How to Earn a Degree Without Going into Debt

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If you are a Happier Freelancing reader, you already know that I graduated from college without any debts.

I don’t know if my approach was the right way, but I hope you enjoy reading this post as one of the references.

First, Why I Avoid Student Loans

I went back to college at age 30. When I went back to college, I already had multiple debts. I had no confidence to pay off the mortgage, auto loan, and student loan at the same time.

Therefore, I decided to earn a college degree without getting into debt.

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11 Tips to Avoid Student Loan

#1 Save Up Before College

Going into college with some money in your account is one of the best ways to graduate without debt.

#2 Try a Community College First

I didn’t go 4-year university directly because they are super expensive. For example, the average total cost of a public 4-year university in the United States is between $101,948 and $172,644. On the other hand, the average total cost of a public 2-year college is $31,496.

To get a degree, we usually need 120 credits. I transferred 49 credits from a community college. So, I needed to pay for 71 credits instead of 120 credits at my 4-year university. It was a big saving!

#3 Understand the Cost

“How much is the total cost of a degree?” “Ummm, it depends.” If your university recruiter said that, it’s a red flag.

Higher education should be affordable for everyone, but it’s not. Education is business. Education could be the same costs as a small house. So, make sure you understand the cost. Don’t just pay for asking price.

Good university and knowledgeable university recruiter will say like this:

“How much is the total cost of a degree?” “What program are you looking for?” “Graphic design.” “For the graphic design, you need 120 credits to graduate and 1 credit is $$$. And also, you’ll need to pay for textbooks and equipment separately.”

Estimate the cost of college as much as possible. Many people worry about how long it will take to earn a degree, but it is more important to know how much money you need to pay. Why? If you can’t pay tuition until you graduate, you can’t get a degree. The worst thing is you’ll have a student loan without getting a degree. In that case, you’ll waste your time and money.

#4 Get Part-Time or Full-Time Jobs

I had a full-time job when I went back to college. It was not easy to maintain student life and a full-time job. But it was super helpful to my finances.

I’ve also tested out different ways to make extra money from home. The supplemental income didn’t cover the full cost of college tuition. But it helped me to avoid getting into debt.

#5 Choose Your School Wisely

What is the most important factor in choosing a school? Your friends or neighbors will say the name recognition, the size of the dorms, the famous programs, etc. But here’s the truth: When it comes to choosing a school, the only relevant factor is if you can pay for it. Once you graduated from college, nobody cares about your college name. Employers only care about how much money you can make for them.

Therefore, choosing an affordable school is a smart strategy. Online programs aren’t built for everyone, but there are a lot of benefits. For example, it’s usually cheaper than a traditional college.

#6 Apply for A LOT of Scholarships

I became a Phi Theta Kappa member and applied for almost every scholarship they offer. I also look at local companies in my area when finding scholarships. Some companies are providing scholarships for adult students like me. These types of scholarships have fewer applicants than others. I tried my best to reduce the amount of money I had to pay myself as much as possible.

#7 Win the Contest

I studied graphic design and web development at college. During that time, I entered a lot of graphic design/web apps contests. Some in-school graphic design content offered the prize and the money directly could pay for my tuition. I regularly checked the school bulletin board and the cafeteria bulletin board to look for contest opportunities.

#8 Apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Most U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens are eligible for financial aid for college or career school. There is no income cut-off to qualify for federal student aid. FAFSA also provides some scholarships. It was a very helpful resource/website.

#9 Do not Rush

Make a class schedule that is reasonable for your ability. I understand that you want to graduate as soon as possible, but if you take too many classes at once, there is a possibility that you will not pass the classes. If you can’t pass the class, you need to take it again until you pass it. Yes, extra cost.

Make sure you get your credits and focus on graduating without wasting money rather than graduating early.

#10 Focus on Required Courses

Your academic advisor sometimes recommends you take classes that are not required for your degree program. Do not take those classes. Focus on required courses. Your academic advisor or school counselor might say that “this class will help your career,” but what you learn in school is not really helpful once you enter the workforce. “No student loan” is much more helpful than some classes when you start working as a newbie.

#11 Maintain Low Cost of Living

As an adult student, social life was a little pricey. At the time, almost all of my friends had good positions in their companies. They spend a lot of money on the fun to release the stress. I made little space from these friends and kept my social circle small to save money. I rarely attended home-party or brunch with my friends on weekends. If I had free time, I did homework or side hustle. I also deleted Facebook from my phone. Maintaining a work-life balance is an essential strategy for adult students.

Wrapping Up

Student loans are not evil. Some people use student loans to reduce the stress of working and studying at the same time. In that way, they can be more concentrated on studying. Some people avoid student loans and start debt-free life as new employees. In that case, they can have more budget for new life. (New apartments, new car, etc.)

It depends on what kind of life you want. OK, now it’s your turn. How do you earn a degree without going into debt? If you have student loans, how do you pay them off?