Can you go to College Without Massive Debt?

We’ve all watched the news and read the stories. College is just becoming too expensive. Our country has a student loan debt problem.

And because of the stranglehold of student loan debt many young adults can’t take the next steps to adulthood like buying a house, or even a newer car. Many are putting off marriage because of the debt. None of this is good for our future.

But is there anything we can do about it? Is it just the fault of the college that is raising tuition each year or maybe the federal government that guarantees these massive loans? Can you really go through college without acquiring debt?

Yes.

That is actually the answer to each of those questions. And if you follow these steps and are willing to sacrifice some of the “college experience,” your college experience won’t saddle you with debt for the next decade or two.

Is a Four-Year College Right for You?

In our country, there is a push in elementary and secondary schools to put everyone on track for college. And unfortunately, many young adults go to college for a year or two (maybe more), don’t receive a diploma and only have student loans to show. And they are essentially back at square one as they were when they graduated high school (but with debt).

So, while it isn’t the popular thing to say, college might not be for you. Maybe there is a trade you could excel at simply by going to community college for a year and receiving an industry certification. And you’ll probably walk out with a good-paying job. And that year of community college could likely be bankrolled fairly easily without going into debt. Many high schools even offer programs to receive certifications. Do some research and see what options are available around you.

Don’t Choose the Most Expensive School

We often think that to land our dream job we need to go to a prestigious school that comes with a price tag that matches. For the most part, that isn’t true.

You can start at a local community college and often attend for next to nothing. In many instances, your local municipality or county will cover the cost of tuition at community college. And because it is “local,” you can live at home and save money. I know it’s not the dream of every 18-year-old to live at home, but it’s better to live at home while you are in college than after you’ve been out of college for a few years. Do it now and save. You’ll be happy you did.

And then when you complete your time at community college, look at state universities to complete your degree. They will generally be a much cheaper alternative while getting you the degree you need.

Look for Scholarships

Starting your senior year of high school, begin applying for scholarships. There are literally thousands of scholarships out there with multiple websites that will sort them for you. Apply. Apply. Apply. And for good measure, apply some more.

You will miss most that you apply for, but it will be worth it for those scholarships you do receive. Look at it this way, if you spent 500 hours applying for scholarships and received $25,000- you just made $50 an hour. And paid for a year or two at an in-state school.

Work While You are in College

No, you are not too busy to work while you are in college. (Yes, there are certain fields where you can’t work, but for most people that does not include them.)

And don’t just settle for a minimum wage fast-food job. Think like an entrepreneur. Cut grass. Babysit. Tutor. Walk dogs. Drive for Uber. Start a blog about how you are going to college debt free. Be a resident advisor and get free room and board. Just be creative.

Think About Your Major

Finally, what are you studying? What application does it have for the real world? This isn’t meant to discourage you from majoring in art history or theater or anything in liberal arts, but what are you going to do with that degree? What career will you have because you received that degree?

Money doesn’t need to be everything. You need to do what you have a passion for. But you also need to make a living. There are a lot of actors in Los Angeles who make a living waiting tables. That’s okay. But you need to have realistic expectations for when you do enter the real world.

College is a fun time. But it could also be a fun time without leaving with piles of debt. By approaching college like a business and being okay with being a little weird, you can leave with a degree that has prepared you for your career, all while being debt free.

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