Steps to slash college costs

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PHOENIX - Michelle Rivas is a junior at Arizona State University and relies mostly on student loans to pay her way through school.

“It's pretty scary,” she said. Scary, because she's racked up nearly $20,000 worth of debt so far.

It's money she'll have to pay back after she graduates, which could take decades to do. “I'd like to think that I have a job right out of college and be able to start paying those right away,” she said. “Fingers crossed that that happens.”

Student debt has tripled over the past decade to nearly $1 trillion according to recent estimates.
That's more than the nation's credit card debt.

So just how do students attend college without drowning in debt?

J.D. Wyzallick with the website AZcollegeplanning.com says the answer is easy: Don't take out student loans. He says using the following three steps can help make that possible. “By starting early in the process it can be true,” he said.

First, J.D. says, find the right college. While some schools are limping along, he says others have incredible financial resources.

For example, he says Grinnell College in Iowa has more than a billion dollars at their disposal and pass the money on to students in the form of scholarships.

“Really, the biggest key is identifying colleges that really want to recruit that student, and in that situation, they're going to offer that student fantastic scholarship packages,” he said.

Second, J.D. says parents need to separate their assets from their children’s.

Financial aid forms vary, and knowing those differences is important. He says some parents think transferring assets to their child will maximize tax write-offs, but it can stop the student from getting financial aid.

“Any money that's saved up in the student's name gets assessed at a higher percentage than if the money was simply in the parent’s name,” J.D. said.

Position the student is J.D.'s third step. Make them marketable by taking, and re-taking, the SAT and ACT to get the best score possible.

He recommends students also build their resume in high school by getting involved in sports and extra-curricular activities.

“Preparing the student academically is going to help them not only stay in college when they go, but also to graduate on time,” he said.

J.D. says students should apply to between six and 10 colleges.

That way you won’t have all your eggs riding on one school’s decision and will make you more desirable.

When it comes to scholarship, J.D. says starting the application process early is key.

It will take some time to research all the scholarships that are out there, but he says putting in the work will pay off.