Does graduating college without debt sound like a fairy tale? Finishing up your higher education without any crippling student loans seems next to impossible these days.
Yet, I was able to accomplish just that. And no, I didn’t have a full-ride scholarship or rich parents who paid for everything. I put a lot of effort into avoiding debt because I saw what it had done to others. I started college with the mentality that I would avoid signing that loan document.
It wasn’t easy, and it was very inconvenient at times, but graduating college without a dollar owed was the springboard to a more successful life. Here are a few tips on how I did it.
Graduating College with No Debt …
Picking the Right School
Eliminating school debt starts with picking the right school. Each university is a unique experience, and each has a unique price tag. While it may be tempting to go after that fancy, out-of-state university you toured, remember that it will cost you a pretty penny. Living on campus at an out-of-state four-year university will cost you about $36,000 versus the $22,000 an in-state university will cost. That’s a difference of $14,000. That’s a big deal when avoiding student loans.
If you are already at a school, but it’s too much for your wallet, then transfer to a more affordable one. You may lose a few credits in the process, but in the long run, your finances will be better off. Many students do a year at an out-of-state school only to transfer to an in-state school to save their finances. Again, it’s a $14,000 difference.
Scholarships, Grants, and Financial Aid
My first step when I arrived at college was to hit up the financial aid office. At first, they kept insisting I meet with a loan officer, but I refused, wanting to figure out alternatives. Surprisingly, there are a lot of other support systems for students that don’t require signing away your life and future money.
The first, and most commonly known, alternative is getting scholarships. Every high school senior should apply for tons and tons of scholarships because it’s basically free money. Once you get into college though, don’t stop applying for scholarships. There still is tons of money available for current college students.
You may qualify for government grants such as FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which don’t have to be repaid like loans do. Coordinating with your school’s financial aid office can ensure you get the most money from these grants. The financial office can best guide you through filling out the confusing paperwork.
Also, inquire about other financial aid options your school of choice may offer. Some schools offer work-study programs or can help you find a job. Find out what it takes to get on your school’s scholarship programs and get a full-ride, or half-ride, scholarship.
Jobs and Making Money
One thing I always hated while at college was the advice “get a part-time job to help pay for school.” Of course, I wanted a job, but so do the 10,000-50,000 other students on campus. The competition for minimum wage, part-time work near a university is ridiculous!
That being said, some part-time jobs are so valuable, you have to go after them.
For example, Starbucks will pay all tuition for employees who choose to study at ASU Online. Other companies are willing to help pay for books or help pay for other expenses along with paying a normal wage.
If you aren’t able to land a job, find other ways to make money. Offer tutoring, start an apartment cleaning service or something else to get some extra cash. I cooked homemade jam and sold it for a decent profit to students and it ended up paying for all of my food expenses all four years.
Cut Costs Everywhere
When battling debt, every dollar is important. If you’re looking to graduate without debt, you need to sacrifice quite a bit, like limiting social spending, identifying needs versus wants, taking time to clip coupons, and getting creative with your saving.
One cost-cutter was driving my car only in times of desperation. Gas was another expense that I didn’t need, so I walked everywhere. The average cost for gas and oil for a car is around $2,000 a year, which I definitely didn’t have at the time.
If you are returning to school or going to it for the first time, know that it is possible to graduate without debt. I’ve done it and, with some dedication, you can, too.
Did you graduate (or are you set to graduate) college debt-free? If so, how did you make that possible?
Ben Allen is an avid saver and an advocate for a debt-free lifestyle. He also writes about business, motivation and geek culture. You can connect with Ben on Twitter.
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