Unless you have a hefty college fund, financing your college education may be your only option, but don’t despair.  If you’d rather not drown in student debt, there are strategies to keep your loans to a minimum.

Here are four:

1. Stick to an in-state school or affordable out-of-state school

It is tempting to attend a big brand-name college with a stellar reputation, but you’ll often get more bang for your buck at an in-state public school—or affordable private college (yes they exist): Nebraska Wesleyan, Birmingham Southern, and Hastings, for example.

Here’s a breakdown of the average cost of tuition by college type for the 2017–2018 academic year:

College Type Average Cost of Tuition
Community $3,570
In-state public $9,970
Out-of-state public $25,620
Private $34,740

DATA SOURCE: THE COLLEGE BOARD.

As you can see, opting for an in-state public university over a pricey private one might save you roughly $99,000 on tuition over a four-year period, strong motivation to become a smart college shopper by finding an affordable local or out-of-state school.

2. Avoid taking out private loans

Students whose college costs exceed the federal borrowing limits often take out private loans to make up the difference. We don’t recommend it.

For starters, interest rates on private loans are not capped. Private loans also don’t normally offer any sort of accommodations for people who struggle to keep up with their payments. Federal loans, conversely, offer a number of borrower protections like income-based repayment plans and deferment.

Instead, choose a college that the family can afford with the student borrowing at most $5,000 a year– or, over four years, $20,000 total. $20,000 can be paid off by age 31 for only $225 a month after college. Remember the goal: graduating with minimal debt.

3. Graduate on time

Graduating on time means having a solid idea of your major, taking at least 15 credits a semester, and working hard– fewer beverages, more books. AP or IB credits, summer school, and taking 18 or so credits a semester can get you that degree in LESS THAN four years, leaving you with less debt and earning a real income sooner.

4. Leave your car at home

Your savings from leaving the car at home can fund the premium you’ll incur from living in a dorm, frat, or sorority. Further, if you’re enjoying the benefits of on-campus living—community, proximity, energy, friendships—you shouldn’t need a car. Then, once you’ve experienced the benefits of on-campus living, save even more by living at home. You’ll be thankful you did when your outstanding loan balance is thousands less than what your peers owe.

Be a smart college shopper: choose wisely. Then at college, make wise choices.

Need help finding the affordable, “value” colleges? Check out our OTC College Counseling System, all you’ll ever need including America’s Most Affordable Colleges: Our Definitive List of the Best, Lowest Cost Schools and Platinum Guide for College: Finding Your Best-Fit College at the Lowest Cost.