Graduating Debt-Free From College Is Not Impossible – I Did It!

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Graduating Debt-Free From College Is Not ImpossibleThis article is by Lance Cothern. Lance is an accountant during the day and personal finance blogger at night at his blog Money Manifesto. You can follow him on Twitter.

Graduating from college debt free may seem impossible. Why? According to a study from the Institute for College Access & Success’ Project on Student Debt, the average college graduate had $29,400 in student loan debt. I don’t know about you, but that’s a depressing thought for me!

Luckily, you don’t have to graduate with student loan debt. I personally managed to graduate from college debt free!

There were many factors that led to me reaching my goal of graduating debt free. If I missed out on just one of these factors there is a great chance I would have graduated with some student loan debt.

I Went To An In-State Public Four Year University

One of the biggest factors of how much student loan debt a person will have is the cost of the college you choose to attend. While I didn’t save a ton of money by going to community college first, I did choose to go to an affordable in-state public university. This easily saved me thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars a year. Had I gone to a private college or an out-of-state college chances are I would have ended up with a massive amount of student loan debt.

My Parents Paid For Half Of College

The biggest piece of financial assistance I received for college was from my parents. They agreed to pay for my room and board, roughly half the cost, for college as long as I kept up good grades. I couldn’t be more thankful. I realize not everyone is in the position to have their parents help with college costs, but this was a huge factor toward my graduating debt free.

This wasn’t just free money though. I had to keep up my end of the deal and it wasn’t easy! It was, however, well worth it and keeping my grades up helped me land an awesome job after college, too!

I Applied For And Received Free Money

Applying for College Scholarships Can Pay OffDid your mom ever tell you money doesn’t grow on trees? Well, in one sense it kind of does. At least it did for me while I was in college! I applied for at least one hundred scholarships before and while I attended college and it paid off in a huge way.

I ended up winning tens of thousands of dollars of scholarships which paid for a huge chunk of my portion of my college costs. To successfully win scholarships, I targeted niche scholarships that would have a smaller pool of applicants so I had a better chance of winning. I particularly won many scholarships due to my dad’s military background and from his employer at the time. This was all free money! All I had to do was apply for and win it!

I Worked Throughout College

I worked every single summer I was in college to help pay for my half of the costs. In addition to the summer work sessions I also picked up a couple of different jobs during my freshman and junior years to boost my bank account. Not all of these jobs were fun, but they served their purpose of making sure I had enough money to make it through each school year without taking out a student loan.

I would have loved to study abroad for a summer but it simply wasn’t in the budget. I would have really enjoyed taking a summer off to hang out with friends and enjoy one of my last chances at job or school freedom, but that would have resulted in debt that I would regret later in life. I buckled down and worked as many hours as I could to avoid student loan debt.

I Saved For College – Not For Partying

College would have been a lot more fun if I hadn’t been quite as strict with my budget. I was always very mindful of every dollar I spent because I didn’t have a ton of money. I wanted to reach my goal of graduating debt free. I found ways to have fun that didn’t involve spending a ton of money and I shied away from some of the more material college purchases.

I didn’t have an amazing dorm room or apartment. I didn’t have a ton of branded college apparel, but what I did have I received for free from sporting events. I rarely dined out and I never paid to go out to the local bars like many of my friends did. I definitely didn’t have an awesome car. Even without these things I still had a blast in college. Spending money on many of what seemed like college necessities probably would have been a waste. I’m glad I avoided those costs!

I still feel like I had an amazing college experience despite my tight budget. Looking back, it was totally worth it to miss out on some of the smaller things to graduate debt free. A lot of my friends are still paying for those four years of college half a decade after we graduated. I think I’d be depressed if that was me!

How did you pay for your college years? Did you have to take out a bunch of student loans? Is there anything you would have done different? Let me know in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. says

    I took out a bunch of student loans when I went to college. I took out way more than I needed each semester and it was a huge mistake! However, I was luckily able to pay off all my degrees by the age of 24. It took a LOT of hard work though.

  2. says

    Nice work! I too was lucky to get through college debt free. I had to do it on my own, often working 2-3 part-time jobs (and then working full-time the last semester), but I made it through and had some savings left over for an emergency fund. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without going to an affordable school, getting scholarships, AND working though. It’s not easy, but certainly possible.

  3. says

    I had a decent scholarship for the private college I attended, but I still had a ton of student loans when I finished. I won’t even talk about the cost of graduate school! 8 years later, I have about $50k left to pay off. My options were limited because I had a toddler and had to commute to school; the only realistic options within driving distance were two private schools, and I chose the cheaper one that offered more scholarship money. Still, I wish I had found a different way to achieve the same goals that wouldn’t have resulted in so much student debt.

    I have a lot of issues with the student loan system in general (won’t write that novel here) but I don’t regret the money I spent on my education. Sure, I could have done it smarter, but I got my degrees and I really try not to stress out about the cost.

  4. says

    I paid for college in five ways: scholarships, work-study program, students loans, summer jobs and my parent’s help. I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently given the knowledge I had at the time. In the end, it worked out fine as my student loan debt wasn’t massive. I will be working hard with my children though not to assume any student loan debt. I want them graduating debt free.

    • says

      Brian, I’m glad you’ll be working with your kids so they don’t end up with student loan debt. They’ll have to want it as much as you will for it to work though.

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