These days there’s mostly a negative and downcast tone about paying for college. They say it’s impossible, that student debt is a way of life. In this post, I’m here to show you how to pay for college WITHOUT loans. (Or grad school, for that matter.)
Student debt does not have to be inevitable or accepted as a part of life.
Are there a few stipulations? Certainly. I’m not going to try to convince anyone that they can go to a posh, private university debt-free without scholarships and/or a loaded college fund. But I’ll show you that debt and degrees do not have to go hand in hand.
To start, grab a copy of the Money Goal Planner in the Resource Library, and use the ideas in this post to help you create a plan.
The most ideal scenario is to pay for college with a combination of scholarships and a tax-free college fund, or a full-ride scholarship. Not everyone can get a full-ride, and that’s okay. There are millions of dollars of unclaimed scholarship money every year. High school students, and even adults who are going back to school, can use scholarship databases like myscholly.com to identify scholarships they are eligible for.
$500 here, $1000 there, it really adds up fast! Keep applying for scholarships, make it a consistent part of your week, and chances are they’ll be a key part of helping you pay for college without loans.
As far as college funds go, this one’s on parents. If your kids are young, you’ve got time to invest and let that money accrue tax-free in a 529 Plan or ESA (also known as Coverdell). The ESA has income and contribution limits, whereas the 529 is more flexible yet has more limited investment options.
These two types of savings plans are your best bets for helping your child pay for college without loans. Savingforcollege.com has some of the best resources and guides on the specifics and even has ratings for the best 529 plans (there are 50 as they are state-sponsored, but you can choose any of them).
If you’re paying for college yourself, or if you don’t think you can afford to save a substantial amount for your child, paying for college without loans will require a little more planning but it’s still entirely doable.
Apply to in-state public schools. You can even apply for private institutions if you’re committed to also applying for tons of scholarships! Second, make a plan to graduate. Map out your coursework. Don’t take six years and switch your major twelve times. Time is money when it comes to college, so graduate in four years. You’re paying by the semester so don’t let a single one go to waste.
Know how much tuition costs and when you have to pay it. If it’s $5,000 a semester, you have to save $10,000 a year, plus books, plus living expenses. If you (or your kid) can live at home and commute, great. Don’t go into debt for the “college experience.” Dorm parties are not worth five-figure debt.
And there’s always the four-letter word no one likes to talk about: work.
Anyone can make enough money in a year, especially working 70 hours a week in the summer and part-time during the semester, to save enough for college. Yes, it’s hard work and it’s rare to see 18 year-olds work this much today, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done. No, there’s not going to be summer studying abroad. But you will be able to pay for college without loans, and then you can travel the world while your buddies are trying to keep up with payments after graduation.
The military is another option. In fact, the military paid for my husband’s bachelor’s degree while he was in the Navy (he took classes online) and the G.I. Bill paid for his master’s degree. Plus you earn a full-time salary, receive great benefits, get to live in new places (we lived in Guam) and build your resume with respected work experience.
The military isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely something to consider if you want to graduate debt-free.
Finally, there’s always community college, and it’s honestly not a second-class option. Go to community college for two years, figure out what you want to major in, and get good grades while you save enough for the last two years. It’s a great option for students who need a little more time to figure out what they want to study, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a university. I have many friends who went to community college who are now successful lawyers, psychologists, teachers, and business-people.
They’re happy, successful, well-adjusted adults, and they didn’t have to go into debt to accomplish that.
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