Going to college is expensive; there’s no getting around it. Factoring in tuition, fees, room and board, and other expenses, it can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year to attend school full-time and on-campus.
Still, a college degree is still a smart investment for most people that can pay off big over time. People who earn their bachelor’s degree earn around $2,000 more per month than someone with a high school diploma alone.
Even if college is a good investment, that doesn’t mean you should borrow as much as you need to without considering other options. Paying off student loans can be a very long and stressful process.
The good news is that there are ways to graduate from college 100% debt-free. Here are some strategies to consider for financing your education.
Go to Community College for Your Freshman and Sophomore Credits
Community college is much more affordable than a private 4-year university, or even a state university. You can still get a high-quality education and knock out your sophomore and freshman credits before transferring.
In fact, you might get more out of your experience because the class sizes tend to be smaller at a community college than at a university. You’ll also graduate with an associate’s degree, which can open up more opportunities if you want to work to pay for your bachelor’s degree.
Attend a State University Close to Home
Private schools in the United States can cost up to $69,000 per year, not including living expenses. Most states have much more affordable state university options, however, costing far less per year.
Attending a state university close to home makes sense in several ways. If you’re able to live at home, you can dramatically cut down on expenses, in addition to cheaper tuition. State universities might not have the same name recognition as the Ivy League, but you’ll still get a great education.
Consider Online Degrees
Online degrees allow you to live anywhere while going to school. They also offer a lot more flexibility and convenience for working students. If you don’t mind attending remote classes, you can get a degree without ever needing to step into a classroom!
Living off-campus can be much more cost-effective than dormitory living, depending on where your school is located. A shared apartment is likely to be a lot cheaper and you’ll be able to save on food too since you’ll have a full kitchen and can prepare your own meals. As a bonus, you’ll probably get your own room!
Apply for Scholarships and Grants
Scholarships and grants can be critical for graduating with no debt. Check out the financial aid options at your school, fill out the federal FAFSA form to see if you qualify for government programs, and do some research on scholarships to apply for. Depending on the awards you get, you could end up getting all of your tuition paid for!
Try for Work-Study Positions
Work-study programs are a form of financial aid that provide on-campus jobs to students who qualify. Not only do work-study jobs help offset the cost of college, but you’ll get a chance to develop skills and work experience while you attend school.
Work and Attend School Part-Time
If you don’t qualify for work-study, you can get an off-campus job and pay for your tuition with your earnings to avoid taking out student loans. Depending on your situation, you could attend school full-time while working or just take classes part-time and graduate later so you can avoid going into debt. A part-time schedule will also be less stressful and it will be easier to manage your workload.
Join the Military
This option definitely isn’t for everyone, but joining the military is one way to get your college expenses paid for. Military members can get special grants and scholarships to pay for a 4-year degree, so it’s something to consider if you think the military might be a good fit for you.
Take Advantage of Textbook Rentals or Buy Used
Once you’re enrolled in school, there are ways to cut down on your expenses. Buying used textbooks or renting them is a great way to save hundreds of dollars per semester. You’re not likely to use your textbooks again once your class is over, so reducing their cost is a great way to budget.
Use Student Discounts
Students can discount for all sorts of things. It’s important to take your student I.D. with you everywhere, and don’t forget to ask about student discounts, even if they aren’t advertised! Every bit of money you save can help you graduate debt-free.
Create a Budget
Learning how to budget in college is an important skill for graduating debt-free. It’s also a skill you’ll use throughout your life. Creating a budget will help you stay on track, avoid overspending, and see where your money is going!
Should You Consider Taking Out Loans?
Graduating debt-free takes a lot of work and discipline, and it might not be realistic for every student. Still, reducing your debt in any way you can is important. Even if you do end up taking out a loan or two, using the strategies above will help minimize what you have to pay back. College is worth the expense, but there’s no reason to pay more than you have to!