How To Graduate College Debt Free

Start Your Career Without Debt!

It might be hard to believe, but it’s entirely possible to graduate from college debt-free. Think about how amazing it would be to start your new career without worrying about paying off student loans.

Here are some surprisingly simple ways to graduate from college debt free!

Graduate college debt free!

 

HAVE A PLAN

Similar to making a monthly budget for life, having a plan will help you budget for college. Set financial goals along with your educational goals and stick to them.

SAVE CASH BEFORE COLLEGE

If you have time before starting college, start saving money now and set it aside just for college.  Parents who plan to fund some or all of their child’s education should start saving money as soon as possible. High School students can get summer jobs to save some cash before college too. Anything helps and extra money could be used for textbooks.

GO TO A PUBLIC UNIVERSITY

Tuition at a private collegeis significantly more expensive than public college. According to US News, the average cost for a 4 year private college for the 2013-2014 school year is $30,094. This is for tuition alone! But the average cost for a 4 year public college is a fraction of that, at only $8,893 per year.

That’s an average savings of $21,201 per year by going to a public college.  

RESEARCH STATE-SPONSORED SCHOLARSHIPS

Of course, many students don’t pay sticker prices at private or public colleges since scholarships or grants are sometimes available too. In addition to your college’s scholarships and grants, look into other state-sponsored programs for additional educational aid.

For example, in Florida we have the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Progam. Other State of Florida Grant and Scholarship Programs are available too. Look up your state for eligibility.

APPLY FOR LOCAL & ORGANIZATIONAL SCHOLARSHIPS

Another great place to check for scholarhips is your local high school, community and organizations. Many, many, many companies and organizations offer scholarship programs based on finanical need or academic achievement. Start seeking applications and talking to your organizations about scholarships.

CONSIDER MILITARY PROGRAMS

There are several education benefits for military members. The Post 911 GI Bill  is an education benefit available to active duty military, reservists, and dependents, based on eligibility and time in service. If eligible, it covers tuition and fees for 36 months for in-state tuition. Additional details and eligibility is on the Post 911 GI Bill’s Website.

Another military option is an Reserve Officer Training Corps military scholarship. This scholarship pays full tuition for 4 years of college and has a 4 year military obligation upon graduation. Students complete the program and get comissioned as a Officer.  This is an excellent way to graduate debt free! Like any scholarship, this is highly competitive. I was fortunate enough to use get this scholarship and I highly recommend it to high school juniors and seniors who want to join the military.

They’re all graduating debt free!

FRUGAL LIVING WHILE IN COLLEGE

Once you’re in college, remember to live like a college student. Don’t waste money on “wants” and focus on your “needs” instead. There’s nothing wrong with eating Mac and Cheese or Ramen to save money. If you’re using money from a 529 educational fund, be cautious about only spending the money on what you need.

Remember, you’ll need to fund college for 4 years. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

GET A JOB ON CAMPUS

Getting a part-time job on campus can significantly help pay for extra costs like meals or textbooks. Besides, having a job during college will help you gain valuable time management skills, build up your resume, and give you work experience. And some on campus jobs offer extra perks that save money. For exmaple, becoming a residence assiantance, or RA, could mean getting free room and board for the semester.

LIVE WITH YOUR PARENTS

While it’s not as exciting as living in a dorm on campus, living with your parents while attending a local, public college is a great way to save money. You’ll still have access to all the events on campus but you won’t have to worry about paying for a meal plan or a dorm room.

GO TO FREE COLLEGE EVENTS

Every college has lots of free college events, clubs, and organizations that usually include free food. Join a group, meet your peers with similar interests and get some free food!

DON’T GET A CREDIT CARD

Stay away from credit cards while in college! Some people say that it’s important to build up your credit card in college. But I think that having a credit card is too tempting for college students. When I was in college, I got one credit card “for emergencies” with a $500 balance. Although it was intended for emergencies, I rarely used it that way. I was tempted to buy clothes, food, and stuff I didn’t need.

DON’T GET A CAR (OR GET AN INEXPENSIVE CAR)

This one is controversial since many kids get cars when they first get a driver’s license. But if you’re living on campus and working a part time job on campus, do you really need a car?

But, if you do get a car, consider an reliable but inexpensive used car like a Volvo or Honda instead. And remember to budget for gas and maintenance fees too.

GRADUATE FROM COLLEGE ON TIME

Don’t get so caught up in college that you forget to declare a major and end up graduating late. Staying an extra semester to finish your classes can costs thousands of dollars in tuition, meals, and dorms. Not to mention, it will delay your ability to graduate and get a job that makes money. Meet with your academic advisor each semester to make sure you’re taking the right classes to graduate on time.

