8 Strategies to Get a College Degree Without Debt – Red Bluff Daily News
There was a time when I didn’t have much of an opinion on paying for college with student loans. This was before the advent of emails and thousands of messages, all with a similar subject line: “Help! I’m drowning in student loan debt!”
That was before I learned that about 85% of college graduates don’t end up working in their major. That was before I heard of Jim P., who took out all the student loans he could get to pay for college and law school. He assumed he would land a big job quickly and pay back $200,000. The fifth time he failed the bar exam, he gave up being a lawyer. But the debt continues.
That was before I met Peter K., who became a chiropractor with borrowed funds. He couldn’t stand the job anymore once he got into it. Now he teaches high school math. Too bad teachers don’t make enough money to pay off $160,000 in student debt. But the debt continues.
That was before I heard of the Nebraska couple with $60,000 in student loans. They were going to be teachers. Then the baby came, but not the teaching job. It’s all they can do to keep food on the table now that the family has grown to five. They have exhausted all their adjournment and abstention options. Their monthly payment is double the house payment. The stress practically destroyed this family. But the debt continues, and so do I, but I think you get it.
It’s not like student loans and large credit card balances are mandatory requirements for graduation. You don’t have to work your way through college. It’s possible to graduate debt-free, but it takes a lot of hard work. And you will have to oppose a financial system that encourages students to take the easy way out by plunging into a life of debt.
The secret to graduating debt-free is to use every strategy imaginable to get the lowest cost possible so you can pay as you go. This could mean working two jobs while carrying a full load each semester. This may mean working during spring break, winter break, Christmas break and all summer. The college definition does not include “an easy life.”
You’ll never regret working harder than you’ve ever worked in your life for four years and then graduating knowing your degree is paid for in full.
You will always regret choosing to take advantage of free and easy student loans for four years, graduating with a legal obligation to spend the rest of your life paying it off. Does anything about this make sense to you?
NOPE. 1: START COLLEGE IN HIGH SCHOOL
Take all the free advanced placement courses you can in high school to help reduce tuition. Plan it well and you can enter college as a sophomore debt-free with one year paid in full.
AP classes require students to pass a rigorous test at the end of class. You may qualify for one or two semesters of college credit if you perform well. You may also get a bump in your grade point average.
NOPE. 2: COMMUNITY COLLEGES
Each state offers two-year colleges, usually called community colleges. This is the place to get all your lower division prerequisite courses at cheap tuition rates that will transfer to your college or university of choice for the final two years. That means you’ll have another two years to save for the most expensive finish.
NOPE. 3: COLLEGES AND STATE UNIVERSITIES
Most public four-year schools offer an excellent, affordable education. Our eldest son graduated from a prestigious California State University with a degree in film. He lived at home and graduated debt-free. Oh, and did I mention that Jeremy Hunt has won numerous awards, including an Emmy?
NOPE. 4: SCHOOL WORK
Many colleges offer reduced or free tuition to family members of employees. There are plenty of non-teaching jobs on a large campus. I have heard of many parents who have quit their regular job to work at the school their students would attend.
NOPE. 5: GRANTS
A grant is a gift of money to be applied towards tuition fees, with no obligation to repay. The most common is the Pell Grant, federal government funding to help low-income undergraduate students. Learn more at Finaid.org.
NOPE. 6: ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMS
As part of a federal program, work-study provides on-campus jobs for students. There is no obligation to return the money even if the student has not graduated.
NOPE. 7: MILITARY
An excellent education is often an advantage for students wishing to enlist. For example, the military will send you to medical school if you enter as an officer and agree to stay for a period of time after completing your residency.
NOPE. 8: APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS
Not all kinds of scholarships are awarded every year. Many are not based on need but rather on ability or even ethnic heritage. But don’t be fooled into paying $800 or more for a service to do what you can do yourself: search! As a rule of thumb, if a scholarship or scholarship search service asks you for money up front, it’s probably a scam.
Start searching now if you are a junior or even a high school sophomore. And even if you have already started college, there are plenty of scholarships available for your final years. Check out these scholarship search sites:
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, “Ask Mary”. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living”.