With nearly 43 Million Americans owing student loan debts totaling more than $1.7 Trillion, many assume that getting student loans to pay for your college education is a must and unavoidable. The media loves to publish story after story on the student loan crisis, so it is no surprise that people believe getting a student loan is just how it works. However, one statistic you do not hear much in the media is that anywhere from 30%-42% of college graduates get their degree without any student loans (depending on type of school). How are these people getting degrees without any debt burdens while their peers are graduating with debt that will consume their future income for years to come? Here are 5 ways to get your degree without student loans.
Plan & Save
Parents have a couple options available that have tax advantages when saving for their children’s education. You can save money in a 529 Plan or a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA). The 529 Plan is going to allow you to put more money aside for your kids' education than the ESA but both share the same tax advantages that as long as you use the funds for qualified education expenses the contributions and withdrawals will never be subject to state or federal income taxes.
Parents should make sure they have taken care of their other financial obligations before saving for their kids' education. Once you are able to pay for your basic necessities, have eliminated debt obligations, and are able to contribute to your own retirement savings then putting money aside for your children's education is a great next step.
Choose An Affordable School
The single biggest factor in how much your college education is going to cost you is which school you choose to attend. Tuition and room and board vary greatly among schools. You can spend anywhere from less than $10,000 a year to over $70,000. Typically, attending an in-state public college is going to be your most affordable option. There can still be significant differences in cost among the in-state institutions in your state so check out all your options here. Or check out this list of 100 most affordable colleges in the country by Education Corner.
The truth is, outside of maybe your first job after college, no employer cares what school you attended. They want to know that you meet any necessary education requirements but more importantly what your work experience is and whether or not you fit into their culture. So do not get hung up on attending that prestigious college that you cannot afford.
Attend a Community College
It is no secret that community colleges cost significantly less than major institutions. You can significantly reduce the total cost of getting your degree by attending a community college your first two years of college. You will want to make sure that the course credits will transfer from the community college to the four year institution you plan to attend. So it takes a little research and planning up front but can drastically reduce your education expenses.
Scholarships & Grants
Each year nearly $50 Billion in grants and scholarship money is awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, colleges and universities, and private sources such as individuals, foundations, corporations, nonprofits and other organizations. Meanwhile, it is estimated that 2 million students are missing out on free grant money each year. Scholarships and grants are money you do not have to pay back. It is crazy to not take advantage of this resource when it comes to your college education. At a minimum, you need to be filling out and filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. In addition to that, make it your job to be applying for as many scholarships as you can.
Work While Attending College
So you have chosen an affordable college and applied for and received several scholarships and grants, but you still are going to owe money each semester. Rather than taking out a student loan to cover the difference, get a job! Working your way through college not only provides the benefit of not taking out loans, but it will force you to manage your time better which is a skill that will come in very handy in your career.
Graduating from college without the burden of student loans follows the same principles and habits you need to succeed financially in any aspect of your life. It all starts with proper planning, being willing to make sacrifices and having discipline. Over a third of college graduates every year have what it takes to achieve this goal of graduating without student loan debt and you can too. Start planning now, make wise choices when it comes to the school you will be attending, and identify what sacrifices you need to make. In order to achieve any goal, you have to sacrifice something.