Financial aid: One of six tools to graduate debt-free

Financial aid dwindling. Rising tuition. College debt over $20,000. Financing a college education can be as hard as paying off a McMansion on an adjustable-rate mortgage. Here are six ways you can trim or eliminate college debt.

2. Pick an inexpensive school

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    Zac Bissonnette, a senior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is set to graduate from college debt-free. He even wrote a book about it.
    Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
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"The single most effective, and by far the easiest way to reduce the cost of college is to pick a school with a low sticker price," says Bissonnette. "In high school, I started wondering if I should go to a low-sticker-price public college or take a big loan and go to a private college." People encouraged him to go to a private college, but after conducting his own research, Bissonnette vowed to avoid taking on any debt for college.

He worked at local businesses throughout high school, and made money by selling yard sale finds on eBay. By the time he graduated from high school, he had already saved about $35,000 for college. Then he looked hard at public four-year colleges, which charge, on average, $7,020 per year in tuition and fees for in-state students, according to the College Board. The average cost for private four-year schools is $26,273.

He ended up at UMass: After a $2,500 tax credit and a $1,700 state grant, he pays only $7,500 per year.

Geography matters, too, says Patrick Kandianis, cofounder of SimpleTuition, a Boston-based company that counsels families on paying for college. "Most students go to college within 300 or 400 miles of where they liveā€¦. Start to look beyond that distance and you start to stand out, be more desirable to that institution."

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