How to Get Through College Completely Debt-Free

A lot of people want to get through college completely debt-free but are unsure how to do so. Here are some helpful hints that will help you avoid taking out a hefty student loan.

So, how can you go through college completely debt free? Finding an affordable college is the best way to keep down the costs of getting a college degree. Community colleges are generally cheaper than traditional universities, but can still offer quality degrees. Any pell grants or scholarships offered to you can also dramtically keep down costs. 

Choosing the perfect school for you means more than picking the university with the best basketball team. The price of tuition and cost of living in the area can put a huge dent in your savings if you are not careful.

If you want to get out of college debt-free, be looking at schools that you can attend on a budget.

Getting Out of College Debt-Free

Alright students, let’s talk about economics. Forget what your high school English teacher told you, I’m going to instruct you the cold hard facts of reality. The world is governed by the almighty dollar and it isn’t kind to those who are low on funds.

Adam Smith’s invisible hand, guiding price due to the laws of supply and demand, hasn’t kept it’s dirty fingers out of any area of society and that includes education.

The simple fact of the matter is this, more people are going to college than ever before, thus the price of tuition for attending a university, both private and public, has been steadily increasing as well, and it doesn’t look as though it will come back down anytime soon.

Student debt has exploded across the nation. Today, more than 70% of students leave university drowning in student loans. According to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average student leaves school owing over $28,000 in loans, and that’s just for a bachelors degree.

If you are planning on attending graduate or medical school you may owe $100,000 or more to the government. Yikes. No wonder people are nervous about taking out a loan.

So what can be done? It seems as though students are forced to either take out a soul crushing loan, or forgo college and risk navigating the work force without the help of the all-important college degree. Is there a smarter way to do it?

Yes there is! But it isn’t going to be easy.

In order to get out of college without and debt you will need to:

  1. Create a realistic budget and actually FOLLOW it.
  2. Choose an affordable school.
  3. Look for any scholarships and cheap student loans.
  4. Work where you can and whenever you have time.
  5. Be willing to sacrifice.

Let’s look at ways to effectively budget so you can stay out of debt.

Creating a Budget

Whenever I say the word “budget” I swear it seems to send a paralyzing chill through the air. People stop smiling and the light fades from their eyes. The cast down their heads and grimace. “Budget?” They say. “But why? I can control myself thank you very much, and I don’t need no budget regulating every dime I spend.”

What people don’t realize is that a budget isn’t going to be controlling their lives. Budgets are plans that help you be in control of your money rather than having your money be in control of you.

Budgeting is all about awareness. When you spend money on something, it means you value it. Thus, where you spend the most money is what you value most.

By keeping track of where you spend your money, you will see where you put your priorities. A budget will help you change your priorities if your heaviest expenditure is currently buying bits of dirty napkins used by the original cast of Star Trek on Ebay.

So how can you begin making a budget?

First, you need to understand where your money is coming from and how much of it you are making.

For a lot of us, the money we make comes from our paycheck, but a lot of freshmen college students don’t have a job or will be losing a job when they move to the university they will be attending.

That’s OK because there are a lot of other places that we can get a little spending cash. Scholarships, money gifted to you by parents or other relatives and friends, and even loans are all part of our income.

Examine where all of your money comes from and take careful note of how much.

Second, you will need to identify all the essential expenditures in your life and eliminate unnesessary spending.

I had a roommate once who was always hungry, but never seemed to have enough food. He would ask for some of my chow until he had eaten all of that as well. One day, I finally got sick of feeding him and asked him why he never had anything to eat.

After all, he had a good job and parents that loved him. Why not food? I asked him to show me what he had been spending his money on and he pulled out a shiny new game console and three brand spanking new games.

What did my friend value? Where did he spend his money? What is more important? Video games or eating? If you decide that video games are more important then all I ask is that you don’t mooch off of your friends plate.

The things that are considered essentials are the things that keep you alive, that is namely food, water, clothing, and shelter. And you should be thrifty in your spending in these categories as well.

Just because food is an essential category doesn’t mean you should go to Outback every night for a hot steak dinner. Your clothing doesn’t need to be Gucci everything. Eat raman and buy your clothes at Ross and you will be fine. Trust me.

The third essential rule for budgeting is to pay yourself first. Paying yourself first means taking the time to invest in yourself and put away a little money to take advantage of compounding interest.

This rule is so common in the financing world that it seems easy to ignore, but the rewards for following this common sense practice are truly worth it. A big part of investing in yourself is a quality education so put away enough money to pay your tuition.

After you devote funds towards tuition and other essentials, you can start putting your money toward other things like video games or Gucci clothes, if you really want to.

So, to review, the three basic steps to budgeting are:

  1. Identify your sources of income.
  2. Spend your money on the essentials.
  3. Pay yourself first.

The specifics of what a budget looks like differs from person to person, find out what is most comfortable to you and go for it.

Creating a budget is budget is extremely important, but it is only the beginning of helping you save money for college, not the end.

