Do you have nightmares about graduating with student loan debt? I know I did. My biggest fear was that I would amass so many student loans that I would struggle to repay them. After all, I was studying for a degree in journalism and Spanish — not the most lucrative fields. I worried about trying to repay my student loan debt on my meager entry-level media salary after graduation.
Knowing I needed to keep my borrowing to a minimum, I got creative. Surprisingly, one of the best strategies for me to save money was something you would least suspect — spending a semester studying abroad. This tactic coupled with other money-saving efforts helped me borrow less in student loans. Altogether, I took out $20,000 in private loans and about $22,000 in federal loans for college. If I hadn't studied abroad and employed other college cost-cutting strategies, I would have ended up with at least $20,000 more in private loans. That would have meant about $62,000 total in student loans, which would have been a much bigger struggle to repay.
Get a Part-Time Job
To reduce how much I needed to borrow, I started by doing what many students do: I worked each summer to make money to buy my books. I also took on any jobs I could find throughout the school year. I worked at the school newspaper, wrote content for the School of Journalism's website and gave residence hall tours to prospective students. While these jobs didn't make a significant dent in the cost of tuition, they helped me pay for things like toiletries, going out with friends and traveling home to visit family.
Yet, significantly reducing how much I borrowed meant finding even more ways to cut back on my educational expenses. One strategy was to take classes over the summer at my local community college. There I completed the economics credits that I needed at a much lower cost than if I were to take them as part of a normal semester at Indiana University.
I also really wanted to study abroad but wasn't sure if I could afford to do it without going into more debt. I was surprised to find out that tuition was sometimes much cheaper at foreign schools. My tuition at Indiana University was about $15,000 per semester. I tried to find programs that would be equivalent academically to my school but also cost less than the room, board and tuition there.
I was able to study at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima, where tuition and room and board cost about $8,500. As a result, rather than borrowing the maximum from federal student loans and $10,000 in private student loans that semester, I was able to forgo the private loans entirely. Not only was it a significant savings, but it was also an amazing opportunity to study abroad and improve my Spanish.
Another way that I saved money was by graduating early. Because I took those summer classes I was able to accumulate enough extra credits to finish school a semester early. I'm extremely grateful that I went that route. It saved me another $10,000 that I would have had to take out in student loans for that final semester.
If you're searching for ways to borrow less in student loans, it pays to think outside of the box. I'm grateful, not just that I got to spend time in Peru, but that I will finish repaying my loans earlier — just two more years. Even though it may seem tricky to do, I was able to reduce my student loan debt while also having an amazing college experience.
By Kourtney Liepelt as told to Amanda Reaume. Liepelt, 26, is a strategic communications and relations manager at a senior living facility. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and Spanish in December 2013 from Indiana University Bloomington.