One of the things school really doesn’t prepare you for in any real way is all the student loan debt you are going to be saddled with coming out of college. In a way, they try in high school and college to warn you about all the perils of dipping too deeply into the morass of student loan debt. But at the same time, most of us have just had part-time jobs or maybe our parents have made us pay for our cell phones or something like that.

But really, how are any of us to have any idea about what it’s like to pay off student loan debt? A vast majority of college kids — almost all, in fact — have no idea about what it is like to run their own household, so how can they have any idea what they are going to be facing when they come out of college? They may end up in a foreign city, with maybe up to $100,000 in student loan debt.

I am not suggesting that college is not the way to far more earnings, more life stability, and brighter overall prospects. I am suggesting though that you have got to weigh your college obligations far more carefully before you undertake the college experience.

The Inside Scoop

This is the inside scoop from a former student loan debt holder: paying off student loans as you are making your way through school is a far better option than waiting until six months after you graduate and then realizing you have no money.

If you are still in college or if you are just getting started in thinking about college, it’s a really smart idea to hunt down as much financial aid as possible. If you have been living on your own for a year or even a few months, the federal government may view you as an independent student, which could put you in a good category as far as FAFSA qualifications.

You should apply for as many state, local and federal grants and scholarships as you qualify for. You may groan at the cumbersome nature of many of these applications, but if you do follow through with these you may find that you don’t need to take out as much student loan debt as you first imagined.

Make a Deal with the Parents

If your parents are helping you through school, you should make a deal with them that says that if they will pay for your school, you will pay for everything else. Then it’s not as though you are letting your dad and mom buy you the best computer, tablet and a ridiculous school wardrobe. Instead, you are telling your parents you do not want to be saddled with debts all through your 20s and into your 30s; instead you want to make the responsible choice and try to work for what you need as you are making your way through school. If your parents are of reasonable means, they may look at this favorably and want to strike this deal with you.

Of course, if none of these situations defines you and you are indeed saddled with student loan debts, then you should try other strategies to get out of debt. For most student loan debt, there are very favorable interest rates and long repayment terms. You may also want to cobble together all these loans into a single payment every month— this is called debt consolidation. Then, start making payments. You can take the money you are making in real life, and make it work for you!