Next, you have to actually follow your budget which may sound easier than it actually is.

Don’t freak out if you go over budget the first couple of months you follow it. It can be difficult following a budget if you haven’t lived by one before, but it will get easier the longer you go along with it.

Choosing an Affordable School

Do you know how much it costs for an undergraduate to attend Harvard for a year? Go ahead take a guess. $15,000? Maybe $25,000? If you want to go to Harvard for a year then you will end up paying over $46,000 in tuition costs alone. Tuition, room, board, and other fees combined total to about $68,000 to attend Harvard for one year.

I know guys that make less than that in a year.

School is expensive my friends, and, as I said earlier, the price seems to keep going up up up. I’m not going to lie to you. Just about any school you choose to go to is going to be expensive, but some options are better than others.

I don’t want to dissuade you from going to your dream school, but when you are trying to make it through college without any debt, you have got to make some difficult choices.

Paying out of state tuition, for example, costs on average about $9,000 more than attending a university that is in your state. But if your heart is set on going to Alabama (roll tide!) and you are from California, you can always live in-state for a year and then claim residency.

Community colleges are also a cheaper option than going to a university. Over the years, community colleges have earned an undeserved reputation of being a place for people who have no direction or motivation in life, but these claims are baseless.

Most state sponsored community colleges provide quality education at a very affordable rate. An average 2-year state sponsored community college costs about $3,500 a year, while a university costs about $10,000 a year and that’s with in state tuition. A staggering difference!

Community colleges are also great places for those who aren’t quite sure of what they want to study yet. I have known kids that have spent more than 6 years in college without recieving a bachelor’s degree. More than 6 years!

You may reasonably ask what they where doing all that time. They weren’t goofing off. They just couldn’t decide on a major.

I’m all for exploring different career fields and subjects, but at $10,000 a year that is an expensive detour! If you aren’t quite sure what you want to do with your life, a community college is a great (less expensive) way to get your toes wet before jumping into the whole college experience.

Another great option is to look at private universities. Private universities are ran by churches or and organization or individual that isn’t the government. Dartmouth, Notre Dame, and Brigham Young University are all private colleges.

Tuition at these schools can be pricey, but if you have some connection to the organization sponsoring it, you may get a huge discount. Either way, it never hurts to check the tuition rate. The cost may surprise you.

Scholarships and Student Loans

You probably didn’t graduate high school without hearing how important scholarships at leas a thousand times. The speech may be old and boring, but the message behind it is true. Scholarships really do help cut the cost of college.

Finding a scholarship can be tough, but the good new is that scholarships are offered for just about anything imaginable. So all you have to ask yourself is, “what are my strengths?”

Are you the smartest kid in your class? If you are then you probably already have a big fat scholarship to some fancy Ivy league school, so good for you. How about not the smartest, but the best at geography?

Are you really good at languages? My sister got offered a scholarship for winning a beginner’s sign language competition. There is a scholarship for just about anything!

Look at things that interest you. Don’t resign yourself to the scholarships that everyone is after. If you aren’t very good at football and basketball stop hunting around for those scholarships.

Consider picking up boxing or fencing. Maybe you could go for chess or tennis. If you are good at something, someone is bound to pay you for your skills.

Do a little research and you may be able to find a big payout.

If you can’t manage to find a scholarship then don’t worry. The thought of student loans may send a shiver down your spine, but they aren’t necessarily a bad thing. While you do want to avoid debt as much as possible, taking on some student loan debt won’t kill you.

First, look for any subsidized loans or Pell grants that you can. Pell grants, in particular, are great, but we’ll talk more on that in a bit.

Subsidized student loans are loans that the government helps you pay back. By that I mean interest rates are generally lower and you don’t have to pay back the amount in full. It’s like I give you ten dollars and you only need to pay me back five. Pretty great.

Pell grants are really the chocolate frosting of student loans. Pell grants are difficult to qualify for, but if they are available to you, take them. They are literally free money. That’s right. The government will give you money and you don’t have to pay back a dime.

In order to qualify for a Pell grant, you need to come from a low-income family who would otherwise find it difficult to pay for college. These are a great way to get access to the higher education that you need.

Work When You Can

Working is the best way to scare up some dough, but it can be hard juggling a job while also going to school full time. Difficult? yes. Impossible? no.

Some jobs are better than others and while the income you make from a part time college more than likely won’t be enough to pay for everything you need, it will certainly be a nice help to pay for groceries and other basics.

When looking for a job, make sure you find something that is willing to work with you and your school schedule. I have a friend who is going to school and is also on call as a fireman. Well, fires wait for no man and let’s just say he misses a lot of class because of it.

If you can find a job working somewhere on campus, then you will be able to negotiate with the school about your schedule easier then you could anywhere else. Of course, campus jobs are usually hard to come by so watch out.

Any job that you can find while going to school usually won’t be paying the big bucks, but there are a few exceptions. This is where people who are good with their hands have a huge advantage.

