- While it might sound contrary to the traditional college-decision process, take a hard look at the cost of the schools you have in mind -- complete living and travel expenses if they're away from home, as well as tuition -- and weigh them against any job placement and/or earning potential stats they offer. If feasible, consider an in state or public school vs. an out-of-state or private institution.
- Once you've decided on the school, make sure to exhaust all other financing strategies -- scholarships, fellowships, work-study jobs -- before either the student or the parent hits the loan route.
- For those who aren't wealthy, a loan may still be necessary. Should you need one, Jarvis says loans offered by the Department of Education for both students and parents are usually better than private loans. She also cautions parents not to co-sign a private loan for their child, noting unforeseen problems down the road can be financially devastating for all parties.
- Develop a realistic long-term financial plan before you dive in. Determine how long everyone taking on loans will be paying for them, and learn what options may be available if anyone gets into trouble. Throughout it all, remember that most colleges never point our potential impacts of loan debt and actively encourage students and parents to do whatever is necessary to make their educational dreams come true. "Do your homework," Jarvis says, "because nobody's going to tell you that you're borrowing too much."
With no sign of a more affordable college experience on the immediate horizon, here are four elements to consider before you find yourself in a repayment position you can't handle: