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college_costs(MCT)—Remember the Freshman 15: the proverbial extra weight that college students pack on their first year away from home?

It’s nothing compared with the hefty load of debt that weighs down many students when they leave college four or five years later. Student loan debt, as everyone knows, has reached jaw-dropping proportions: more than $1 trillion, by the government’s latest estimate.

As September marks the annual exodus back to college campuses, the topic of paying for college has been much in the news lately. On Aug. 22, President Barack Obama said he wants a national ratings system in place by 2015 that would rank colleges based on average tuition, loan debt, graduation rates and post-college earnings. And several days later, the federal consumer watchdog agency announced a “toolkit” designed to help public service employees — teachers, firefighters, police officers and others — understand their options and get started paying off their student loans.

As government searches for big-picture ways to slim down college debt, here are some closer-to-home tips for trimming the fat from college costs, especially for freshmen.

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