framing a house or running conduit seems like fun, save yourself and your parents some cash and don’t try to cram that passion into getting a psychology degree that you won’t use.

If working with your hands isn’t your bag, that’s cool, too. There are a lot of jobs out there. One of the biggest mistakes a new student can make is center in on an area of study they have no intention of actually finding a career in. Students who get an obscure degree with a subject they can’t use in the real world are the ones that end up with mountains of student debt because typically they can’t find jobs to correspond with their skill set. It’s a vicious cycle, and no one in higher education is trying to stop it. If you’re not expecting to move to fill in the one job in 1840’s Russian art, what exactly are you planning to do with that degree? Be wise about what you want to major in. Take the classes and harvest a love for whatever lights your world up, but getting a job is the whole endgame of the exercise.

BUSTING MAJOR COLLEGE MYTHS

After you’ve faced a lot of existential questions and centered yourself, it’s time to pick a school. It’s not all just ACTs or SATs and GPAs – you need to attend a school that fortifies who you are as a person, or at least provides the kind of personal growth you’re after. There’s a college for everyone. There are over 4000 colleges in America. Do you want to learn in a high-pressure situation or at a place that’s laid back?

Don’t try to oversell yourself on one idea or the other. Go with your gut. If you’re a little high strung and need to have constant deadlines, you may want the kind of environment that an intense school schedule demands. If you’re low key and like a less stressful schedule, maybe an art school is what you need. Listen to what your gut tells you. Don’t let mom, dad or a friend pressure you into attending a school because they think it’s what’s best for you.

If you check out the stats on a school and don’t get that immediate “yeah, this is me” feeling, move on. They’ll never have your heart. Instead, you’ll always be wondering what other schools are like. Listen to that internal voice because usually, it knows best.

GO TO THE PLACE THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU

Keep culture in mind. If you’re a progressive liberal, going to a conservative school won’t be four years of perfect harmony. If you’re deeply religious, a secular college may be a great idea. Every community, no matter the makeup, has a set of values they uphold, and the college you pick should reflect yours. Some schools are way invested in their traditions while others… not so much. If there are things you aren’t personally into, don’t force yourself to adapt for the sake of a program. College is about enjoying the experience, not enduring the time because a few classes are interesting. Compile your choices into immediate Yes or No groups.

Stick to your guns. If you’ve got a college on your mind, go for it. Everyone feels inadequate at one point or another. No one is perfect, and no one has always batted .1000 in life. Don’t get lost in your fears about school to apply to the places you want to go. You’re cool enough. You’re smart enough, and you’ll find a place.

Don’t obsess. It’s not worth it. There’s always some movie where the kid is freaking out over getting into the school of their dreams. Take the journey one step at a time. Research a new school each day. If the school appeals to you, write it down and move on. Once you’ve compiled a few, start building out a plan. There are a lot of schools and a lot of amazing teachers. If you don’t have the grades for MIT but still want to work in the space, there are plenty of schools who’d love to have you on their team.

GET THE SUPPORT YOU NEED

Speaking of teams, don’t forget to lean on your people. Ask for help. Talk to your parents. See what’s up with your guidance counselor at your high school, or just grab a teacher to get an opinion on your goals. If you’ve got a question, call the college admissions office. Let them help you. You’re not in this alone. People want you to succeed.

That said, don’t rely on your friends. They mean well, but their goals aren’t your goals. Your friends are flying blind just the same as you are.

Keep costs in mind. There are a lot of grants, scholarships, and opportunities for students out there. There are grants specifically for left-handed people. There’s no excuse for you not to fire up the Google and look to see what kind of money you can save. College is expensive. You want to minimize the amount you’ll be spending. Student loans can rack up and guess who’ll be left holding the debt? You will.

Think long and hard about what goals you want to achieve with college. Can you attend a community college for two years to knock out your basics for a quarter of the price? Making sure you’re planning within a budget is essential. There’s an adage of not putting an amount on an education, but that’s not entirely fair. There is most definitely a price tag that comes with college.

Now that you’ve been briefed on the basics of prepping for college, are you ready to apply? We’re waiting for y’all to change the world.

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Higher learning can be a magical time. College students are essentially dropped face first into a real world-flavored place where no one is accountable for their lives, except, you know – them. Mistakes are made in college, but it’s a place where learning to correct those mistakes is just as easy. But, there’s one part of the college experience that means more than your GPA or how much you showed up to your English 301 class: it’s your internships.

