Let’s continue our discussion of what many have termed “The Student Loan Debt Crisis.” I happen to like that characterization, because it’s scary enough to get more and more parents, high school counselors and students themselves to focus on the need today to do a cost/benefit analysis when it comes to a college education.

The more Americans hear about the nearly $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, the increasing number of defaults, the regret stories of young people who have borrowed too much, and the stories of the negative effects on the lifestyle and career choices of young people who are burdened with student loan debt, the more likely it will be that everyone will continue to make more informed choices, and the more likely they will start earlier to build realistic expectations and plans. So, personally, I hope that the media will keep bombarding the American public with this kind of reporting.

If those story lines are not enough to make the point, how about those new reality game shows, like CollegeHumor’s “Total Forgiveness” and truTV’s “Paid Off,” where young people burdened with student loan debt do the most outrageous things, or answer trivia questions, in order to earn prize money to pay down their debt? That’s what we have come to.

To be honest, I believe that parents, counselors and students are much more focused now than they were 10 or 15 years ago on the problems of ever-increasing college costs and student loan debt, and on the need to get the best value for every dollar that families or students spend or borrow for a college education. That is a positive. However, I see the ever-increasing serious concerns on the faces of so many high school students when these issues come up in my presentations. That makes me realize that we still have a long way to go.

With all of that said, here are my favorite tips and things to consider. They are by no means exhaustive, and there are many resources out there to look to, including blogs, books, and articles.

• First, one obvious way to minimize student loan debt and college costs is not to go to college. The bottom line is that in today’s world, unlike in the 1960s, we have systemic grade inflation, credential inflation, many more college graduates competing for not that many more good jobs, and all of that often financially crippling student loan debt. As a result, we are starting to hear less from the “college for everyone crowd,” and more from those suggesting that, for many young people, there may be other good career alternatives out there. They include the military, apprenticeships, and other training programs. It is also clear that there is no longer as much of a middle-class societal stigma associated with many of those alternatives, like that hard-working and ambitious plumber making $130,000 a year with no student loan debt. Especially when that is compared with that young person with $60,000 of student loan debt and a $25,000-a-year job. How many of those stories do we hear?

• Second, in the case of a “for sure college-bound student,” families and students should start early, even in freshman year, to do a few things. They include, annually, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, in order to get an idea of what the future family contribution may be in order to avoid sticker shock later. Also, families can start annually looking at the costs (sticker price and average actual costs per student) of a range of possible, and, eventually, likely schools — state, private and elite schools. In addition, families can start looking seriously at the student’s strengths, weaknesses and interests, and whether their interests and their strengths match up. At some point, aptitude tests can be of some help in this analysis. Eventually, a realistic assessment will have to be made as to where a student will likely end up on the bell-curves of both their education and their chosen career, so starting to think in those terms can be helpful. Will they be at the bottom or top of their college class and career? Also, families should start building a mindset and an expectation that the student will graduate “on time” in whatever program they ultimately choose. Finally, it is never too early to start looking at scholarships that the student may be eligible for. There are a great number of $500 and $1,000 scholarships out there that can really add up someday. Of course, any particular student may be clearly on track for academic, athletic, or performing arts scholarships, or for other scholarships or special programs, like the New York State Excelsior scholarship.

• Third, before the application process actually begins, consider these things that high school students can do that can really help them later when they go to college. If they can, take advanced placement courses that can translate into college credit, and/or actual college credit courses offered in some high schools. Also, if they have a pretty good idea of what career they are serious about — look for work, volunteer opportunities, or internships that will build skills and reinforce their interests in those areas. Finally, students should consider working in order to make some money for college. It will give them some “financial skin” in the game, even if their family does not have any financial issues. Amazingly, the last time I checked, only 40% of high school students work.

• Fourth, as you move closer to the application process, look seriously at 2+2 programs, state vs. private schools, co-op programs, ROTC programs, living at home, and the possibility of establishing residency for any state schools out-of-state that you may be interested in. In looking at these things, remember that so many careers don’t require that you have a private or an elite private school education. Also, many employers would rather you graduate in the top 5% of your class at a state school than in the bottom 5% of your class at a private school. In addition, will the added costs of an undergraduate “college experience” be worth it if you are going to have to go to graduate school in order to meet your career goals?

In the next column, we will finish up the series with the last of my tips.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.