Want to come out of school with a debt-free college degree?
Student loans are a dreaded phrase to parents and students alike.
It does not help to know that college tuition is steadily rising.
According to sites such as credit.com, the average student debt is over $31,000.
It takes between 10 and 30 years to pay it off.
Loan payments can approach $400 a month!
The only good news in all of that is that it makes college affordable to people of every income level.
So, let’s examine college debt and how you can get a debt-free college degree.
Let’s Put College Debt into Perspective
You’re (usually) at the beginning of your adult life, and saddled with substantial financial obligations that can weigh you down for decades.
It can put the brakes on your own success and your ability to crystallize your life plans.
It can feel crippling and unmanageable, and it’s so stressful.
Debt is debt.
It could be the courses you took preparing you for the SAT, tuition in college, or too many credit card charges when you’re in college. You still have obligations to repay it.
I’ve heard it said many times that educational debt is the best kind of debt you can have.
But I do not agree.
I believe any debt is usually the result of a lack of planning.
To avoid a looming fiscal nightmare, you really have to find a way for someone else to pay for your schooling.
In this article, I’ll tell you exactly how to do that.
How to Have a Debt Free College Degree
1) Scholarships and Grants
Your family may be wealthy enough to afford to pay, but for the most part, students expect to rack up college debt from the get-go.
You wouldn’t be sitting here reading this right now if there weren’t better solutions for a debt-free college degree!
And that’s where scholarships and grants come in related to your SAT and ACT scores.
They are the most effective means of going to college for free.
With a focus on your academic, athletic, or artistic abilities during high school, you could receive great scholarships for college
Even sufficient to cover all your expenses.
Generally speaking, academic money takes first priority before sports or other areas.
So do keep an eye out for scholarships and grants you can apply for when you’re narrowing down colleges to apply to!
2) How Standardized Tests Help You Out of Taking Student Loans
The first step in making your degree debt-free is to take advantage of the reliable nature of the standardized tests.
At least 85% of colleges base admittance and money received on test scores alone.
It’s not rocket science to work out that to do well will mean a better chance of scholarship money.
There are literally thousands upon thousands of institutional scholarships on offer.
If you have stellar PSAT, SAT, ACT, or CLT scores, you could have colleges and universities beating a path to your door!
These places of learning have ranks nationally based on freshman scores, so schools know they must attract the best candidates.
It’s a kind of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” scenario.
Scholarship tests all have a particular format, and it’s reassuring when you discover you can actually study and practice to beat them.
Remember, while those tests will have content that relates to what you should have learned in high school, the tests themselves do not actually test high school knowledge.
So, the standardized tests are learnable.
And that’s where your ace in the hole comes in for a debt-free college degree.
All you need to do is have a strategy based on the time you have between now and the projected start date.
Once you forward-plan, stir in a good measure of time, practice, and commitment, and your success is just about a sure thing.
With the right preparation and practice, you can achieve your desired score.
If you’re after awards, bursaries, scholarships, room and board, cash injections, etc., I can guarantee you there will be many you can apply for.
3) Do Your Research on Scholarships to Find Just the Right Ones for You
There are a few one-size-fits-all instruments.
But don’t just look for the obvious ones.
Do some research on the many internet scholarship search engines.
You may find a number that is exactly the right fit for you.
All you’ll need to score that funding is dedication and commitment to research and apply for the scholarships, and ace the standardized tests.
When you apply to different contests, you increase your chances.
You may find there will be more ‘cash on the table’ for you in your college endeavors.
Yes, you will spend plenty of time filling out forms, but it really can be a numbers game.
Apply for all relevant scholarships, large (upwards of $5,000), and small ($200 to $1,500).
Interestingly, there is less competition for the ‘less important’ and smaller awards.
So, rely on the power of compounding: go for every little amount you can because it can all really add up.
Sometimes the answers to reducing college debt are more straightforward than you had considered.
Imagine finishing a 4-year degree in 3 years, or getting college credit through AP exams or CLEP tests.
Early graduation is a time and money-saver.
