How I Achieved a Debt-Free College Degree

Most students believe that having student loan debt is unavoidable and an inherent part of attending college because it is so widespread. More than 44 million people in the US have student loan debt totaling $1.3 trillion.

The typical student in the Class of 2016 has debt of $37,172, although this varies depending on the student and the degree they choose. My family could not afford to send me to college when I first started, and I was working a part-time job for minimum salary. I was presented with a $40,000 student debt as I looked over my financial aid paperwork.

My mother advised me to take out that loan and pay off my car. When I considered how much simpler having that money at the moment would have made my financial situation, I almost accepted the loan.

I declined the loan and eventually received my degree without any debt. How? Read on.

I benefitted from community college

Community colleges have a reputation for being “less than,” which has discouraged many of my friends from enrolling. For me, community college was essential in enabling me to complete my bachelor’s degree in three as opposed to four years. Also, I was able to save almost $15,000.

In order to take more than the allowed 18 units of coursework, I simultaneously registered in two nearby community colleges. When I was a junior at the university in my state, I was also enrolled in online community college classes. My university accepted many community college credits as transfer credits, but at a third of the cost.

I used ingenuity to cut the cost of textbooks by 90%

According to CollegeBoard, the average annual cost of books and materials for undergraduate students is estimated to be $1,250. I had a limited budget, so I had to be inventive with the courses and books I chose.

To begin with, whenever I had the option to select an English class over a different kind of class to satisfy my general education needs, I did so. Instead of textbooks, which are more expensive and harder to acquire used or at the library, many English classrooms use classic novels. Before classes started, I also looked over the required reading list so I could drop the class if the fees were too expensive.

I once registered for a class whose instructor wrote the necessary textbook. Only via her could students purchase it, and it cost a cool $150. I substituted another option in place of that class.

Older textbook editions are frequently available for less than 70% of the price of the most recent edition. Though the modifications may only be little, textbook authors routinely update their works. If an older edition of the text would be more appropriate for the class, ask the lecturer.

I was a housewife.

While living at home with my parents while I attended college required sacrifices, it also saved me money on room and board. I had to drive an hour to and from school, missed out on Greek life, and had roommates.

Such sacrifices were unpleasant at the time. I can say that it was worthwhile now that I don’t have to worry about student loan debt on top of all of life’s other problems.

If your parents are difficult to live with, consider staying with a friend or other family member. For a free room, trade services like errand running, meal preparation, child care, or yard work.

I submitted many scholarship applications

There are those who apply for hundreds of scholarships but never receive a single penny, and then there are the fortunate few who win large sums of money. With the latter, I identified more. I wasn’t athletic, a stellar student, or very diverse, but I managed to get $2,500 in scholarships despite that.

You should keep applying for scholarships even after you start college since even a small amount of scholarship money can help. For all four years of college, several scholarships and programs are available.

I shunned eating out.

In order to eat while juggling a busy schedule, many college students rely on fast food and pizza delivery services. You will ultimately save more time and money by visiting the grocery store instead of the neighborhood café or university cafeteria because eating out is a significant money drain.

I worked at Starbucks from 4 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and at the beginning and conclusion of my shift, I would make protein shakes with my free drink privileges. This was sufficient for me to finish my work shift and the first half of my classes. I then prepared affordable, portable meals and snacks (think tuna packages and instant oatmeal packets). Back then, the ticket from my neighborhood El Pollo Loco always had $1 off $1 coupons printed on it (for filling out a survey). I would do the survey, use the coupon for a $0.37 Container, then fill it with the complimentary salsa.

Many universities also host free social gatherings where food is provided. Look for these opportunities, and don’t be too proud to have dinner with your family multiple times every week. You may have sushi dinners once you have a full-time job, so keep in mind that this is just a little period of time in your life.

I shared a car

Every day of the week, I could carpool with a new person. Due to the fact that my carpool companions’ classes were in the evening, I had to remain later than normal. I was able to save time on the congested freeways of Los Angeles, money on petrol and parking fees, and both with the help of this strategy. During that time, I worked side jobs as a freelance writer, read textbooks I had borrowed from the library, and used the computer lab to write papers.

Things I Wish I’d Done

I tried to be as frugal as possible during my college years. I can see two instances where I could have modified things to make life easier now that I am more knowledgeable about personal finance.

loan restructure

First, the interest rate on my auto loan is 6.50%. Even though the monthly payment was affordable, I wish I had known how to refinance my car loan to further lower it. I could have saved more than $1,700 on the loan if the interest rate had been just $10 lower every month.

You may quickly compare your current vehicle loan to other loans when you enter into your Credit Sesame profile. To view your current loan terms and offers that could save you money, click the Loans page, followed by Car Loan.

Credit rating

As a college student, I likewise wished I had knowledge of credit-building strategies. I feared credit card debt and had no idea what my credit score was. I applied for whatever card I could get during my undergraduate years, which led me getting two store cards. On one, I neglected to pay, which negatively impacted my credit. Due to the other card’s exorbitant interest rate and my meager income, it took me several months to pay off a $350 bill.

I would have known to address the one late payment if I had had access to a program like Credit Sesame. When I filed for a mortgage two years after graduating, I didn’t know the impact it had on my score.

Also, I would have looked for credit cards with better rewards and APRs than the store card I currently held.

Debt from student loans is not inescapable.

Sometimes having student loan debt is necessary, and not everyone will be able to save money the way I did. If you must take out student loans to pay for your education, borrow as little as you can and start making payments while you are still enrolled.

One of my pals from the carpool took out a sizable student loan because she needed the cash for a laptop, books, and gas. When she made the purchase, it looked like a wise investment, but now that graduation has passed and she is left with the bill, she wishes she hadn’t blown through so much borrowed cash.