By Chris McKinnon

BOSTON (CBS) – The numbers are staggering. According to financial planner Rick Applegate, the average student borrower gets out of school with a significant burden.

“Anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 of debt to start out life,” Applegate said.

Americans are currently drowning in more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt. According to Bloomberg Research, student loans have exploded by a whopping 157 percent.

Those numbers are leaving millennials in a tricky spot financially.

“They are turning 31-32 years old and still carrying $110,000 of debt behind them, that’s when it starts to squeeze them on future financial decisions,” Applegate said explaining that often leads to putting off major life events like buying a house or starting a family.

“Everyone said, ‘Go to college. Go to college, that equals success,’ and it did then, but now things are changing,” explained high school guidance counselor, Caroline Babik.

But Babik and many of her colleagues are trying to get the message across to students that there are ways to be successful without all that debt.

That can mean putting aside the traditional four-year college right out of high school plan.

“How about be a physical therapy assistant first. Go to school for two years, make $40,000 at 21 and let them help you pay to go back to school,” Babik explained.

It’s a strategy known as building stackable skills. Use the first skill to pay for the second and so on. Eventually it will all pay off.

Students can also cut the cost of college in half by starting at a community college and transferring to their dream school. You may even get into a better college.

“Now they are looking at who you are as a transfer student, not who you were as a high school student,” Babik said.

Trades are also in high demand and pay well. It takes a few years of working as an apprentice, but once you are licensed salaries can be three figures.

If you do decide to go the four-year college route, experts say your dream school may also be the most expensive.

“If you want it bad enough, you are going to do it, but you have to find a way to make sure that you think ahead and plan for what you are stepping into,” Applegate said.

Financial advisors also tell students to choose their school wisely – their dream school might also be the most expensive and may not be worth it in the long run.

Chris McKinnon

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