In 2015, the average college student owed more than $35,000 in student-loan debt making it the most indebted class so far–at least until the end of this year. With tuition rates and living costs rising it may seem impossible for many students to get through college without taking out a few loans.
Although many students are forced to turn to loans to pay for school due to costs, there is a way to make it through both your undergraduate and graduate degrees with little-to-no debt. While it may be too late for those who have already gone to school and have accumulated crushing amounts of debt, it is not too late for those who are in school now. Generation Y can stop the cycle of racking up stressful amounts of debt that will take forever to pay back and interrupt important life plans like getting married, having kids, or buying a house.
It may not be easy to graduate debt free; in fact, it will take major sacrifice and creativity, but it can be done. We’ve put together a list of ways to completely eliminate the need for loans for school from people who have successfully completed school without going into debt.
It’s never too early to start saving for college. The sooner you start thinking about college and paying for your education, the easier it will be later down the road. Smart students who graduate without debt are the ones who prepared early in high school. Taking a full load of AP (Advanced Placement) courses in high school can give you the college credits you need to almost eliminate your freshman year and give you an immediate sophomore standing. Taking courses at your local community college can also eliminate the need for many general college courses.
As stated earlier, taking community college courses may help eliminate courses at your college of choice at a fraction of the price. You can make use of those early AP gains by attending a local community college for the first two years instead of spending insane amounts of money your first two years at a top Ivy league school. According to College Board, two year colleges average around $3,347 for instate residents. You can spend your initial college years saving money at home and paying much cheaper rates; you can then transfer to where you want to earn your final degree.
Live at Home
Living at home can save you a significant amount of money. According to data reported by 1,109 ranked colleges, Room and Board charges added an average of $9,999 to students’ university bills in the 2014-2015 school year. Even if you don’t want to spend all of college from home, you can at least spend your first few semesters at home to save money while completing your prerequisites and elective courses.
Make the Smart Choice
It’s time to stop saying: “I’m going to the best college I can get into,” and instead start saying: “I’m going to the school with the best education possible that will leave me with the least amount of debt.” Although you may jump at the opportunity to go to your dream college all the way across the country, the debt you may incur while doing so may not be worth it. Look at your options and choose the school that will get you the education you want, but at a price that won’t leave you in debt way after you graduate.
Apply for Financial Aid & Scholarships
What many students don’t realize is that they can qualify for a number of different grants that will help pay for their education. Try spending ample time at your financial aid office and apply for different grants and scholarships. Each year, tens of billions of dollars in scholarships are given out across North America, and tens of millions of dollars also go unrewarded every year because of a lack in applicants. It takes a long time to research and apply for scholarships, but when you win scholarships it is always worth the extra effort. Try researching on collegeboard.com to find scholarships and grants that might be a good fit for you. Don’t just apply for a few, try applying for a few hundred and watch the money flow into your account. Don’t forget to apply early either; the key to maximizing scholarships and grants is to start as early as sophomore year in high school.
Be Frugal: Make a Budget
If you don’t have a budget, now is the perfect time to start having one. By finding ways to spend less in college, you will require fewer (or no) student loans. This is where your sacrifice and creativity come in. Try living at home or living in off-campus housing with roommates to save money. Bring a lunch to school instead of buying one. Don’t spend extravagant amounts of money on clothes or electronics. Buy textbooks used or online to avoid costly university prices. Living within your means can be very difficult if you haven’t done it before. Learn how to keep a budget now so you don’t struggle with it in college.
Work Year Round & Look for Ways to Make Money
If you want to graduate debt-free you’ll most like have to work all year long. However, you don’t have to work a stressful amount of hours all the time. During the summer you can work more, but during the school year you can work up to 20 hours per week without it affecting school. There are also a variety of ways to make money as a student. You can get a part-time job near or on campus, you can tutor other students, notetake for the hearing impaired, or work for special events (football games, conferences, etc.) just on the weekends.
Graduate in 4 Years
According to the Department of Education, fewer than 40% of students who enter college each year actually graduate within four years. Around 60% of students will graduate within six years. That being said, it’s no wonder that so many students have to take out loans. By sticking to the recommended amount of time you’ll be able to save money and start working faster. Plan your course schedule accordingly each semester to ensure you stay on track to graduation.
Become an Assistant
Many colleges offer the opportunity to get your master’s degree while doing research or helping professors with their projects in the department of which you wish to study. This option not only gives you hands-on experience with your chosen field, but will allow you to work for your Master’s degree as an RA or a TA.
Make a Deal with Your Employer
Many people can get their Master’s degrees through their employers. Over half of employers in the U.S. already have tuition assistance programs in effect. All you have to do is talk to your Human Resources department to set up a personalized tuition assistance plan. The Army, Navy, and Air Force are other great ways to pay for your education. Most of them will pay up to $65,000 in loan debt if you qualify.
Graduating debt free will take a lot of sacrifice and work, but it will all pay off in the end. If you’re serious about graduating debt-free it’s better to start now by learning as much as you can about applying for scholarships and how to live frugally. You can beat student debt and graduate with little to no loans by making smart choices now.