Did you know that undergraduate students that graduate from college with no student loans are way in the minority? In fact, according a study published in 2011 only about 2/5ths of undergraduate students or roughly 1.7 million students graduate debt-free. As of 2011, about 3/5ths graduated having less than $10,000 in student loan debts.
However this number has increased substantially in the last three years as seven in 10 college seniors or 71% that graduated this past year had student loan debts averaging $29,400 per borrower.
So what could you do to graduate from college debt-free?
The first thing to do is to go to an in-state public college. Of undergraduate students who graduated debt-free 85.2% graduated from public colleges. And of this nearly 70% were in in-state public schools. Going to school in-state at a public college costs less because states appropriate money to their universities in order to keep tuition low for state residents.
Forget those for-profit schools
For-profit schools have been in the news a lot lately due to some of their practices. One of the largest, Everest College, has been targeted by half a dozen states and the federal government over allegations that it slanted attendance records, distorted student grades and exaggerated job placement data in its ads. This has led to Everest’s parent company, Corinthian College, closing some of its nearly 100 campuses and selling the rest.
Beyond this, less than 7% of students who went to for-profit colleges graduated debt-free.
Enroll in a two-year or shorter program
If you enroll in a two-year or shorter program you’re more likely to graduate debt-free. Half of the students that graduated with no debts graduated from a community college. One-third graduated from a public four-year college and 61% of students that earned an associate’s degree from a public college graduated with no debt. What many students are now doing is going to a community college for their first two years and then transferring to a state university. Since most of a student’s first two college years are devoted to basic or core classes, it makes very little difference where he or she takes them. If you do this, your record may show that you did two years at a community college before transferring but your diploma will have the name of your state university or even a more prestigious college.
Choose a low-cost college
If you choose a school whose tuition and fees is less than $10,000, you are very likely to graduate debt-free. In fact, 80% of students who did graduate with no debt graduated from a school meeting these criteria. Another 57% graduated from a school whose total cost of attendance was under $10,000 and 86% graduated from colleges that had a total cost of attendance of less than $20,000. You might have heard the old song titled “Shop Around” and this is especially true when it comes to picking a school – assuming your goal is to graduate debt-free. For that matter there was one study done recently that came to the surprising conclusion that, in some respects, where you go to college is less important than where you applied – assuming you are accepted. It appears that when it comes to earnings that if you are smart enough to get into a prestigious school like Yale or Harvard, you’re probably smart enough that you will be able to earn like a Yale graduate.
Reduce the amount you spend on textbooks
Seventy-five percent of students that graduated without debt spent $1000 or less per year on their textbooks. If you buy your textbooks at the campus bookstore you’ll probably pay top price. As an alternative to this, you might be able to buy the textbooks you need used on sites such as Amazon.com, ABE Books are even Craigslist. Another option is to go to half.com or textbookrush.com and look for international editions of the textbooks you need. Finally, you may not be aware of this but it’s also possible to rent textbooks. Doing this will typically slash the book’s list price by two thirds. This can be very appealing unless the book you need is one that you want to keep in the future for reference. If this idea appeals to you try www.clegg.com or www.bookrenter.com.
Live at home
If you live at home with your parents you are more likely to graduate debt-free than students who don’t. While you might feel “shamed” to live with your parents, it’s better to live at home while you’re enrolled in college then to be forced to live at home after you graduate because you have so much student loan debt.
Choose your parents wisely
If you have upper-income parents, you are more likely to graduate with no debt than if you don’t. Statistics show that 56% of upper-income students graduated debt-free compared with 36% of low-income students and 45% of middle-income students. For that matter, if your parents have advanced degrees you are more likely to graduate debt-free because your parents probably have an higher average income. Also, more than two thirds of those who graduated debt-free got help paying for tuition and fees from their parents. In addition, statistics also show that a small percentage of students that graduated with no federal or private student loan debts were able to do this because their parents borrowed from the parent PLUS loan program.
College costs continue to skyrocket
Many students have no choice but to borrow money in order to get a college education. The cost of a higher education continues to do nothing but skyrocket. The College Board’s Trends in College Pricing reported in June of this year that the average total cost of attending a four-year public college and university in-state was $17,131. Of course, this included everything – fees, tuition, room and board. If you chose to attend a public college or university out-of-state, you would be looking at an average cost of $29,657 and if you want to go to a four-year private college you’d be looking at an average of $38,589.
If borrow you must, hope for a subsidized federal loan
As you can see, these costs echo what we had said earlier about choosing an in-state public college or university. Beyond this, if you must borrow money hope for what’s called a subsidized federal loan. You need to be able to show “need” to get one of these loans but if you can, you’ll be spared from the burden of paying interest on the loan while you’re in school. Instead, our federal government will pay the interest for you. How would you show “need” in order to get a subsidized direct federal loan? The US Department of Education (Ed) will evaluate your FAFSA or Free Application for Financial Student Aid to determine whether or not you have “need.” In addition, your FAFSA will be automatically sent to the school or schools where you have applied for admission. They will also use this information to determine what type of financial aid to offer you. Of course, the best type of financial aid is the kind that you don’t have to repay. This could be a grant, a work-study grant or best of all, a scholarship. If you find that most of your aid will come in the form of a federal student loan, you need to sit down, and evaluate how much you’ll have to borrow versus the benefits you would obtain from attending that particular college.
You may also be able to graduate from college debt free or at least reduce the amount of money you will have to borrow by working part-time. Most college towns have an overabundance of small shops, hotels and fast food outlets that hire part-time workers. These jobs may not pay a lot but every dollar you earn is a dollar you won’t have to borrow. Work just 15 hours a week at $10 an hour and you should net somewhere around $100 a week or around $1500 a semester – which would go a long way towards paying for your textbooks and some of your food and rent.
Build an online business
When it comes to making money online, the Internet recognizes no age restrictions. People as young as 16 have earned literally thousands of dollars a month by creating a successful business online. You could become an associate of Amazon.com and promote all of its products. Amazon even makes it incredibly easy to build a complete online store. The commissions you would earn from Amazon would not be a lot per sale but if you sell dozens of items a week, the money will mount up. Plus, this is something you could do without ever leaving your dorm room or apartment. And you could spend as much or as little time on your business as you wished.
If you have a good career path mapped out and can convince other people that you will be successful you can actually sell shares in yourself via one of the crowdfunding websites. There is also a new company called Pave where you could raise money by offering a percentage of your future earnings. As an example of how this works, one person recently signed up with Pave in the hope of raising money to pay for an advanced masters degree. If he raises the $30,000 he needs he will then pay back his investors at the rate of 7% of his salary for the next 10 years.
Join the Peace Corps
This may sound a bit on the radical side but if you join the Peace Corps and complete a four-year stint you will earn $7,425 (pre-tax) to help with your transition to life back home. Plus, any payments you have on Stafford, Perkins, direct or consolidated loans will be deferred while you’re in the Corps. And if you have Perkins loans, you could be eligible for a 30% to 70% cancellation benefit meaning that a large portion of your loan could be canceled.