Readers: What are other ways to graduate from college debt-free? Add your comments below!

This article is part of Financially Savvy Saturdays, hosted by Femme Frugality and Real Simple Finances.  Check out their awesome personal finance blogs!

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Leave a comment

  1. says

    I’m not in the military but I originally had a plan to join the Air Force, but they didn’t have a program available that I was interested in. I could’ve joined a different branch, but never did.

  2. says

    Great tips! I often wished, I was wiser in my younger years. I could have easily avoided debt for my undergrad degree. I ended up with $10K from my undergrad and that could have been easily avoided by not buying wants/living more frugally, buying a $2000 car instead of a $12,000 car, living in the same city as the university, etc. My Master’s Degree is another story, but I probably could have even reduced that debt with lifestyle choices down to $30K, instead of the $40+K that I ended up with accumulating, $51K total. I’m just glad to be rid of it now! :)

  3. says

    Another great way to reduce the bill for a college degree is to attend community college to get the required coursework out of the way and then transfer to a 4 year University. You obviously have to investigate before hand if there are any limitations to what credits will transfer. My son is currently doing this as did I.

  4. ES4MI says

    I studied hard in high school, stayed out of trouble, had a part time job and got good grades. This allowed me to apply for and receive a ROTC scholarship for college. During college I again held a part time job, studied hard, achieved good grades and upon graduation, off to the military I went for 4 years. Ended up spending 7 years in the Air Force. When I left college, I was basically debt free other than a few dollars on a credit card. Paid that off quickly and then began accumulating a nice savings account.

    At the end of the day, all it takes is some basic money management skills. I can’t begin to tell you how many dorm mates of mine spend hundreds of dollars on booze while in school. Can you imagine leaving college with $100,000+ student loans as well as thousands of dollars on credit cards from partying? I think back to those days and pat myself on the back for being smart about money and teaching myself the right way to handle cash.

    Debt = financial slavery….so get out of debt as quickly as possible and live a stress free and uncomplicated life!

  5. says

    Debt is the biggest plague to college students, IMO…I would advise any parent never to take out Parent plus or home equity loans as they are handing over their retirement. We won’t have Medicare to lean on anyway. :) Do not give in to the status and prestige of schools and their claims. Do not go to pressure filled college fairs, everything is on the websites. I don’t even care for high school counselors that much, but mostly due to lack of time or knowledge about the admissions games or realistic career goals for these kids. The parents’ bumper stickers and sweat shirts will be long gone before they even graduate. Parents need to get over themselves, their children need to be responsible for their financial decisions. Let them apply for scholarships if they really want to go somewhere or earn it through merit. My daughter wants to go into nursing. Received almost full tuition and applying for more from the state school. Private schools threw 3/4 tuition her way but 20K more for tuition and room and board are ridiculous for our situation and she knows it. Parents need to do their homework several years ahead and spell it out for less angst senior year in high school.

  6. says

    Thanks for the insight.
    Greatly appreciated!
    I am a strong believer in education, and one of the ways that we can spread education is by sending our youth to college. Although tuition is expensive, try college out for a semester, and see if you feel comfortable with the environment.
    Remember there are plenty of scholarship opportunities.
    Thanks,
    David

  7. says

    Credit-granting exams are a great way to save money on college. AP exams are the most well-known type, directed at high-schoolers. CLEP, DSST, and UExcel are other options. These exams commonly cost $80-$100. If your college accepts the credit, the exam may satisfy one of your general education requirements. It’s important to check your college’s policy to find out which exams it accepts and whether the credit fills a requirement or counts as an elective.

    (I work for Education Portal, a Web company that produces online video lessons to help people study for credit-granting exams.)

  8. says

    Just saw your post via Twitter! Great ‘Be College Free’ post. A few additional ideas, some I think I heard on Dave’s show.
    1. Take longer than 4 years. If you need to, especially living at home, take a pay as you go approach. Working Full/Part time and taking a Part-time load, you can pay tuition as you go.

    2. Find an employer who will help pay for tuition. This might be harder to do these days, but for advanced degrees, many employers will help you with classes that will help you with your job. So, if you’re in banking, advanced Brain Surgery probably won’t be covered, but Advanced Economics probably would :)

  9. Renee s says

    Great post :) I wish more people would take your advice–I try to tell people about how I went to college for free, but nobody wants to listen. I went to a public school and applied to so many scholarships in high school because I didn’t want to pay for school and I knew my parents wouldn’t be able to help me (my dad had lost his job, unfortunately). I applied to little scholarships ($500, $1000, etc) and I jumped through all of the hoops that they wanted me to (resume, essays, recommendations, transcripts, etc). I ended up getting PAID to go to school because I had so many outside scholarship money. College was the best job I ever had 😉

  10. says

    I agree with just about all of this, however the private v public school section is not 100% true. I know that there are a quite a few private schools who need a ‘sticker shock’ number so they look competitive with other private schools but they offer enough in-house scholarships, usually merit based, that bring the cost down significantly. My alma mater (George Fox) was about $38k a year but after all the random scholarships they offered I was at $17k and that didn’t include any loans or outside scholarships I received. I’m sure a lot of private schools don’t subsidize as much as mine did, but it’s not completely black and white.

