How to Graduate from College Debt-Free

By Kathryn Pomroy on August 23, 2019

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Many of today’s students graduate from college with more than a degree to show for their years of hard work. They also graduate with a large amount of student loan debt. If your parents can’t help with your expenses, don’t go into debt to pay for college. Make smart decisions before beginning your studies and during your college career, and avoid debt from student loans. While everyone’s situation is different, discover 10 ways to reduce your college expenses or even to completely avoid a student loan. 

Prepare with Tax-Savvy Savings

Avoid debt by having a way to pay for college before applying to the college of your choice. Save money for tuition and expenses; then consider two options to grow your savings. Setting aside some savings into a tax-free or tax-deferred account helps to not only grow the savings, but to alleviate your tax burden at the same time.

Look for Tuition Waivers

Colleges and universities sometimes provide financial aid in the form of tuition-waiver or tuition-assistance programs on an “as-needed” basis to those who qualify. The college may not advertise these programs, so you may have to research the program or inquire at the financial aid office. These programs offer another way to keep debt from accumulating.

Study & Work in a High – Demand Field

Consider programs and coursework that will help start a career in a high-demand area. Some professions ― especially those in the public service arena ―offer tuition assistance, tuition waivers, scholarships, or loan forgiveness programs for commitment in advance to employment in a highly sought-after specialty area. For example, organizations in the fields of healthcare, law enforcement, public service, social services, and the military offer substantial tuition assistance or financial aid in return for a multi-year work commitment following graduation. Students who choose this path have a job awaiting them after graduation and thus accrue a smaller amount of debt.

Apply for Every Scholarship You Qualify For

Scholarships are not just for top-tier athletes or the high school valedictorian who plans to attend an Ivy League college. A high school guidance counselor or your own online research can help you find hundreds, if not thousands, of scholarship programs for students from all backgrounds. Some of the scholarships available to students include awards based on:excellence in academics, membership in a minority ethnic group,athletic prowess,active church membership, or a major in a specific course of study. Additionally, check with your or your parents’ employer, church, sports club, veterans’ organization, or local community organizations. When completing the application, showcase your skills and merit.Since student scan apply for — and receive — an unlimited number of scholarships, apply for as many as possible.

Don’t Forget Federal, State, and Private Grants

Grants, like scholarships, comprise a form of financial aid that does not have to be repaid; however, they are “need-based” rather than “merit-based.”Eligible students who need financial assistance can apply for federal grants funded by the U.S. Department of Education. To determine your eligibility for and amount of financial aid, the student must begin by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The largest and most well-known grant, the Pell Grant, provides financial aid based on student income,or, for dependent students,on the income of their parents. Keep in mind that a grant may be awarded in conjunction with other forms of financial aid, such as scholarships. This means that a grant can combine with a scholarship to cover all the costs of attending college.

Go to School In-State

As one of the simplest ways to avoid high amounts of student debt, in-state colleges offer a high-quality education at a cheaper cost. In fact, in most cases, tuition for in-state colleges can cost as little as half the price of attending colleges out-of-state. Commuting to school from home also helps save on necessities such as housing, utilities, and other basic costs of living.

Work Part-Time

Working your way through school means long hours and hard work. However, earning just a couple of hundred dollars each week can help eliminate debt. To most would-be college students, working a few late nights every week to help avoid 10or more years of loan payments and the possibility of a poor credit rating comprise a worthwhile endeavor. A part-time job becomes a necessity, not an option.

Investigate Federal Work-Study Programs

Students with financial need are encouraged to apply for a Federal Work-Study program, which provides part-time employment to help pay education expenses. Undergraduate and graduate students typically find employment in community service work or jobs that support civic engagement, or they find work closely related to their area of study. Some colleges directly support work-study programs, which means that you will likely work on campus at the school you attend. In other scenarios, students work for private non-profit agencies or public organizations that engage in activities serving the public interest.

Start a Side Job

Regular, full- or even part-time employment may not fit with your class schedule. If that’s the case, find a side gig. Drive for a ride-share service such as Uber or Lyft, offer tutoring services to other students, or find freelance work. A smart, smart, passionate student can sometimes transform a side job into an income-producing venture. Assess your strengths and find a way to leverage them into a profitable part-time job. You may also learn important entrepreneurial skills that will help in your future career.

Take Core Classes at a Community College

If only a large university or private college offers the type of degree you seek, take other classes at another institution to transfer to your desired school. Attend a local community college for the first year or two to complete the basic, required coursework at lower tuition costs and save money for the classes in the major that you need to earn a degree. Check with an advisor beforehand, however, to ensure that any credits earned will transfer to the school of choice and that you have completed all the prerequisite credit hours required to transfer and get accepted.

Every year, most students face the daunting prospect of accumulating paralyzing amounts of student debt as they begin the process of planning for and applying to college. A combination of savvy preparation, hard work, research, and creativity can generate significant cost savings that will remove years of stress and debt from your future. Don’tendyour college career with years’ worth of accumulated debt. Everything you do today makes a difference in your future, and every dollar saved now ― or while in college ― is a dollar you won’t have to repay later. Get started today to prepare for the future.