Figure out how much you can afford
Before you start shopping, make sure your monthly payment will fit into your budget. Remember that the amount the bank approves you may be more than you can comfortably afford, or need.
Research institutions according to your future plans
Going to college is a major investment in both money and time, so try and determine potential areas of study before committing to a specific program. Then make sure that you are on track to fulfill any requirements for admission.
Throughout the course of this year...
Consider community college for your basic credits
It really doesn't matter where you earn your basic credits, so you might consider earning them at a much less expensive community college. Just make sure the credits will transfer to the university from which you plan to graduate.
Establish a savings plan
How much you save each month will depend on how soon you plan to start paying tuition. You might also explore 529 plans or college specific savings accounts, like a Coverdell.
Explore your financial aid options
Make sure you complete the federal government's financial aid application, the FAFSA, in a timely manner. Don't forget to look for other scholarship, work-study and grant programs. If you're going to school while working, check with your employer to see if you can receive some assistance.
Set up automatic savings transfers
Don't wait to see if there is money “left over” each month, treat saving as another bill to make sure it happens.
Throughout the years...
Continue to monitor the amount of student loan debt against your future potential earnings
To avoid feeling overwhelmed by student loan debt once you graduate, try not to borrow any more than you could reasonably expect to earn as your first year's salary using your new degree. In other words, if you expect your post-college job to pay $50,000, then your total student loan debt should not exceed $50,000
Keep your grades up and look for other ways to build your resume
Increase your chances for landing your perfect job upon graduation by maintaining the best GPA you can and taking advantage of connections and experience building extracurricular activities.