How to Graduate Debt Free

​Student debt is a pervasive problem, and it becomes more and more real as tuition prices keep rising. 2020 has been a record year in terms of the student debt – 45 million borrowers have amassed over $1.76 billion of debt.

Of course, statistics are different for different states. For example, California, Texas, Florida, and New York are responsible for around 25% of all student debt. The amount of debt for a single person can be so massive that the projected time paying the money off can stack up to 30 years! This burden can seriously affect the graduates’ life quality and even their mental state. According to this survey, 53% of student loan borrowers have experienced depression, and 1 in 15 have even considered suicide.

The question that remains to be asked, though, is whether it is even possible to graduate debt-free. While the answer is a firm yes, it is not an easy feat. Depending on a college type, about 30% of students are debt-free at the end of their college journey. We’ve prepared a list of the most important choices and decisions one has to make to minimize their student debt or even get rid of it.

Ways You Can Finance Your Study

Before applying to any student loan you don’t have any means to pay off, consider different financial sources to cover your educational needs. Most of these sources can be divided into external (third-party financial help you don’t have to return) and internal (how your decisions can help you save money).

External Sources

1) Scholarships

The scholarship is a financial aid awarded to a student based on various criteria. Some scholarships are government-funded, while others are provided by corporations or funds. The amount of money scholarships give to students every year is actually massive – for example, in 2015-2016, it amounted to more than $6 billion.

There are many types of scholarships around the country. Some of them focus on a specific specialty and demand a certain academic performance. Others are meant to help underprivileged population categories. The best way to find the financial aid that suits you is to use an aggregator resource.

Numerous websites may help you to find the scholarship you qualify for. Some of the best examples are:

2) Grants

Grant is something to consider when you need education money with no need to return it. One often ignored way to find out whether you can get some of the most common federal grants is filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Depending on your families’ income and several other factors, you may be eligible to receive partial compensation for your tuition.

Your best chances of getting a grant rely on filling out the FAFSA every year you study, as you may become eligible even if you weren’t at first. If you get a grant, make sure to follow the demands it puts on you, as in some cases, they may ask you to pay the money back.

3) Crowdfunding

While this way is less reliable, it can be very effective. You can get the sum of money you need for your education through small donations from your family and friends or even through users around the world.

To set up a successful crowdfunding campaign, you need to make people care. Make it personal, try to reach them. Include the information about yourself, why you want to enroll in a specific college, why you deserve the money you’re asking for. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to promote yourself, include video content to make your message clearer and more relatable. Set up a leveled reward system for specific donation sums, motivate your backers to donate more. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture, just make sure that people that support you get a personal thank you from you.

Not all crowdfunding websites support campaigns for education payment. You also have to remember that most platforms that do will still take some percent of money gathered as a payment. Some of the best platforms to set up your campaign on are GoFundMe and Indiegogo.

Internal Sources

1) Savings

According to statistics, nearly 56% of parents were saving for their child’s higher education in 2018. Luckily, there is a tax-advantaged savings plan for such cases – a 529 education plan. However, while most parents are trying to look out for their children, their savings become less effective in providing full tuition coverage due to constantly rising prices.

Overall, 529 account is very helpful to modern students, and parents should be encouraged to use it. However, it is not the be-all and end-all solution, and you can manage to be debt-free without it.

2) Job

A part-time job has always been a way to gain resources for your education. Unfortunately, salaries for popular among students low-skill part-time jobs like waiter, lifeguard, or retail worker do not cover the cost for tuition. It could definitely be a part of the solution, but not the only way.

The part-time job that would be the least hindering towards your studying process can be found with a work-study program. These jobs are organized by your college financial aid office and are often located on-campus. With them, you both save a lot of time on the commute and can often manage to combine a job and study.

Some employers offer partial coverage of the employees’ tuition. Especially if they are studying something helpful for their profession. So, try applying to the company in the field you plan to work in and check with the employer if they are willing to lend you a hand.

3) Choose the right place to enroll

This point may be hard for some to hear, but applying to your dream college might not be the best option for you financially. Going to a public college in your state is often much cheaper than going for it out of state, especially if your target school is private. The average tuition prices are:

  • $10,230 for in-state students;
  • $26,290 for out-of-state students;
  • $35,830 in private colleges.

So, do your research and choose your options wisely, you might be paying two times more for the same quality of education.

Rent is a large part of non-tuition college expenses. In some cases, the apartment near universities like Harward or Stanford may cost you a fortune. The best solution to this problem is to choose a university with a lower rent price in the city or just to stay at home.

Another way to save on school is to enroll in online courses. Nowadays, especially during the pandemic, most universities provide online alternatives to their regular courses, which will give you the same amount of credit, and you won’t have to pay for commuting and, in some cases, you won’t need to buy a textbook.

Furthermore, there are several trustworthy online universities you can enroll on, so you won’t even have to experience the campus life and all the expenses that come with it. The best examples are Purdue University, Kettering University Online, and American National University.

Ideas and Lifehacks to Improve Your Chances

If you feel that the ways of saving mentioned above are not enough for you to leave the college debt-free, there is always more for you to do. Here are some of the other tricks you can use:

1. Buy or Rent Used Textbooks

Textbooks are notorious for having unjustifiably high prices. Some of them will cost you up to $200 and will be almost completely worthless after the course has ended. The price stacks up for each course you take, so it would be unreasonable and damaging to your wallet to pay each textbook's full price.

Fortunately, the services for selling and renting used textbooks are becoming more and more popular. And it’s a win-win for all – you get a textbook for a lower price (often around $25) and the person selling it will get rid of the item that is useless for them. Some of the most popular platforms for this exchange are:

2. Study the First Two Years at the Community College

Two-year university programs are significantly less expensive than any four-year ones. Public colleges often provide these programs for a very reasonable price, down to less than $5,000. And while they might be considered less prestigious, they ensure you get the same credits that you would in a better school. This is why you can continue your education and finish your third and fourth years at the university of your choice.

3. Manage Your Spending

While managing your day-to-day expenses may not seem as important in the grand scheme of things, each unnecessary spending adds up to your debt. Try to avoid any shopping sprees, cook your food, use cashback options wherever possible. Don’t stress too much about it though – make sure it does not affect your studies. Use some helpful budget managing tools we provide below.

Helpful Tools and Apps

Mint – this is your personal tracker that will track your expenses and any changes with your bank account. It is also straightforward to use to pay your bills;

PocketGuard – PocketGuard is an app that will analyze your bank account to show you your net worth and net income. Besides, it will provide information on where you could save in some of the key areas like insurance;

SavingStar – this application will help you earn a college student discounts and find promotional offers at the biggest chains of groceries and pharmacy stores. Saving on food and drugs would help quite a bit in the long run;

Dealnews – this website will provide you with information on the biggest deals from many online retailers, so if you prefer to shop online – this is the best choice for you;


Applying for a student loan is an important decision, the consequences of which you may feel for the rest of your life. While avoiding it can be hard and challenging, it is definitely not impossible. Do your research, take your time, show restraint and dedication and join the lucky 25% who could do it as well.

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