Everyone needs to pull their weight at an internship. They offer a portrait of staff dynamics, but also teach humility and let a student know how much effort a 9-5 entails.

Hiring bosses won’t be impressed that you got cheese plates for the most powerful real estate company in Austin, nor will anyone care that you got to write code for the front end of for EA for a semester. In reality, you need something different that you’re not thinking of. You need to go the road less traveled.

It’s critical for students to think about real life goals and what the plan in a post-school world could be. Students need to look at the companies on the back pages of the book, the companies who are not flashy and receive a 10th of the inquests of their acclaimed classroom competitors. The real unpolished diamonds lie are in these places.

By applying to smaller companies or less flashy ones, the chances of you getting real, meaningful work are higher. An internship is meant to teach a student life skills and offer a view into X industry. By getting hands-on experience at an internship instead of just the crap work no one else wants to do, you’re given a front row seat to check out what’s behind the Great and Powerful Oz’s industry curtain.

INTERNSHIPS ARE THE GREAT EQUALIZER

Consider this example: you’re a fashion design student at Tulane University. You love clothes, and you want to work in New York. You read all of the fashion blogs, have curated a fashionista Instagram feed and you’re always looking for the next new trend. You want to be seated at the right hand of Michael Kors or Calvin Klein. They don’t realize it yet, but you’re going to be a force, you’ll be the one to breathe new school style to the tried and true brands of the last decades. At least, this is how you see the world in your head. You need to get a few internships before anyone will take you entry-level serious.

You’re killing it in school. It’s time to search for an internship. But, not all opportunities are created equal. You don’t live in New York. You live in New Orleans. New Orleans has a fashion community. Albeit small, there are people putting out exciting clothes. Naturally, you want to go with them, you want to apply yourself to the biggest name in town, or at least work for one of the shirt companies who design all of those pieces all of the locals and tourists alike gobble up. You want to be aligned with that company making the cute dresses they sell on Magazine Street or maybe even try to work at one of the city’s fashion-minded publications. It’s you and a sea of other students who also live in one of the most art-obsessed cities on earth. The competition will be tough. There are only so many spots.

You can put in the application and hope to be called. Alternatively, there’s another route to take. Instead of hoping to do some social media posts around the new shirt with the trumpet logo, you can design something. Look for the little clothes companies, the one’s who are branding shirts for the beer league softball teams, or the company who has a small locally sourced clothing factory. Installing zippers on prototype hoodies isn’t glamorous work, but it’s impressive because you can speak to actual function over fashion. These teachable moments are what the working world is comprised of – it’s not all glitz, there’s actual work.

MAKE THE SMARTER INTERNSHIP CHOICE, NOT THE FLASHY ONE

Chances are, if you approach a place like this, they’ll be happy to have you on board. A blue-collar clothing factory would love an intern.

A hiring manager sees a bazillion applications for a job. They’re looking for experience, or at the least something interesting if you’re right out of school. Having that big name clothing company looks cool, but when you’re asked about what you did, what can you tell that hiring manager? That you sent out of a few tweets and got a lot of coffee? Maybe worked a handful of events and handed out t-shirts?

By taking the gig that’s less flashy, you can talk about how they gave you meaningful projects or that you were given carte blanche on a design project. Typically, the smaller the company, the happier they are to have your contributions. Because you can cite some real-world experience and likely walk away with stories of being challenged, or even just deal with a demanding boss, you’ve solidified yourself as a better candidate for a job.

Experience is everything in the working world. Give yourself the leg up and apply to intern at the places who offer the best shot at actually doing the work. Make the connections, and do the work. Let someone else worry about getting coffee.

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The rhetoric around student loans is nothing short of mind-blowing. There’s a ton of misinformation out there.

It’s a constant battle to dig through the facts beneath the politics and confusing stats. To help you stay in touch with the truth, here’s the first of a series of updates answering the big question, “What’s up with student loans?”

THE CURRENT RATE: NOW BORROWING AT 4.45%…

This is heavy duty news. This is an 18% increase which could be as much as $4,700 in extra interest paid to someone who borrows the total amount of America’s average student loan balance, $37,172.

Dates: July 1, 2017, was the last interest rate change. Per legislation, the next rate change could come as soon as July 1, 2018.

