College Survival Kit

Big bills and huge debt — it's all part of the college experience, right? Well, it doesn't have to be. You no longer have to be that penniless college student, taxed with overflowing bills. Stop struggling to buy your textbooks and school clothes from the money your roommates left in between the sofa cushions. There is a way out, and we're calling on all those veterans who survived the hard times. How did you get passed the stacked bills, while still remaining focused on your studies?

If you were once a “working” college student and survived, or if you are an expert in a particular field, then now is your chance to share tips with the rookies.

In your response, pick and choose from the categories below and expand on your experiences. Please include your name, college, and year of graduation.

• Financial Aid Suggestions

• Juggling Work and College — Picking a Job that "Works" for You

• Is This College the Right Investment for Me?

E-mail us at and shares your tips!

Visit's special section on campus life, College 101.

Here's what some FOX Fans are saying:

"I had a terrible time financially getting through college, but I did it without going into debt. Most college students waste an incredible amount of money each week. If you got a job serving the beer instead drinking it, that makes an amazing difference. Students who eat out and regularly visit snack and drink machines spend way more than they realize. Don't buy your books until you've been to class a few times. Some professors require books that they never use! And some textbooks are available at the library. Sometimes you can purchase a book with a friend or roommate and share it. I figured I could work full-time and be too busy for decent grades, or I could work part-time and make top grades and get scholarships. I chose the latter path and it paid off. I considered earning top grades part of my job and finding scholarship opportunities to be a job to get done too. Many state schools will waive out-of-state-fees once you've proven that you're a desirable student." — Jo (Mississippi State University, class of 1987)

"I am an almost-40 college student with a family and a full time job. I suggest a credible online university. I am currently attending a Title IV college in my state, all online. More colleges are offering this, and it is making my studies possible." — Russ

“Getting through college is tough, but self-discipline is the key. Also, cut back on the nights out, and go to work somewhere. Work, study hard, take a little time to refresh your minds once in a while, but don't lose focus. The time will pass quicker than you think. Apply for all scholarships, grants, and loans.” — Julie (Texas)

“During college, I worked in Yellowstone Park for five summers as a waiter, bar waiter, and bartender. Because of my work ethic, I was the first bar manager at the then new Canyon Village in 1956. These jobs, with tips, salary, and reasonable accommodations, allowed me to put enough money in the bank to cover the next year of college.” — Dean

“I was able to get a work-study job in both my undergraduate and graduate programs to help defray the cost of tuition and would recommend this to students. It gave me good experience in my field and some extra money. Once you start school, talk to your professors and let them know your situation. I had several professors who had odd jobs and potential scholarships that they passed along to me because they knew I was working my way through. I also worked in my dorm cafeteria for extra money…an easy job with no travel time.

When looking at financial aid think about as many sources as you can. Look to scholarships from service organizations like the Optimist and Rotary Clubs in your area. Often they have money available to winners of essay contests or for making a presentation about your interests and goals for college. Scholarship services and searching the library for scholarship listings helped me to find several thousand dollars each year. Every dollar helps...don't overlook the little opportunities to add to your total finances.

The most important thing to remember is that you will need to pay back the money you borrow. Take into consideration what the starting salaries will be in your chosen field and see if you can finance paying back your loans and still be able to afford to cover life's basics. Many of my classmates in graduate school had over $80,000 in debt in 1994 for their total education — a staggering number and much too high for the entry level pay we were receiving in architecture. Unfortunately, learning to love Raman noodles even after you graduate is a reality.

As both an in-state public school graduate and an expensive private school graduate, I have been on both sides of the fence and have had to carry a good deal of debt for choosing an expensive, private graduate school. I would strongly recommend finding a solid in-state, public school and saving the extra money so that you can get out of college debt sooner or if needed, pursue a graduate degree.” — Sue (1989 Graduate, Purdue University and 1994 Graduate Harvard University)

"I went for the state school that would pay me to be a student instead of the other way around. I am completely satisfied with my education and the opportunities presented to me. I can go to any grad school or be very competitive in the job market in my field of study (chemistry). Far from being in debt, I am actually running a surplus from the scholarships I have. So my tip to high performing students looking at expensive ivy's is to think about your wallet and consider the state-schools." — Lily Viata (Florida State University, Class of 2007)

"I’m 47 years old and have one son, Willie 21, in his fourth year of college, and another son, Patrick, 18 years, going next year. Parents are going in debt and are lost on ideas. How I am surviving the college dilemma? I spent a year researching ways to maximize getting the best discounts on college. I realized that Middle Americans making under $50,000 qualify for the best savings. I decided if I cut my salary in half, looked towards private schools with Financial Aid programs, and student loans I would be in a better position. Four years later my son is at a private college, Drake University, $27,000 annually, and with grants, loans, and scholarships we have managed to keep at $25,000 in loans to date. I think it's pitiful that I have had to go to this extent, but I am happy that my son will have minimum payments." — Laura (Kansas City, KS)

