If there’s one regret most college students seem to have it’s this:  That they spent too much for their college education. I see the problem up close and personal here in New York City, where it’s not uncommon for a journalism student to graduate from an Ivy League or near-Ivy League school with $100,000 in debt. Given the fact that starting salaries in journalism are low, it’s no wonder these students struggle.

One rule of thumb prospective college students and their parents should use is this: Your four-year total college tab shouldn’t exceed the starting annual salary in your field of choice, that’s according to Kal Chany, founder of Campus Consultants and author of “Paying for College Without Going Broke.”  Chany says meeting that hurdle may be easier said than done, and added, “There is no one size fits all answer.”

To be sure, though, some students will find it difficult to hold to that rule of thumb, and for that reason, many apply for student aid. The FAFSA is the most critical tool to accessing that aid and you can still make application for federal student aid now for the 2014-15 school year. Even if you don’t think you’re eligible for assistance, Chany says it’s important to apply. Other common mistakes people make in applying for federal aid include using the wrong year’s version of the form, waiting to be accepted to college to apply for aid and even using an incorrect Social Security number.

But it’s not enough to simply borrow a lot of money. If you want to keep your costs low, you’ll seek out schools that have the best return on your dollar. The average cost of a four year degree at Harvey Mudd College as an eye popping  $229,500 with average annual scholarships of $27,763, but the return on investment over 20 years is over a million dollars. Graduates of MIT, the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University all enjoy similar high rates of return, according to an evaluation by PayScale.

Bottom line, plan ahead – in terms of both nailing down as much grant money as you can and finding a college that gives you value for your education dollar.

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