THE LATEST FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP’S TEAM

The last we heard from the White House on student loans: Forgiveness for defrauded borrowers may not come so easy.

STUDENT LOANS & TAX REFORM

We’re a long way from full tax reform, but “The Big 6” signaled that legislation related to student loan benefits and tax help could be on the way. Fingers crossed.

“Work, Education, and Retirement – The framework retains tax benefits that encourage work, higher education, and retirement security.” – Read more at taxfoundation.org

STUDENT LOANS & HURRICANES

The cliff notes version – Student loan borrowers affected by the recent natural disasters are eligible for up to six months of forbearance (they won’t have any payments due, but will still accrue interest). But, there’s a catch: those borrowers have to apply by contacting their student loan servicer.

Long version: Check out the Federal Student Aid Presentation on Disasters & Title IV for more details.

NEWS YOU CAN (ACTUALLY) USE

And that’s a wrap on this roundup of news. Once we’ve got some new information to share, you’ll be the first to get it. If you’ve got any feedback, questions, advice or just wanna say hey – leave a comment or tweet us.

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Getting an education is crucial. College, trade school, or whatever path you take can offer mind opening experiences. They also come with mind-blowing expenses and, for most, student loans.

It’s not exactly a dirty little secret that folks who go to college usually end up with severe debt that trails them around decades after they’ve graduated. College is expensive. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, “seven in 10 seniors (69%) who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2014 had student loan debt, with an average of $28,950 per borrower.”

Just because you want an education doesn’t mean you have to dive into Uncle Sam’s wallet. There are a few colleges around the country that have swung open the doors and are free of charge or least way cheaper than the norm. Some of these schools have specific requirements, but if you meet said conditions, you could wind up with a free education and zero student loans creeping over your shoulder like a cartoon ghoul.

NEW YORK, THE FREE COLLEGE CITY

New York recently rolled out a plan for free college, but given that over a million students apply for student loans yearly, it’s going to take a while for them to sort out how many they can approve. Either way, it’s a step in the right direction given that students shouldn’t be crippled with debt just because they want a good education and career.

FREE COLLEGE ACROSS THE COUNTRY

So where are these mythical colleges? What do they want as an exchange for a quality education? Some of these colleges might be in your backyard, all it takes is a little internet sleuthing to see what they’re looking for regarding admissions.

ALICE LLOYD COLLEGE

Alice Lloyd is ranked #40 of the best regional colleges. Its free tuition program is mainly for underserved students in the greater Appalachian area. It has also got some impressive SAT scores:

How to Attend for Free:

Students at Alice Lloyd pay it forward and work at 160 hours a semester in the community or around the school. Dorms are not free, but $1,900 annually is affordable. The average student can walk away from Alice Lloyd with under $7K in student loan debt.

BARCLAY COLLEGE

A tiny Christian school in Kansas, Barclay College has a curriculum that’s religion-centered and offers free tuition to students who live on campus and study areas such as:

How to Attend for Free:

Well, it’s not all free. If accepted to Barclay on a scholarship, they’ll award you $11K, but you’re on the hook for room and board, and all of the other little fees.

BEREA COLLEGE

Another Kentucky school, Berea is a small liberal arts college that offers 28 different degrees. With a student body of around 1,500, the college prides itself a 1:1 student/faculty ratio.

The majority of students hail from Appalachia and the Princeton Review named it one of the best colleges in the Southeast. Berea College is continually high ranked as one of the country’s best liberal arts colleges.

How to Attend for Free:

Students accepted into Berea College are awarded a four-year tuition scholarship. Students are expected to work at least 10 hours a week around campus. The scholarship offered can work in concert with other grants or scholarships any many students leave Berea debt free.

COLLEGE OF THE OZARKS

Another private liberal arts college, College of the Ozarks is based in Missouri and has an enrollment of 1,500. Ranked #10 in the 2014 U.S. News & World Report edition of the Best Colleges in Regional Colleges (Midwest), Forbes also ranked College of the Ozarks #21 in the Midwest.

How to Attend for Free:

The school is tuition-free for full-time students, but to gain acceptance to College of the Ozarks, students will need to show proof of financial hardships. Accepted students are required to work around the campus and keep a 40-hour work week during breaks.

