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Wanna Graduate Debt-Free?

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After exhausting all possible scholarship and grant options (which can usually make at least a few thousand dollars’ dent), try these next six steps to walk away from graduation with a degree in hand and money in your wallet.

1. Choose your school based on both the program you want and how financially viable it is for your situation. Be open to a second or third choice and visit as many campuses and classes as you can, that third choice school may really surprise you in person.

2. Consider the possibility of staying in-state or taking classes at a community college (in our out-of-state) for the first two years of basic requirements before going to a pricier private university or out-of-state school. The savings of 63 to 90 percent is phenomenal. According to the College Board, the average cost of a full year’s tuition for 2007 through 2008 at a community college was $2,360, compared to $6,185 at a state school and $23,712 for a private four-year school.

The U.S. Census reported the average cost of tuition and fees (including room and board) at four-year public colleges and universities was $14,203 per year for in-state students and $38,400 for out-of-state students in 2006 through 2007. With in-staters saving an average of 63 percent, sticking close to home is definitely worth a second thought. Not only is this option a huge savings, it doesn’t compromise your education when so many community colleges and schools in your home state are ranked just as high if not better than other universities you may have your eye on. Check out how your short and long list of college choices stack up at Princeton Review, College Prowler, and U.S. News and World Report

3. Look into work-study positions and part-time jobs to help out during your first year of college—especially jobs that may come with beneficial perks like free food, coffee, haircuts, textbooks, music, tickets to shows you may have otherwise spent your hard-earned cash on, etc.

4. Get a campus job after your freshman year in the residence halls as a resident assistant (RA) or programming assistant (PA)—you get free room and board (an average savings of $6,960 per year for public universities and $8,149 per year for private universities in 2005 through 2006 according to CNN Money), connections to all the free entertainment and events on campus, and you build great relationships and a close community with your peers that can be harder to come by when living off campus. FYI: many schools also offer similar positions for graduate students as well. 

5. Stick to a budget in college and live within your means. Simply put, if your part-time job doesn’t afford you the ability to get a latte every morning, you don’t need it. You can live without that expensive salon conditioner or the newest iPod and you can probably get by with a slightly older version of that geology textbook than the one at the bookstore. You’re entering adulthood, where your parents are no longer taking care of your every need and that means educating yourself on more than biology, French, and calculus. For a few more ways to save a buck, check out these sites:

Save a Buck: Chasing Cheaper Textbooks
Sparks Notes
Daily Dose of Freebies
DIY Anything 

6. Educate yourself about credit cards. It is never worth the XL T-shirt to signup for that “free” credit card. Take time to research the options out there before diving into these serious financial contracts. Usually the best credit cards are the ones you can apply for through your bank. And while I would highly suggest using debit cards or cash only, if you do decide to get a credit card, treat it like it was a debit card and always, always pay it off on time.

Also keep that with so many no or low interest loans out there, you should never have to resort to charging your tuition bill on a credit card! For more information on good student loans, see the FAFSA Web site or even, where lenders compete for your business with competitive low fixed APR of around 5 to 9 percent on average. Lastly, for great links and tips on healthy money management, check out Wanna Be A Millionaire? You’re on your way to doing great things and starting your young career on a debt-free foot is going to be one of best decisions you can ever make.


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