I have had a number of conversations lately with friends who took me by surprise when they told me how much student debt they have – years after graduating. Some of them have student loans and others have credit card debt from living expenses. I guess I have taken for granted how lucky my wife and I were for graduating with four year degrees without a penny in debt.
Since I firmly believe that you can also graduate debt free, I want to share some suggestions based on what we did. Also, share anything you did to avoid debt in college in the comments below.
If you are still in high school, get good grades
I’m sure that you are sick of hearing this, I know I was. Actually, it’s unfortunate that teenagers have to make decisions (like studying instead of playing) that will last a lifetime when their ability to make decisions is probably at the lowest point in their lives.
Let me put this in teenager terms. All of the people that you think are cool in high school will not matter the day after graduation. That girl/guy that is so cute is most likely going to marry someone else. Your social life will not end if you miss this party. If you earn good grades now, you will get into a better college. Better colleges mean better jobs, more money, more toys and more playing later in life. Good grades can lead to scholarships, leaving you with more money in college to date and have fun.
Some self-discipline now means getting to do more of what you want later.
Evaluate schools based on value for dollars
One of the biggest reasons that I was able to graduate debt free is because I went to a great private university with a small tuition. Tuition cost around $1800 a semester and yet the business school was ranked #7 in the nation by BusinessWeek. I paid little but got a lot. Before applying and selecting a school, spend some time researching the value (cost as compared to career prospects). Here are some links to help you research colleges:
- Princeton Review’s Best Value Colleges
- Kiplinger – Best Values in Public Colleges 2011
- Kiplinger – Best Values in Private Colleges 2011
- Forbes Top 20 Best Value Colleges
Work through college
I worked three jobs while in college. The first was as a night time custodian (though, I never cleaned a toilet). My hours were from 9PM – 2AM Sunday through Thursday. I had Friday and Saturday off. I usually had to take classes that started after 9AM so that I could get enough sleep. And the hours definitely cut into my social life since 8PM is about the time everyone starts to hang out and do stuff on weekdays. However, I was able to pay for all of my bills.
My next job was as an accounting clerk in the university’s budget office. A big improvement. But I had day time hours that again affected my ability to sign-up for the classes I wanted. The last job was as a research assistant for the company where I now work as the Marketing Director.
The two direct benefits from working five days a week throughout my entire college experience was the income that helped me to avoid debt and the experience that led directly to the job I now have. I don’t want to get into a political discussion or make sweeping generalizations, but one of my biggest frustrations with the Occupy Wall Street movement* is the number of people who went to school, took out huge loans, didn’t work and are now angry because they have debt.
*As a side note, I visited Occupy Wall Street and conducted my own interviews in order to form my opinion on the movement. Watch my Occupy Wall Street interviews on YouTube.
Apply for grants and scholarships while in college
Some people may not realize that many scholarships are still available even after you have started school. I was denied a scholarship when I was first accepted. However, after two years, I was able to show through my grades that I deserved a scholarship. I was awarded a half scholarship. But I had to apply for it, which involved writing essays, etc.
The other avenue to explore are Pell Grants, which is free money from the government. Rather, free money to you. Someone else is certainly paying for it in the form of higher taxes. I didn’t qualify for a Pell Grant until I got married, which was near the end of the four years. Here’s some more info on Pell Grants.
It sucks, but ask family for help
I’m a proud guy and I believe in taking responsibility for myself. But when I just didn’t have enough money, I swallowed my pride and reached out to family members that I knew could help. I am forever grateful for that assistance. Also, I spent any money that I received for Christmas or my birthday on school books. At times, I was frustrated when I saw my siblings getting to “play” with their Christmas money while I headed to the Campus Bookstore to buy Economics 110.
My last piece of advice doesn’t come from experience
I didn’t have any money saved up for college. I wish I would have. But that is not a choice that I made. If you have the opportunity to save money before going to college, then do it! You will never look back and say, “Man, I wish I would have graduated from college with some debt. Living debt free has been a real strain on me.”
Though as you can see from me, I still graduated debt free from college despite not having any savings. It just took a lot of hard work.
If you like what you read today, then follow Rabbit Funds on Twitter or Like us on Facebook for regular updates on great, new articles. Also, this article was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance hosted at Afford Anything.