CURTIS INSTITUTE OF MUSIC

Music fans rejoice, there’s a school out there to help you live the dream of earning a degree. Located in Philadelphia, Curtis Institute of Music offers degrees including a:

Curtis Institute of Music is right on par with lauded names like Berkeley or NYU and is considering one of the finest conservatories in the world. Getting into Curtis is tough, though. Only 165 students attend at a time, and there’s just a 4% acceptance rate. The school’s trained instrumentalists hold the top 25 chairs in the major US orchestras.

An even more delicate point to put on it would be:

How to Attend for Free

You have to be amazing at your instrument. They’ll cover the costs to teach you, but you’ll need to test to get accepted.

DEEP SPRINGS COLLEGE

A genuinely unique education experience, Deep Springs College is a private two year school in California that has less than 30 students. Some of Deep Springs students go on to earn a graduate degree or doctorate.

Because the school is an “alternative institution” it holds its principles as the governing body of the college. Admissions vary from 6%-15%, and the average SAT math, and the verbal score is 700.

How to Attend for Free

Students are expected to help on the school’s ranch or alfalfa farm at least 20 hours a week.

THE UNITED STATES ARMED SERVICES

Most of the branches of the US military offers an education package if you attend their academy. The Army, Navy, Merchant Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force provide a four-year degree so long as you agree to four years of service.

WILLIAMSON FREE SCHOOL OF MECHANICAL TRADES

Located in Pennsylvania, the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades is state school rooted in its Christian faith but offers students programs in:

How to Attend:

There are a few stipulations you should know about:

The awarded scholarship covers room and board, tuition, and books.

NOT SO FREE, BUT LITTLE-KNOWN HELP FROM THE TOP-TIER

Some of the most prestigious schools in the country have programs to help students who don’t have the luxury of a blank checkbook for their educations. Schools like Duke, Harvard, Princeton, and MIT all have programs based on a sliding scale of affordability for students. While some programs are a little more progressive than others, do the research and see where you income line falls. Worst case, you may fall in line for a significant discount.

Hopefully, some of these schools are what you’re looking for. Everyone should have a right to a financially responsible education. It’s unfair there are only a handful of schools offering a free education, but more and more programs and universities are popping up yearly. If we missed a school leave us a comment or shoot us a tweet. We’re always on the hunt for new schools trying to break free of higher ed’s financial chains.

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The post-high school world can be a lot like traversing a scene straight out of The Walking Dead, complete with groaning and grunting with clawed hands toward the sky. It’s a battlefield of hard choices and big risks.

Plus, there’s more than one scary monster lurking around the bend. Kids are barely old enough to rent a car or enlist in the military, but they’re expected to make smart life choices, which if played poorly, could leave them in financial ruin.

The thought of college for some is just a strategic piece of the puzzle they have been planning since the sixth grade. For the rest of us, looking at colleges, waiting on acceptance letters, and buying expensive textbooks are part of a dizzying fabric of the higher education experience. But, within all of that craziness, kids tend to go overboard with their spending. And if you’re not paying attention, college debt can come in like a tidal wave.

This is why it’s crucial to think about the big picture beforehand. No one wants a horror show debt scenario. No one wants a landscape fraught with zombies and financial ghouls. For the college kids of today and tomorrow, it’s a smart move to plan, to take some time to figure out goals before jumping headfirst into the collegiate waters.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to breathe. Your whole life is ahead of you. It may seem like the world is coming in like a defensive lineman, but it isn’t – the real world moves fast and you just need to be prepared. There are things to consider when making that jump into college and more importantly what to consider so that you’re not financially broken when it’s time to enter the workforce.

THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE CAPER – THE 2-UP GUARANTEE

Community college is an easy way to knock out possible debt and still get the basic educational needs out of the way and for like, ¼ of the price of a traditional college experience. Students who opt to get their associates out of the way first save thousands of dollars.

Think about it: a community college is close to home, which means you can stay living with mom and dad. The classes are always affordable at around $150 a class, and there is almost always a local used bookstore that offers books for a quarter of the retail price.

To make the pot even sweeter, there’s a policy in place with many community colleges and state universities called “Guaranteed Admission” where if you excel at a community college, you’ve got a spot on the roster. Plus, they even offer financial relief for good grades, should you fall within the scope of the program.

Another perk is that a community college schedule is pretty easy to maintain as most students are working. Because most of the student body is employed, it cuts down on debt twofold: no loans need to be taken out for food or living expenses. Most classes are paid for upfront with saved money instead of loan money. Community colleges can make for a serious win when you’re trying to avoid student loans.

