Can you graduate college without debt? Is it even possible?
The student loan problem in the United States is bigger than ever. How big? Consider this, in the United States, over 44 million borrowers owe nearly $2 trillion in student loan debt. And debt is more than just a number for the millions of Americans who owe on their loans. Significant student loan debt can seriously stymie your progress in life, with millions putting off buying a home, starting a family, or changing careers due to financial stress.
- Nearly 34% of adults under 30 report having student loans to pay off.
- 21% of employed borrowers from the ages of 25 to 39 say they have more than one job. That’s nearly double the rate of their peers who don’t have student loans.
- Those with student loans spend a good chunk of their salary on repayment instead of saving. Borrowers risk high fees and a lowered credit scores if they cannot make payments.
As someone looking to complete their degree, you have every incentive to avoid getting into unnecessary debt. Going into debt to achieve your bachelor’s degree doesn’t have to be your reality. In this blog post, we’ll explain to you how you can make that possible.
How to earn your degree without debt
Choose a Low-Cost School
The first thing you should do if you’re looking to graduate college with little or no debt is to research low-cost colleges.
One of the things to consider when searching for low-cost colleges is whether or not the school has a fixed tuition rate. A fixed tuition rate means that the school’s tuition rate does not rise during the four years of your program.
Now, you may have a shortlist of dream schools you’d like to attend. But if graduating debt-free is your top priority, you should check out more cost-effective options.
What does cost-effective look like?
- Picking a public university instead of a private college
- Attending a college in-state instead of out-of-state
- Living at home instead of on-campus
- Considering an online college or university
- Completing your basic education requirements at a two-year college (or testing out of prerequisite courses via CLEP), then transferring
Doing any of the above may mean paying less in tuition, room and board, and other college expenses.
Look for Financial Aid and Scholarships
Get the most financial aid possible. Make sure that you fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. You can even fill out your FAFSA before you decide which college to attend. Knowing your eligibility beforehand may help you make the best college choice.
While each state has a different deadline for FAFSA, your preferred schools may have an entirely different deadline. Try to submit your application as early as possible.
After you’ve submitted your FAFSA, you’ll receive a document called a student aid report (SAR). This report will tell you if you qualify for a grant, a work-study program, or any other type of federal aid. It won’t tell you the amount of student aid you qualify for, as your college will determine that.
Some colleges have more funding available than others, and funding is often limited. The sooner you file your FAFSA, the sooner you’ll find out the aid programs available to you. If you wait too late to file your FAFSA, you may miss out on grants and work-story funding.
If you find out you’re not eligible for aid at your school, other scholarship programs may be available to you. Organizations like civic groups, nonprofit clubs, and religious programs may offer scholarships to people meeting specific criteria. Check for scholarships with organizations in the industry you’re interested in studying. You can start with a simple Google, visiting your financial aid officer, or checking on industry websites.
Plan to Graduate Early
Plan to graduate early or at least on time. Studies show that taking longer to finish your degree can significantly increase student loan debt.
Graduating earlier has many benefits. For one, you can save potentially thousands on the cost of your tuition and housing. In addition to money on the cost of college, you can start earning a higher income sooner with your professional degree. By gaining early career experience, you set yourself on a path for a more secure future. You also get a headstart when it comes to interviewing. The fall after graduation, there is a big rush of recent graduates into the job market. If you graduate early and are ready for the job market in winter or spring, you may find less competition.
How to graduate earlier
One of the best ways to graduate college sooner is through a process called Credit-by-Exam. Credit-by-Exam allows you to take tests on general education courses, and if you pass your exams, earn college credits toward those subjects. Simply put, instead of taking a 16-week course that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, you can take one single exam, earn college credits and shave weeks or even years off your program.
The only problem? Studying for Credit-by-Exam on your own can be extremely difficult. You may not even know where to start, what to study, or if the resources you find online are up-to-date. That’s where Smarter with Achieve can help.
Smarter with Achieve is a college guidance company. We not only help you study for Credit-by-Exam tests like DSST, CLEP and UEXCEL, we can also help you pick a college that’ll maximize your Credit-by-Exam opportunities.
Every customer with Smarter with Achieve receives:
- Instructor guidance. Our instructors will help you brush up on your knowledge before the test day and give you insider information on how the exams are structured.
- A library of study materials. When you register with Smarter, you get practice tests and guidelines, so you’ll be confident when facing your CLEP, DSST, or ECE exam.
- Exam-specific questions. Get access to exam-specific questions to help you prep for CLEP.