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From guidance counselors and parents to your soccer coach and nosy neighbors, everyone seems to be interested in where you’re planning on going to college. And with good reason — there’s a lot to consider when making this important decision, beyond just picking the right university or vocational school and figuring out your major. Education costs money … a lot of it. But with some practical planning, there are ways to rein in college costs even if your college fund hasn’t caught up with your dreams quite yet.

Figure out What You’ve Got to Work With

Have the “money talk” with your parents. Find out if they — or your grandparents — have funds put aside for you like a tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan. If they do, know that the impact on your financial aid is different based on whether your parents or your grandparents started the account. And don’t forget to ask for money toward your college fund for birthday presents and holiday gifts to bolster your savings.

Stretch Your Budget

Rather than going straight to a four-year school, consider spending your first year or two at a community college. Community college can cost much less — plus, you could potentially save on living expenses by commuting. You can then transfer to the school of your dreams in a year or two to dig into your major.

Plan Your Way Out of a Jam

Talk to your college advisor about the feasibility of graduating early. Look into concurrent enrollment programs that allow you to take reduced-cost college classes while in high school. AP testing and CLEP tests can also help you receive credit at a reduced rate and speed up your graduation date. Graduating even one semester early can save you thousands of dollars in tuition, housing and other expenses.

Scholarships Are Free Money

In addition to academic and sports scholarships, there are also community-based, gender and subject area scholarships. Once you’re in college, you can work with your major department or honor society to take advantage of these programs. Look into smaller scholarships as well. Sometimes they’re easier to get, and a lot of small scholarships can add up to more money. And don’t forget about grants if you have financial need. Many states and colleges offer their own need-based grant, research and scholarship programs that you can apply for.

Work-study and Summer Jobs

Instead of taking out more student loans, look for opportunities to participate in federal work-study. These are programs that provide you work during the semester and can help you reduce the need for debt. A summer job can build up your resume and help toward paying your college expenses for the coming year.

Get Ahead of Debt

Make sure you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid each year to take advantage of grants, work-study and some scholarships. Speak with a financial professional to help you take steps now to sidestep serious debt and make your transition into life on your own as smooth as possible.