Looking to hold down college costs or pay off student loans? Try these creative approaches. By Janet Bodnar, Editor August 9, 2006 Many parents worry about the amount of debt their kids are taking on to pay for college. "My daughter majors in religious studies at a private college where tuition is quite high," one mother wrote to me. "I'm concerned about the amount of loans she'll have and her ability to repay them. Have you any suggestions?" As a matter of fact, I have. In the case of this young woman, it probably doesn't make sense to borrow heavily to attend a private school if her earnings potential is limited. But what 18-year-old would even think of that if Mom and Dad don't bring it up? That's why it's important to discuss college costs with your children before they apply, and level with them about how much you're willing to pay and how much they'll have to contribute. Even in the case of this religious studies major, there are ways to pay off that debt more quickly. To recruit qualified workers to public-interest jobs in underserved areas, a number of programs offer loan-repayment assistance. The largest and most diverse is AmeriCorps, which offers grants toward repaying your loans. And there are plenty of creative ways to hold down college costs so that your kids don't have to borrow in the first place. More than a dozen states offer merit scholarships to in-state students with stellar high school records (Georgia's HOPE scholarship is probably the best known). One of my colleagues at Kiplinger is about to send his son off to Vanderbilt University on a naval ROTC scholarship. It also pays to look for deals like the one offered by Albertson College of Idaho, a small liberal-arts school. Several years ago Albertson slashed its tuition by 30% to make private education accessible to state residents. Students can graduate in three years by combining high school AP credits with extra courses. And I know of one young man who blew through $25,000 of college savings without graduating before settling into a full-time job -- and then got his employer to foot the tuition bill. Then there's my son Peter's philosophy. Peter is a high school senior, and his top college choice is the University of Maryland -- where his tuition would be paid for because we invested in the state's prepaid-tuition plan. Says Peter, "I can't see going into debt to pay for college if I'm going to have to pay for graduate school." And I can't argue with that. Last week: Who pays for college? Janet Bodnar is deputy editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and the author of Raising Money Smart Kids (Kaplan, $17.95). Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.