    That being said – look into everything! Don’t assume a school is awesome because it’s private or a school isn’t as prestigious because it’s public. It’s all about your program, so start with what schools specialize in your area. Thanks for the post.

  11. says

    I am just curious if there is a big difference in the quality of education in public schools compared with private schools. Imagine the savings? Yet a lot of students end up in great debts because of student loans just so they can study in private schools.

    • says

      You bring up an interesting point, Jen! I went to a private university that was covered by a full ROTC scholarship but I would have gone to a local public university if I didn’t have that scholarship. I personally think the quality of education is likely similar however, I know many private universities (such as mine) with MUCH smaller class sizes and more direct attention from professors.

  12. says

    I think you can help yourself a ton by just limiting yourself to an in-state college. In most industries, the choice of college doesn’t really mean all that much and a degree is a degree. The cost of tuition for an in-state college can be a 50% or less, when compared to other schools.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing, Jefferson! I agree that a degree is a degree (assuming it’s in a useful major). In that case, public school graduates can easily save thousands of dollars each year in just tuition alone.

  13. says

    I’m totally about to look up if we’re missing out on any state grant/scholarship opportunities for the fiance. He already gets one, but this has me curious if there are more options….

    Graduated without debt, myself! Used so many of these tips! Great article!

    • says

      Congrats on graduating without debt! And good luck finding scholarships for your finance, I’m always amazed at how many companies or organizations are willing to give out scholarships these days.

  14. says

    I went to a State University which was a lot more affordable. For grad school, I worked full time while going to school part time. I do have debt, but much less than I would have if I hadn’t worked. I do agree that you should live frugally in college…I knew many people who spent more than they could afford thinking they would be making big bucks upon graduation.

    • says

      That’s true, Andrew. I knew lots of friends who took out extra loans to fund their lifestyles (in addition to tuition, books, etc) and are still paying off their students loans. It’s easy to not understand how much money college is until we start paying it back!

  15. says

    I can attest to the financial benefits of serving in the Military before going to college. I served 4 years in the Marines and took advantage of the GI Bill and the “extra kicker”. The GI Bill paid for my entire Undergraduate Degree and a little of my Masters. While the GI Bill shouldn’t be the only reason to join the Military (it’s a lot of hard work), it will definitely help your finances in your early 20s.

  16. says

    Monica,

    Great article. The debt that college students are now incurring is a huge problem that is going to negatively impact our entire country for the foreseeable future. Billions and billions of dollars down the drain. Thanks for reminding us that there are better ways.

  17. says

    I absolutely love my college and my wife’s college, but they were private and we definitely feel the sting with student loans as she got zero help from her parents and I got a little help. I would love for my kids to have the same experience, but that means I will need to kick in a lot of money if I want them to graduate debt-free. Great job in this post pointing out how to avoid college debt!

  18. says

    One thing I’ve also read is to do everything you can to at least pay the interest on student loans while you are in school. Even though they don’t require you to make payments, interest accrues while you’re in college, so the $5,000 loan you take freshman year can easily be $6,000 or more by the time you actually graduate. By paying at least the interest, you start off owing no more than what you actually borrowed.

  19. says

    I was fortunate to graduate with a BA debt-free. I went to a 2-year school first which was really inexpensive then my parents paid for my final 2-years at a state school. However, going back to get two credentials later in life ended up costing me quite a pretty penny. Needless to say, I the younger me was much more frugal and apparently smarter!

  20. Romona Bradham says

    I actually could have went to college for free because I wasn’t raised by my parents. I got scholarships and government funding for school but I made a few silly decisions and ended up having to take out loans.

  21. says

    I think a big portion of the success people can have in graduating debt-free is in the choice of college. To that end, I think it’s vital to really get a handle on the potential return on investment of degrees from different school. A private school costing twice as much as a public school might not provide double the income, so why spend that much? Good post overall!

  22. says

    I work in college admissions and am an advisor on the side. I am always telling students that sometimes public schools are not necessarily cheaper than private. Because public colleges are limited in the funds they can give out, it’s better to apply at a mix of colleges and compare scholarship packages. Sometimes, private universities that are an “easy acceptance” will compete for you with more bucks! While a reach school or a state school will offer you less money!

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