If you have any experience working construction or with cars, there are a lot of people willing to pay for your experience. A part time gig as a mechanic will make thousands of dollars more than a part time fry cook at McDonald’s.

I knew a kid that got himself through college by making and installing cabinets in his free time. His schedule was Hell, but he got his degree without incurring any debt.

The skills you are learning in school may also help you find a higher paying job. Internships will not only help you gain the experience you need to make it in the workforce, but they will also tend to pay better than the average jobs available to a college student.

Ask any of you professors about internship opportunities and they will point you in the right direction.

On top of the work that you do while in school, you should be working while on a break, as well. On of the harsh realities of becoming adult is that your leisure time decreases dramatically.

On the bright side, however, you fill your time with work that gives you good experience and a little extra green in your pocket.

When looking for a summer job, try to find something a little more lucrative than your old job life guarding at the local pool. The aforementioned internships may be your best bet.

Another good option is to do summer sales. A lot of companies will ship you off to sell pest control, or some other stupid product door to door for three months. It’s miserable work, but a lot better if you bring a couple of friends along, and, on average, you make around $15,000. Plus salesman experience is useful in a lot of jobs.

Look for ways that you can make passive income. Passive income is sometimes called money that “works for you”. Think of interest earned on money invested in a bank.

The bank collects your money and invests it somewhere else. Some of the money earned on those investments (a tiny amount of it) is paid back to you in the form of interest.

While the interest earned on the money in banks isn’t very much, it illustrates the power of a passive income. It is money earned by practically doing nothing!

There are a lot of great ways to earn passive income besides the bank. Consider investing in stocks or cryptocurrencies. I’m no financial genius, but I know a lot of people who have made a ton of money by investing in stocks.

A lot of jobs will pay big if you are willing to work night shifts. There are a lot of great reasons to take a graveyard shift even if it means you might lose out on a couple of hours of sleep.

Taking a night shift frees up a lot of time during the day so you still have time to study and go to class. Plus, a lot of companies will pay you overtime to take a night shift. What’s their to lose except your sanity from lack of sleep?

Be Willing to Sacrifice

College isn’t easy and you need to be ready to make some tough decisions. While all your friends are chowing down on name brand foods and heading to the Olive Garden every other night, you may have to content yourself with ramen and home cooked food.

It can be difficult controlling you spending habits if it is your first time out on your own. A lot of freshmen college students have never really experienced the level of independence that accompanies being away from home.

Temptations abound in college begging you to spend money here or there, but you must resist! It can be easy to rationalize unnecessary spending (“Well, I have had a hard week so I deserve this candy bar.”) every time you gather with friends is an opportunity to shed a few bucks. However, you need to understand where your priorities lie.

It isn’t easy being the only person that doesn’t go out to eat consistently, but just because you aren’t spending money with friends, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your time with them.

For example, if all of your friends are going out to a nice restaurant to eat, suggest a cheaper alternative. If that isn’t an option, consider going to the restaurant, but not ordering a meal. You could order just a drink, or a dessert and save a lot of money that way.

Try walking or carpooling to your classes in order to save on gas. A lot of campuses have some sort of bus system that generally is a lot cheaper than driving anyway.

Another great thing to sacrifice to save a lot of money is alcohol. I know a lot of kids that spend a lot of money and time drinking. You could potentially save THOUSANDS of dollars a year by cutting alcohol out of your life. You may miss out on some parties, but trust me, your wallet and your grades will thank you.

Take a look at your spending habits. Where could you stand to spend a little less money? Name brand foods and clothes may be higher quality, but the loss in quality taken by switching to a generic brand is well worth the dollars saved.


It won’t be easy making it through college debt free, but it isn’t impossible. Think of the advantages that you will have if you can leave academia with that degree to a better job, and no huge financial burden hanging from your shoulders.

Be diligent in your work and frugal in your spending and you are sure to make it through just fine!

Related Questions

How much debt, is too much debt? For a typical bachelor’s degree, $25,000 worth of debt is manageable for a profession that earns between $30,000-$40,000 a year.

Depending on how much money you are expected to earn from your career, a little debt might not be such a bad thing. While it is true that you want to avoid taking out loans as much as possible, paying back a loan can help build your credit and make it easier to take out a mortgage or make a big purchase with the aid of a bank.

Is it hard to have a job and go to college full time? Working and studying full time isn’t an easy prospect. While it is possible to both work and study full time, it is only usually so at the expense of social time with friends. A sacrifice that most people aren’t usually willing to make.

You are the best judge of your own capabilities. If you are one of those amazing people that can breeze through multiple tasks without getting an aneurysm, then be my guest. If your the type that gets easily stressed, you make want to pace yourself a bit more.

What college should I choose to attend? A lot of factors go into picking the best school for you. Consider the price of tuition and the number of funds that you have to spend. The quality of education varies from university to university, so make sure you don’t go for the cheapest option but get crummy lessons. Examine a lot of different schools to see which best suits your personal circumstance.

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