It may seem like a pipe-dream, but it is possible to graduate from college debt-free, or with significantly reduced debt. Being able to do so will give you a much better start at life upon graduation, but in order to do so, you need to start thinking about your options before you even apply to college.
After all, the best way to pay for college is up front, but it can be difficult to do so. Here are some ways to graduate from college debt-free.
Choose an affordable college
Some colleges are more expensive than others, and it’s tempting to want to equate price with prestige, but this isn’t necessarily true. There are a number of outstanding public universities out there, not to mention the small colleges with less competition from applicants. You’ll want to do your research into the quality of the school, but a great school does not necessarily mean you need to pay a great price.
It’s hard to go to school and work at the same time, but it is possible. Work-study may be an option for you, or there can be a number of jobs available to students off-campus that are flexible in their work hours. Similarly, you may want to consider freelance work you can do in your free time such as dog walking, or babysitting. Perhaps you can even get skilled work that can count as work experience in your desired field, such as being a lab assistant or a receptionist for a law firm. It’s important to make sure this work doesn’t intrude on your coursework, so flexibility is key.
Working as an RA, or a Resident Assistant, is a great option as well; you can get room and board covered while you’re also earning extra money.
Ask your family for help
It’s no secret that the number one way to graduate from college debt-free is to receive help from your family. Even if your parents can’t foot the entire bill though, see if they can help with something basic, like living costs or textbooks. Perhaps living at home may even be an option for you while you attend college to significantly reduce the cost of living while in school. Help doesn’t necessarily need to be money to serve as a big assistance.
Find some great scholarships or grants
You can find all sorts of scholarships before you even enter college, and then some more once you’re there. They also don’t need to be directly from the school you’re attending or hope to attend. There are numerous scholarships out there that have less competition but more money. Every little bit counts too – receiving five $1,000 scholarships might be easier than receiving one $5,000 scholarship.
Furthermore, if you have your heart set on a certain college, but they don’t offer you the financial aid you need, ask for more. Oftentimes a college will offer a little bit extra to a student truly dedicated to attending their school, or will offer you a different kind of financial aid.
Start at a community college
If you plan to study something that requires a lot of easily transferable general credits, then it may be financially wise for you to start your studies at a community college for the first year or two. That way, you can get your prerequisites in at a lower cost, then transfer to a school that has the heightened opportunities you’re looking for at the end of your degree.
For students who have the opportunity to take college classes while in high school, graduating early may be an option for you. Taking AP classes and testing out of general requirements may allow you to start college as a sophomore. In turn, this will allow you to graduate in three years and pay one less year of tuition. If your high school does not offer AP courses, you may be able to participate in a dual enrollment program, where you take college classes while still in high school.
There are a number of other ways to graduate from college debt-free. With a little creativity, combining a number of these tactics, and a lot of hard work, it can be within reach. Know though that you may still have financial aid options even if you take some debt with you after college. For example, some employers have tuition reimbursement programs for recent graduates with debt. However you choose to pay for college, it’s important to consider your options now to get the best cost – and value – in the end.