How to Finish College Debt-Free: A Guide for Parents

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How to Finish College Debt-Free: A Guide for Parents

This week’s guest post is by Laura Cobb Hayes, the founder of The Learning Bridge. Their mission is to deliver quality instruction, help clients exec

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This week’s guest post is by Laura Cobb Hayes, the founder of The Learning Bridge. Their mission is to deliver quality instruction, help clients execute successful training events, and help individuals meet educational goals.  She’s passionate about education and was eager to share some tips about graduating college debt free.

If you had to take out student loans, you’re probably hoping your child never has to. Unfortunately, there are thousands of dollars of scholarship money that go unclaimed every year. That means students are scrambling to pay for school. 

When it comes to grants and scholarships for college, students are:

  • Unaware 
  • Without access
  • Not properly prepared

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) states that public school counselors have around 482 caseloads when the recommended maximum is 250. In addition to that, counselors see their students for an average of about 20 minutes a year.  Typically, that time is spent making a schedule for the next year.  It is not spent planning for the future, and it is certainly not spent looking for college scholarships. That is where I come in. 

As a 35-year veteran educator, I have seen it all.  I have been a teacher, a principal, a state department of education official, and a chief of schools. I have dedicated my life and career to education.

That’s why I know how to adequately prep high school students for college. If you’re looking for guidance, here are some of our best tips to help your child get scholarships and finish college debt free.

Get Organized 

The first thing you need in preparing for college is to get organized. That means you should help your high school student: 

•Develop a timeline. To develop a timeline, you must know the various deadlines, such as the deadline for submitting applications.  

•Pull together a resume, transcripts, and reference letters. The sooner you get these documents in order, the better. Scrambling to get things done last minute is not ideal. 

Draft an essay. College essays are very important, and knowing how to write them is a great skill to develop. When crafting a college essay, make sure you include the following: 

–Personal achievements 

–Academic plans and possible major 

–Social issues and current events 

–Mentors and influences 

•Read, re-read and have someone else proof your applications and essays. 

•Keep a record of each scholarship you applied for. Make sure you record the following:

-the amount



-what you sent, for example, application, essays, letters of recommendation, transcript, resume, 

a nomination form, income info, etc. 


Having access to valuable resources can make a big difference when it comes to getting funding for college.

Some of our favorite resources are: 

Admissions and Financial Timeline 

Here is a list of things to consider and goals to work toward based on your child’s grade. 

Freshman/Sophomore Year 

When your child is a freshman or sophomore in high school, they should:

  • Establish good grades
  • Participate in activities (work toward leadership positions)
  • Establish a positive rapport with teachers and counselors 
  • Look into doing Dual Credit and AP courses 
  • Write and track goals  
  • Start PSAT/ SAT/ACT prep 

Junior Year 

By junior year, your child should have an idea of what colleges they want to attend. They need to:

  • Identify dream, target, and safety schools 
  • Read with you
  • Prepare for PSAT/NMSQT in the fall 
  • Get ready for college visits 
  • Prepare for ACT/SAT in spring (or resits in fall of senior year) 

Senior Year 

This is the last leg of the journey. This year, your high schooler has to:

  • Complete applications (Common Application is usually out in August) 
  • Complete FAFSA 
  • Stay on top of mail and e-mail 
  • Compare award letters 
  • Beware of repackaging 
  • Apply for housing and food services 

Next Steps

Preparation is key when getting funded for college and finishing debt free. To help your high schooler on their college journey, tell them to: 

•Meet their counselor. We recommend weekly visits.

•Ask specifically for scholarships at their place of employment. Check out your place of employment and your social and community organizations, fraternities, and sororities. 

•Look into national organizations that support your areas of interest 

•Search online 

College may not be what every student wants to do. But for those who do, the research has shown that over the course of their career, they will make more than a million dollars more than their peers who do not complete college. In addition to that, they’re on track to have better health, own a home, accumulate more savings, and live a higher quality of life. 

I do not believe a child’s future should be based on the zip code into which they were born. That is where The Learning Bridge comes in. 

The Learning Bridge is an education and training partner for schools. In addition to expert workshop facilitation, The Learning Bridge provides school project management support. Schools and districts come to us to build enrollment, increase student engagement, improve student achievement and leadership capacity, and change lives!

With over 35 year’s experience in the education and training industry, the Learning Bridge is committed to delivering high-quality customized learning, training, and project management experiences. The Learning Bridge has created an online course that teaches students how to plan and pay for college.

Our newest consumer product, Scholarship Secrets, helps students and parents navigate the college funding landscape, helping even more students continue their education and build stable lives. 

For even more tips, check out our website or order our course!

You can follow us on Facebook too.

About the Writer

Laura Cobb Hayes is the founder of The Learning Bridge. She is also a former teacher, principal, and Chief Academic Officer. Laura has also served in leadership positions with local non-profits and national entities.

Laura now writes, travels, and regularly lectures on school choice, helping students succeed in school and supporting non-profit organizations.  

She is passionate about education because her parents believed that education was the way up and out of poverty. 


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