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How to Graduate from College with Zero Student Loan Debt

Strategize how you pay for college by how you choose your college.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

June 04, 2021

It is possible to graduate from college without student loan debt. You can see how below.
How to Graduate from College with Zero Student Loan Debt
Have you looked at student loan debt statistics lately? The numbers are pretty startling. According to NerdWallet: • 43 million Americans have student loan debt. • The average amount of debt for a Bachelor’s degree is $28,950. • The average amount of debt for a Graduate degree is $71,000. • For those attending med school or dental school, the average amount of debt is upwards of $200K. • A 2021 high school senior can expect to borrow $38,147 for their college education. Although those numbers are high – and can honestly be more than overwhelming – there are plenty of ways to strategize paying for college in order to graduate with little to no debt. They may force you to make some difficult decisions, but after graduation, you’ll be better poised to buy a new car or home, milestones that college grads with student debt so often have to put on hold.

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It should be added here that not all student loan debt is bad. They come with low interest rates, making them the best loan debt you could take on in your life. The payment options are structured around recent college graduates making entry-level salaries. There are also student loan forgiveness options. However, if your goal is to get a college degree without the debt, here are a few ways you can make that happen:
  1. Enroll in an in-state public college. According to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), 42% of students that graduate within four years from in-state public colleges graduate with no debt. Keep in mind, this is for students that are residents of the state.

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    Out-of-state students will have much higher college costs even though the college is a public institution. For instance, if you live in Ohio but want to attend college in Pennsylvania, you will pay the out-of-state student rate.
  2. Do not attend a for-profit college. A for-profit college is owned and operated by a private, profit-seeking business. They are oftentimes online universities, which do allow students to enroll at anytime and attend classes from the comfort of their home. However, 88% of graduates from for-profit colleges have student loan debt, according to Student Loan Hero.
  3. Get your degree at a community college.

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    About two-thirds of community college students, and 59% of those that obtained an Associate’s degree, graduated with no debt, states brookings.edu. Students that attend these institutions oftentimes live with their parents or guardians, saving even more money with their decision. Community college can also help those interested in earning a four-year degree, but still looking to save money. You can attend your first two years at a community college and then transfer to a four-year institution. Though you may incur some debt with this decision, it will very likely be minimal.
  4. Enroll in a low-cost college. You do not have to accept those $50- and $60,000 per year college sticker prices. There are many colleges that cost less than $10,000 per year. Education Corner highlights the 100 most affordable colleges in the country. There are also multiple work colleges across the United States. These universities allow students to attend college for free. The “catch” is that they have to work around the campus while they’re in school; however, these work opportunities become great resume builders.
  5. Spend less on textbooks. Three quarters of students who graduate without debt spend less than $1,000 per year on textbooks. Instead of spending money on brand new textbooks, use these cost-cutting textbook tips: buy used, purchase them online instead of the campus bookstore, and sell textbooks once the semester is over.
  6. Live at home. If you are attending college close to home, save on the room and board costs and continue living with your parents or guardians. Though it will not provide the stereotypical college experience, it will help save on college costs. Students that live in the dorms or in off-campus apartments will spend thousands of dollars over their college career on that experience.
  7. Commit to graduate in four years – or less. Many students rack up student loan debt because they take too long to finish their degrees. They may take five, six, or even seven years to complete a college degree. Sometimes, this is due to a radical major change. Other times, though, it is because students opt to take a lighter course load a few times during their college careers. Students can also avoid student loan debt by graduating in three years through aggressive semester loads and summer school courses.
  8. Apply for financial aid. According to savingforcollege.com, a third of college students to do not file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as the FAFSA. Savingforcollege.com adds that of those that didn’t complete the form, 2 million would have qualified for financial aid. Applying for financial aid can help to eliminate student loan debt. Through filling out the FAFSA, you can qualify for grants, scholarships, and work study opportunities that are set aside for financially needy students.
  9. Continue the scholarship search. Finally, students should continue their scholarship search throughout the entirety of their college years. So often, students limit the scholarship search to their junior or senior year of college; when in fact, there are thousands of awards exclusively for college students. Winning scholarships throughout college can help to eliminate any student loan debt upon graduation. Check with your college as well as your department chairs for opportunities that you might qualify for. And as always, continue to update your profile and apply for scholarships on Fastweb.

Graduating without Student Loan Debt

As you can see, it is possible to graduate from college with little, to no, student debt. You have to be creative about selecting a school, and it may also require some sacrifice. For instance, you may have your heart set on a private institution that costs upwards of $60,000 a year; however, the public college in the state that you reside offers the same major and similar classes. Ultimately, you can get a degree in the college major that you want – and avoid racking up major debt. The pursuit to graduate with no student loan debt may also require you to live at home or rent textbooks that have highlighted passages and markings from previous owners. It’s not what you dreamed for your college experience, but it will set you up for greater financial success after college.

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