How to Graduate from College Debt-Free
Worries about paying for college plague almost every college-bound student–and for good reason. As of 2016, the average college graduate left school with over $37,000 in student loan debt in addition to their diploma. This student loan burden often affects a graduate’s life choices for years, from where they live and work to the amount of money they save for retirement. Many college students now accept decades of school debt as the norm, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you’re a traditional high school student heading off to college or you’re a non-traditional student returning to get your degree, options abound to help you pay for college and graduate debt-free.
Consider In-State School or Community College
The easiest way to reduce your student loan debt is to choose a college that won’t require you to borrow as much. Attending one of your home state’s colleges and universities can mean that you’ll pay significantly lower tuition than you would at an out-of-state college or private university. Indeed, the College Board found that the average in-state public college tuition was $9,650 in 2016 as compared to $24,930 for out-of-state students and $33,480 for private colleges and universities.
Attending community college and then transferring into a four-year college or university program is another way to save thousands of dollars upfront on tuition. After all, the average tuition at community colleges is only $3,440–a savings of more than $6,000 per year compared to in-state four-year institutions.
Seek Out Scholarships and Grants
Many students assume that scholarships or grants aren’t available to them due to their grades and extracurricular activities (or lack thereof). However, you don’t need to be valedictorian or a varsity athlete to qualify for free money for school. Scholarships are available from a wide variety of institutions, all with differing eligibility requirements. Check out the College Mouse scholarship page, which features hundreds of scholarships for nearly every major. The process of applying can be lengthy, often calling for long applications, required letters of recommendation and a mandatory essay. However, if you take the process seriously, you may come away from your efforts with no student loan debt.
Like scholarships, grants provide money for college, but the requirements are different. Scholarships are typically handed out based on merit, but grants are provided based on need. Because most grant programs distribute funds on a first-come basis, being proactive and applying as soon as applications are open can help you boost your chances of earning much-needed funding for college.
Get a Job
Are scholarships and grants not quite covering your in-state or community college tuition? You can make a significant dent in your post-college debt by working while you’re still in college and applying your paycheck to your tuition bill. Even just a handful of hours weekly can add up to big savings on student loan interest later. What’s more, school-year employment can actually make you a better student; studies have shown that retention rates are better when students work approximately 10 to 15 hours weekly.
Find a job with an employer who offers a tuition reimbursement program and your efforts will go even further. Companies such as Gap, Apple and Verizon Wireless offer tuition reimbursement for part-time and full-time employees; as long as you can make a case that your college coursework is relevant to your job, these companies will offer as much as $8,000 towards your annual college costs.
Lastly, even if you prefer not to work during the school year, summer employment is always an option. From hospitality to agriculture, many industries have strong demand for summer employees, giving you the opportunity to build out your resume as you earn cash for college.