Think smart, and you’re on your way to a debt-free college degree!
You lessen your outlay, but even more impactful can be the lessening of all the associated living expenses such as accommodation.
Before you even get to college, you could take dual enrollment classes in high school.
This is where you get high school and college credit simultaneously.
Another great idea is to research colleges with three-year bachelor’s degree programs.
A word of warning: Do thorough research.
Some institutions could nullify a scholarship and treat you as a transfer student instead of an incoming freshman if you have too many early college credits.
4) Find a College You Can Afford
It seems a no-brainer to the affordability equation, but the next tip is to find a college you can actually afford.
A big price tag does not necessarily mean the education is better than a school with a more modest cost.
Investigate what the college offers and whether the extra expense justifies your continued interest.
Most colleges are similar despite the disparity in cost.
Always consider the cost-benefit of say, attending an Ivy League school versus your local junior college.
5) Interesting Fact: Most Ivy League Schools Have More Money to Give in Scholarships
Having said all that, the more expensive colleges usually have more money to give.
Never rule them out.
Keep your options open.
Know that many community colleges offer quality education for a fraction of the cost of attending a four-year university course.
Years down the track, people will more likely want to know what you studied and not necessarily where.
There are exceptions to this, but as you advance in your career, it is your competency that speaks the loudest.
Attending a prestigious school can only take you so far.
The rest of the formula relies on you.
You can take a job to ‘work your way through college’ and even work part-time while in school and to pay for school every month.
In scenarios like that, you treat the cost of college as a tuition bill.
It does take some personal sacrifice to use your money to pay for school and not fritter it away on late-night fast food runs, movies, or parties.
But it takes the pressure off a future burden.
If you do the hard yards to get where you want to go, then it’s only a matter of doing without a few things in the short-term for clear long-term gain.
What a fantastic way to get a sense of ownership for your degree and control over your future.
6) Options for Working During College and Grad School
Not everyone can work during school, so here are some more options.
There are loan repayment programs or schools that offer Tuition Remission (where your College or Employer pays your education bill).
If you join the armed forces, you could have your college paid for after serving time in the military.
Other government jobs offer loan repayment options for high demand careers.
Employers often pay back tuition for positions such as nurses and teachers.
With a solid resumé and strong academic performance, you can even qualify for free education through a Fellowship which gives financial support for post-grad school.
College can be expensive, yet it’s reassuring to know there are many viable ways to ease the financial burden of gaining further education.
With the right amount of preparation, research, and diligence, you can pursue a college education without accruing massive debt.
Your younger years should be a time of great promise, so don’t let your college dreams morph into a fiscal nightmare.
College is meant to open doors to a brighter future. With the right planning, that glorious future can be yours.
Take the first step in the right direction, start early to get a head start.
Incorporate test-prep and make your future clearer and with less (and possibly no) college debt.
Take advantage of the system.
Because most colleges rely heavily on exam results to award incredible scholarship money, your aim should be to do whatever you can to score as highly as possible.
There is an easy way.
Higher education can be a life-changing experience.
It was for my entire family. We learned the test secrets, and it was more than worth it.
These are my best tips and advice on how to get a college degree debt-free.
Which tips did you find the most helpful?
Have they given you what you needed to know to start getting a college degree debt-free?
Let me know!
Jean Burk is the author of College Prep Genius and is a Fox news contributor who has been featured on many TV networks, radio shows and magazines. Both her children were homeschooled and earned incredible scholarships including free college, free grad school and free law school because of their standardized test scores.
To learn how to ace the New SAT/PSAT as well as read testimonials of students who raised their tests scores from 300-600 points and received incredible scholarships, visit College Prep Genius.
College Prep Genius has been featured on NBC, Fox, WE, CBS, ABC, ION, Forbes Living TV, UShop TV, TXA21, CW33, & The Homeschool Channel.
To find out more information about making your college degree debt free, contact Jean Burk at 81-SAT-2-PREP, firstname.lastname@example.org.
[ Updated November 3, 2020 ]