Your education could drive you into the poorhouse. Don’t let that happen.

Millennials are struggling with unparalleled amounts of student debt. Their debt is now five times higher than it was 20 years ago. As a result, many students are behind in their payments.

Facing such continuing debt before you graduate college can damage your credit rating for years to come. For example, many millennials have stopped making their 401(k) retirement contributions altogether just to find money for the monthly loan payments.

Today, student debt spread out among some 44 million borrowers amounts to nearly $1.3 trillion. The average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt. This debt level is up six percent from last year.

The price of higher education is among the fastest-rising costs in American culture today, according to Tuition costs at U.S. colleges and universities have risen 757 percent since 1980. How much you borrow, the payment terms and how you manage your student loan repayment all have a serious impact on your budget, your credit score and your future borrowing ability.

What to Do

Facing that kind of debt is scary enough to chase you out of the classroom. But do not despair. Just as you learn to handle seemingly impossible academic workloads, you can be smart about controlling and avoiding excessive debt to pay for your education.

You have other options. One is to avoid allowing lagging student loans from dragging down your financial status. For instance, consider other alternatives to borrowing before jumping into a series of student loans, suggests Inga Stasiulionyte, a brain training coach, MIT Entrepreneurship Bootcamp mentor and a former Olympian.

Inga Stasiulionyte

Inga Stasiulionyte

“People should treat university studies as a business,” said Stasiulionyte. “When you start a company, and have no funds, you’d much rather look for family members to help you out, find a paying job to support your dream, seek investors or do a crowdfunding campaign than take on the burden of a loan.”

Stasiulionyte, who received a full scholarship for her studies at USC (University of Southern California) for her javelin-throwing abilities, is adamant about considering other options before taking out student loans. The goal should be finding how to avoid debt altogether.

Ultimately, learning how to search options will be valuable beyond college. It is a path to learning how to achieve one’s goals and become more responsible with money spending.

Do not give up if you already incurred debt. Your first consideration is figuring out how to pay it off as fast as you can.

Case In Point

Bobby Hoyt

Bobby Hoyt

Bobby Hoyt, today known as the Millennial Money Man on his blog about getting debt free, was a Texas high-school band director. He followed his own strategy to pay off $40,000 in student debt in just 18 months.

First, he reduced his living expenses by moving into a room at his wife’s parental home for $500 per month. Then he brainstormed a list of thrifty ways to survive. He adapted to his solutions, and you can, too. For instance, he held onto his old car instead of buying a pricey new one. He avoided the shopping mall at all costs. He and his wife skipped vacations, too.

The couple survived the 18 months and emerged debt free. Hoyt paid off his college debts. Along the way, he quit his job and is now a full-time financial blogger.

Cut Loose the Mindset

Millennials aren’t known for being thrifty. As a college student, do not fall into that generational mind trap. Millennials often see no point in struggling. But there is a point in struggling as long as you have a plan that helps you stop struggling in the future. Being hungry for success and thirsting for a college-debt free existence soon after graduation can motivate you.

Alex Monaco

Alex Monaco

The Millennial generation is focused on working only the minimum time expected. They prefer having fun over working hard. Both of those views do a lot to keep you in debt. In college, you have access to mentoring and dedicated professors whose job is to keep you on task. After graduation, you must set your own timetables for getting things done. Start that path while still in school, at least where managing your finances is concerned.

“It’s not enough for people, especially Millennials, to have the information or the directions in order to become passionate about something,” said Alex Monaco, a motivational writer. “Young people need to be mentored.”

Monaco, a motivational writer and speaker, thinks that people still feel stuck even if they read self-help blogs telling them how to become debt-free. Students need to be motivated for success beyond graduation. That motivation extends to eliminating college debt.

“The main difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is passion and motivation. The richest people are the hungriest ones,” he said.

A Custom Solution

Millennials might best be able to find motivation to succeed through the means they know best: mentorship. To help young people find their passion in life and motivation to succeed at critical tasks like paying off their debt, Stasiulionyte and Monaco co-founded Onbotraining, an online brain training course that helps young people reach their goals.

Onbotraining is based on a cognitive training system comprised of intense mental workout sessions. Much like a gym for bodybuilding, these sessions imitate a mental gym to target your weaknesses. The program inspires you to figure out your goals in life. It helps you to remove mental blocks and pushes you to realize your strongest desires. The program lasts 30 days, and presents a self-discovery test every day. Coaches evaluate your performance.

“The mindset that got you into debt will keep you under-achieved in life unless you change it,” said Monaco. “You cannot blame the system. Our life is solely our responsibility. A university can only give us knowledge, but it’s up to us to develop the skills that will help us persevere. When we realize that, we start working on removing mental blocks and changing our mindset.”