"In Texas, they have a wonderful program called Texas 2-step. This consists of an accredited junior college for two years for all core courses. With a B average you are automatically accepted into any state college to complete a major. We have, thus far, spent $3,200 on our son at Temple Junior College and he will now go to Tarleton University for the last two years. He is commuting to cut down on room and board cost so we can figure about $7,500 to finish up with an Information Systems BS degree in two more years. This is affordable for any family even if they have to borrow. His books are from so he pays half of what you pay in a bookstore, he brings his lunch and works 15 hours a week at a local library to pay his gas for commuting 22 miles to the university. We feel his degree will get him just as far in his field as an expensive private university, only he will have no debt." — Tony and Alice (Temple, TX)

“I am a current graduate student at Louisiana State University. I am not from Louisiana, and thus I was originally charged out of state fees until the university granted me in state tuition. I will graduate in December with a MA in International Relations and about $70,000 in student loan debt. My parents have not contributed to my education, nor have I asked them to. In order to get enough financial aid, I declared independence from my parents and thus my financial aid report is based off of what I earn not what they earn. Parents should not be required to pay for their children’s education. Student loan debt is just part of entering the adult world and becoming independent.” — Michael (Louisiana State University)

"I think too much emphasis is placed on the name of the institution. After graduation, many companies only want to know if you went, finished, and did well. Very few want to know about the college you attended. My husband and I utilized both community college and the 4-year university. We both graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma. He also attended the University of Oklahoma and even though OU is a great university, we both would rather be in a class of 25 with a college professor than a class of 500 and a teacher's assistant." — Carol (University of Central Oklahoma, 1986)

"As a parent who put two kids through 18 years of college, I can tell you that it was worth the sacrifice and a pleasure to write every tuition check. While we put money away for college from the day both of them were born, it was still not enough. Each of my kids entered their careers with under $10,000 in loans. My daughter is an orthodontist and my son graduated from law school. I think that helping kids get a good start on their career path is one of the most important things we can do for our children. The one thing that both of them can do to 'repay me' is do the same for their kids as I did for them." — Dan (University of Illinois College of Dentistry 1969)

"The cost of college is way to much. I am a college graduate at the Lawrence Technological University. I have $30,000 in debt for just two years of schooling. My suggestion is to go to a community college first and transfer credits to that university they are going to. They should also apply for scholarships that the university has to offer and apply for FAFSA. They should find a job that offers to pay for some of the college tuition." — Alicia (Oxford, MI)

"You should only have to pay for what you use. Case in point: the mandatory add-ons that are included in my daughter's tuition — athletic fees, student activity fee, health fees, and a recreation fees — all totaling $233 per semester. None of those things my daughter will use, yet we are forced to pay. And don't even get me started on the cost of books. Her calculus book alone is $180." — Tommy (Canton, GA)

“If you are still in high school, still looking for the right college, then my advice to you is to be aware that academic performance is a factor. Since colleges are interested in students who take challenging courses and go that extra mile, you should not slack off during your senior year. But, still remember that no matter what your GPA is, the right college is still out there for you.” — Gerry (UCLA, Class of 2002)

“Don’t miss out on new opportunities and friendships by keeping yourself in the comfort of your floor friends. You will find that the student life aspect is one of the most rewarding components, and if you don’t get out and explore, you may never find out. My advice to you: get involved, be passionate, and make lots of friends.” — Jess (Penn State, Class of 1998)

“I graduated college two years ago, and the tuition then was slightly less than it is today, but I had to work to pay for all the extras — books, clothes, the extras. At the time, I thought having to work while in school took a lot of time away from my studies. But in actuality, it made me a more responsible person and I got more accomplished. I was working in-between, and after classes, about 25 hours a week and earning $7.50 an hour. I saved a lot of money and didn’t have to ask my parents for cash. I would recommend everyone doing work-study, if they can get it.” — Laura (University of Massachusetts, Class of 2004)

“In college it is important to participate in community service, extracurricular activities, and hobbies. I see it that college is a resume-building experience. The more you do, the more people you meet, the more you learn…they’re all stepping-stones to a successful future. All of those things factor in and will help you choose the career path that’s right for you.” — Joe (Virginia Tech, Class of 1999)

“The most important thing to look out for is scholarships. The more financial help you can get, the better. When I was looking at colleges many years ago, I did not have the opportunities that you kids nowadays have. You have guidance counselors in high school steering you in the right direction, and pointing out which scholarships are right for you, whatever they may be— athletic, academic, community service, etc. I didn’t have someone to hold my hand. I had to take out loans — loans that are still being paid today. But luckily, my kids will have the opportunity to apply for as many scholarships that they can, and I will also contribute as much as I can to their education.” — Phillip (William and Mary, Class of 1975)

“I was 41 years old when I started law school, working full time and going to school nights and weekends, all year round. I had to borrow so much money to take time off three times a year for finals, and while studying for the State Bar Exam.

By the time I passed it (3rd time!) I owed approximately $70,000.00.

It took me over four years to find a job, and it was such a low paying one I couldn't even afford to pay the interest payments. I have refinanced both my Stafford and un-subsidized loans at least six times, requesting economic hardship deferments and forbearances.

Twelve years later I owe the government over $165,000.00! ... I think student loan programs offered were with young students in mind, with a good chance of eventually finding a job with the ability to pay back their loans. Most people don't enter law school at the age I did.” — Mary (Vista, CA)