REALLY THINK ABOUT YOUR MAJOR – WILL THIS MAKE A CAREER?

While it may be cool to say that you’re the literal master of your field, are you going be able to pay rent? A lot of the creative jobs in the world don’t pay the best. They require a lot of dues to be paid. So, unless you’re willing to start from the absolute bottom, it’s best to have a solid backup plan that you won’t hate. No one is saying pick a minor in something that makes you want to agonize over each time you walk in the door just to keep food in your belly, but definitely pick an area of study that allows for a wide berth of options when it comes to job hunting time.

For some folks, it’s not ideal to go to school with “I need a job” in mind, but it’s the nature of the beast. Keeping an eye on the career fields that offer a high employment rate is an easy way to get into the workforce fast. Plus, if you decide to become a coder or developer, those jobs pay well immediately. Because some fields are in such demand, a few employers will even offer a contract while you’re in school and take over your loan payments.

Having a solid backup plan is essential for the obvious reasons, but also if you rack up a lot of debt earning this degree, how can you expect to pay the money back when you can barely afford a two-piece from Popeyes for lunch? By all means, live your best life, but be aware that having a thought out plan of attack is what will save you from getting your phone shut off while in pursuit of the dream. And when that dream job finally opens up, you’ll have gas money and a lot of other levels of experience to add to the resume.

PICK THE RIGHT INTERNSHIPS

This thought goes hand in hand with number two. When you are thinking about where you want to work, or what you would like to explore – picking the right internship is critical. Just because a rad video game company needs interns, don’t think you need to drop everything to get on that train, too. Go to the lesser known places. Check out the available internships that the others may not be scrambling after. Your college should have a list, but also just Google some interesting companies and see what their needs are. They may not advertise, but an email never hurt anyone. Chances are, if you look and try to find an internship at a place that more aligned with your career goals vs. cool factor, you’ll find places that will give more meaningful work, but also help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

There’s no specific “intern-season” either. An internship is the most valuable part of your college experience. If an opportunity opens up, take it. Be looking year-round for your way in, even if it’s during the summer. Besides, some internships even pay.

By finding a place that gives you stuff to do besides fetching coffee and helps you career-wise, you may spend less time trying to figure out how to move the next chess piece. Plus, if you make an impression, those people may invite you for some part-time work, or even a job. Don’t be just a body performing duties, find somewhere they’ll teach you to make an impact.

DO YOU NEED THOSE LITTLE EXTRAS?

This is one plenty of folks are guilty of. When it’s time for the annual “let’s ask Uncle Sam for more cash” time a lot of people need an odd number like five or seven thousand. The government will give them a round number like eight or ten thousand. While it feels like bonus cash, it’s most definitely not. We get it. That’s extra money for Spring Break, or to live off of, but really, don’t abuse the money.

I’m going to sound like your dad here, but if you get the extra cash you don’t need, pay it back. Don’t even touch it. Put it right back to them. For every thousand you borrow, that’s hundreds in interest over time. According to CNBC the current student loan rate is up to 7% of the total gross number of the loan. That’s a lot of money.

If you insist on keeping the money, just know you’re beholden to paying it back down the line. Save the cash and budget what you’re getting and use the money on “as needed” basis instead of buying that flashy new television.

PAY ATTENTION – THAT EXTRA YEAR WILL EQUAL THOUSANDS – IT’S NOT AN ENDLESS PARTY, IT’S AN EDUCATION

Let me beat a drum for a second here: When you get out of school, finding that dream job will be hard. Rarely do people kill it immediately. When you’re like the 99.9% rest of us, you gotta climb the ladder toward a job that you’re ultimately happy with. The thing is, all of this takes time, and those first jobs pay garbage. Earning little money, paying rent, eating and hoping to have a little money left over to have a social life is hard enough. Doing it without the ghoul of student loans looming over your shoulder is an even more significant challenge.

According to Forbes, “Jodi Okun, founder of College Financial Aid Advisors says, “Even if you can afford it, if you’re able to finish in time and you or your parents don’t have to pay that extra $30,000, then go for it.”

Don’t take on more debt than you or your family needs. Just because it sounds great to blow off a semester, in the long run, you’re only hurting yourself or mom and dad.

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