Getting through college without debt used to be an obtainable goal for many students. Now, a student is considered lucky if they graduate with minimal debt. The average debt that a college student will accumulate in four years is $35,051. This number is shocking, and to add onto it, this is for the average state college. Private colleges likely rack up even more debt.
(*This post was written by Kimberly Studdard, a regular guest writer here at Life And My Finances)
How to Get Through College Without Debt
Hope is not lost for you though. I have 15 different ways that you can use to get through college without debt. I like to consider myself an expert in this area. I have attended college before, and I am going back this fall. Both times have been debt free. You can do it too.
1. Take College Courses in High School
Almost every accredited high school offers college courses, and most come at a steep discount. Not only will you get college credit (if you keep good grades), but it will also help save you time when you actually apply for colleges. The average high school student graduates with 12 hours of college credit. That’s almost an entire semester shaved off of your college requirements.
2. Fill Out The FAFSA
If you qualify for the FAFSA you can receive grants and work study opportunities. Not everyone qualifies, so be sure to check into the eligibility requirements. If you get approved, make sure you do not use the loans that you qualify for. Only take the grant money and work study options.
3. Choose Your College Wisely
Most students will go to the college that offers the “best college experience”, but sometimes it’s best to start humbly. Community Colleges seem to have a bad stigma, but in reality you get the same education for half the costs of a state college.
(From Derek: I can vouch for this. I went to a community college for two years before transferring to a state college. It saved me TONS of money!)
4. Apply for Scholarships
If you still want to go to a state or private college and get through college without debt, apply to every scholarship you can. Sometimes these schools will offer in-house scholarships to students that show high academic or athletic achievements. Also, look into websites that offer you scholarships based on your criteria. New scholarship opportunities arise all of the time. (Did you know they have a scholarship for those who are left handed?). There are plenty of students who get through college without debt this way.
5. Live With Your Parents
If it is feasible, spend your college years at home. Not only will you save money on room and board, but you’ll also have other benefits like a washer and dryer, and maybe even home cooked meals. It doesn’t seem too cool when you’re bunking with the folks, but this is definitely one of the most effective ways to get through college without debt.
6. Apply to be an RA
If you can’t live at home, apply to be an RA for your college. It’s not the best job, and for some it may not be worth it to watch after others. However, in most cases, you will get a free private room, meals, and maybe even a stipend. Being an RA is also a boost to your resume.
Now, hear me out. I know food is important. But the price that you pay in college for three meals a day is ridiculous. The first college I attended charged $6,000 a year (meaning, roughly 200 days) just for food! That’s $10 per meal! If you can, choose an a la carte plan. This way you pay as you go. You can always buy a cheap mini fridge and stock it with quick foods for breakfast and lunch. This is a great step to get through college without debt.
8. Take Summer Classes
Taking summer classes may not seem like fun, but they can be beneficial for your debt free college mission. Summer classes are normally cheaper and accelerated, so you can take as many as you do in other semester’s for a cheaper price. If you don’t want to have three semester’s a year, at least try to take one or two classes over the summer. Most only last 4-6 weeks, and you get the credits as if you went longer.
9. Save On Textbooks
I’ll tell you a quick horror story. One semester in 2012, I paid $600 for a brand new math book. I used that math book twice during the semester. The end.
Had I known what I do now, I would have talked to my professor first before buying that overpriced book.
Want to get through school without debt? Always talk to each professor before the semester starts. They can let you know if you can use an older edition, or if you need your book at all. Save your money and get a used book, rent a book online, or even share with a friend if you can. Other options would be to download the book on your computer or reading device, but be careful because technology isn’t always the most reliable.
10. Go To School Part Time
If it isn’t feasible for you to go to college full time, consider going part time. Take two or three classes a semester instead of five. Take a break between semesters, but make sure you have the motivation to back when the time comes. Don’t take a “break” and not return. This could cost more money instead of saving you money. Who wants to pay for half a degree?
11. Join The Military
This tip won’t be for everyone. Some may be opposed to the military, and some may not qualify to join. However, for someone willing to work hard and serve their country, this is a fantastic way to get through college without debt. Both of my parents were military, and both now have their Master’s degrees and were able to pass some of their GI Bills to my sibling and I. There is a ton of info on the benefits you receive while in the military, even if it’s just in the reserves.
12. Get Employer Tuition Reimbursement
This is great for working adults who are attending college, either for the first time or continuing their education. If your job offers it, take full advantage of tuition reimbursement. You will have to pay the college upfront. However, based on a number of factors you can qualify to get reimbursed up to the full amount that you paid. Want to get through college without debt? See if someone else is willing to pick up the tab!
(From Derek: I can attest to this one too! I got my MBA while working and my employer paid for all of it. It was an amazing benefit since I quickly got promoted after graduation!)
13. Get More Money On Your Tax Return
If you are a qualifying tax payer (or if your parents are), you can receive money from the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit when you file your taxes. You may also be able to deduct some of your tuition and fees( up to $4,000) There are some eligibility requirements, but this is just another possible way to get through college without debt.
14. Start A Business/Work At Your Pace
It doesn’t take a lot of money to start a business or to work from home! There are a numerous ways to make money online, and even ways to work within your community. Simple jobs like mowing lawns or washing cars may seem like a waste of time, but they can help put a few extra dollars in your wallet or bank account. This money can then be used towards school or expenses you have in your day to day life.
15. Live Simply
The best advice I can give to anyone trying to get through college without debt is to live as simple and frugal as you can. It may seem unfair that you have to miss out on expensive spring break vacations and eating out at five star restaurants, but it will be worth it when you don’t have a huge loan with 6.8% interest hanging over your head. I know that I would rather invest in my future now than someone’s wallet later. Wouldn’t you?
As you can see, to get through college without debt is hard, but not impossible. Life is all that you make it, and that includes your education. Work hard, study hard, save hard. Graduating without having debt is a rewarding and positive experience.
My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.