10 Tips to Graduate College Debt Free

You already know that a college education is a great way to make sure you have all the advantages possible when you begin your career. Of course you can still find a job without a college degree but you'll have more opportunity with a diploma in hand.

The trick to making college count is to get an education that actually helps you in your career and obtain that education without mortgaging your future. With college costs still soaring, it's not unheard of for students to be saddled with college loans for decades after they graduate. If you ask me, that's no way to live. Here are 10 tips that will help make sure you graduate college without debt.

  1. Remember your prime objective.
    I suggest that you go to college to learn how to make a living. Don't go looking for "an experience". And don't go because you want 4 more years of 12th grade.

    At the very minimum, don't waste money at pricey college if you aren't clear on your professional direction after you graduate. Can you think of anything more terrifying than graduating from college and then trying to get out of debt without having the right training to get a good job? If you have no idea about your future direction, go to community college instead. It's far less expensive as you'll see. On that note, be thoughtful before you pick a major. Very few people actually work in the exact field that they study. That is true. But typically what you study will impact your ability to get a job and advance. Think business, math and science.

    If you are dead set on studying the Liberal Arts be sure you know why and the benefit of doing so for your future. It's not just a question of what you feel like you'd enjoy. You want to have fun? Go to Disneyland. It's far cheaper than college. And consider private career colleges if you see yourself as a tradesperson. That kind of hands-on training will help you advance far faster than a general education.

  2. Commute
    If your resources are limited, stay home. There will be plenty of time to get out into the world. If you can't afford to go away to college, there is no shame in living at home and commuting. It's a far smarter than digging into a debt pit just because you want to go away to school. Staying at home when you can’t afford to move out is far more adult than living beyond your means. Developing the skills to make adult decisions like these are important lessons too.

  3. Employment - Consider it Carefully.
    One option is to set up your schedule such that you can get a part-time job or paid internship. This is a good approach but not necessarily the only one. Think about it.

    If you make $10 per hour and work 15 hours a week, you'll have $150 a week or $600 a month. That's nice. But consider your time too. How much faster could you graduate if you invest those 15 hours in school? What if you could graduate a semester early by taking more units? If you will earn $3000 a month once you graduate and start your career early, it's a far better deal than working part-time.

  4. Your Employer Can Help
    Before you take on your entire college costs by yourself, think about working for someone who is willing to share the burden. Many large employers encourage staff to complete their college education and provide tuition assistance to help them do so. Find those employers and find a way to start working for them.

  5. Stay Small. Stay Local
    I know you want a four-year degree but that doesn't mean you can't start off at the community college. Your basic GE courses are less expensive and easier to get when you attend a community college. Once you are done with your GE you can transfer to a four year school. At that point, you’ll have less competition and you'll have saved a ton of money by getting your basic courses done at the community college.

  6. Financial Aid
    Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA). You might qualify for some grants if you fill out these financial aid forms - or at least low interest loans. Loans are granted purely on financial need. I am no fan of this option because it involves debt so please use this only as a last resort.

  7. Move
    If you simply must go to a school that is out of state, don't pay out-of-state tuition. Move there and start working. Establish residency and then apply to the college. A friend of mine has a daughter who did just that. Rather than pay the $64,000 as an out of state student, she pays $18,000 a year. It cost her a year but it was well worth it. She's saving $46,000 every year by doing this.

  8. Housing
    If you want to save on housing don't move into the dorm. They are very expensive when you consider all the costs. Instead, buy a bicycle and move a couple miles off campus. You can buy used furniture for a few hundred dollars and you'll be all set.

  9. Books
    New textbooks are a complete waste. There are plenty of alternatives. Look into used books or rent them. Enough said.

  10. Don't be a snob
    As I said, very few people work in the field they studied in undergraduate school. Don't feel that you need to attend a fancy pants school in order to succeed in life - you don't. And don't kid yourself. Deciding which college to attend isn't really that important. Whatever you put into it is what you'll get out of it. That is true no matter what school you attend.

    My neighbor sent her sons to an expensive college in Boston. They each graduated $150k in debt. They were able to find nice jobs. But they work alongside other people who went to state schools. That expensive price tag didn't do a thing for them and it won't do anything for you either.

    When my daughter was applying for college she also got into that expensive school. But we talked it over and decided that it wasn't worth the cost. Instead, she's going to a local state school and actually learning much more. That's because she's gotten very involved on campus with business groups and organizations. She's had opportunities there that she never would have had otherwise.

Bottom Line
You are making a very important decision. You can afford college without mortgaging your entire future. Think about the trade-offs before you take action. The last thing you want is to spend years and years paying off debts for an education you could have acquired at a fraction of the cost.

Written by:
Neal Frankle, CFP
Wealth Resources Group