Those who enlist may have their patience tested when they try to use their GI benefits, he says, advising service members to contact their local Veterans Affairs office and the school's financial aid office as early as possible.
"It's not a call on Monday morning expecting to get some answers and then get them a couple hours later," Kendall says. "Don't wait to do things until the last minute because you will end up being disappointed."
Students don't need to enlist or log hours at a part-time job in order to avoid student loans. College choice can play an important role in achieving a debt-free education, too.
[See the 2014 U.S. News Best Value Schools.]
For Ashley Riser, 30, that meant turning down her dream school.
"The package I got from College of Charleston sounded really impressive – the dollar amount," she says. But when she plugged in all of the numbers into her spreadsheet – tuition and fees, room and board, meal plan and books – USC—Aiken was the clear winner.
"Aiken was money back in my pocket," she says. "Charleston was giving them money."
Deciphering the financial aid awards was not easy. Riser called each school's financial aid office – repeatedly.
"I was on a first-name basis with folks because I called so often," she jokes.
Riser is now a college admissions officer and uses her experience to help prospective students make an informed decision.
"Really go through and find out what the cost is," she says. "And don't let the rah-rah, feel-good emotions about the school that you want to attend get in the way of making a smart decision."
Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.