It used to be that you graduated from college with a diploma that helped you earn more money and jumpstart your career. Today, many college degrees do little more than saddle you with debt.
The Lowdown on Student Loans
A student loan problem has been simmering for decades. Over the past few years, it’s come to a roaring boil. In fact, it’s no longer just a problem – it’s a crisis.
“Student loan debt has reached astronomical levels in the U.S., with 43 million Americans carrying an estimated $1.5 trillion in federal loan student debt and $119 billion in private student loans,” Rebecca Lake writes for The Balance. “The class of 2018 left school with an average of $29,200 in student loans.”
The bulk of the problem has to do with the cost of college. Tuition and fees have risen exponentially over the past several years, which has forced many to take out loans. However, there’s also a major lack of education on the issue. Few students go into college understanding the true cost of loans and how they’ll impact their lives after graduation.
Because of this, students are more apt to take on loans without developing a plan. Plus, many miss out on the opportunity to reduce their debt burden through strategic decision-making.
3 Tips for a Debt-Free Degree
There are plenty of different factors driving these inflated student loan debt numbers, but that’s an article for another day. We’re not focused on how to change the system. Instead, we want to show you how to work within the system. As difficult as it can be, here are a few tips to help you graduate from college totally debt-free. (Note: It’s very likely that you’ll have to combine multiple of these approaches to walk away debt-free.)
Find Scholarships and Grants
If you’re serious about graduating from college without debt, you’ll need to get some help with scholarships and grants. The beauty of this type of financial support is that, unlike loans, it doesn’t have to be paid back. It’s free money that goes directly toward paying off tuition and other fees. The key is to find the right scholarships and grants. And, in full disclosure, this can take a lot of time.
Scholarships can come from a variety of sources. There are university scholarships, state scholarships, federal scholarships, and even private scholarships from businesses and nonprofits.
Private scholarships are probably the most interesting category. You can find very specific scholarships for your niche. Take accounting, for example. Wiley awards $1,000 scholarships to accounting and finance students every month. If you can add that to a university scholarship, you’re well on your way to paying down tuition.
Grants operate much like scholarships, except they’re awarded based on financial need. One of the most generous subsidies is a federal Pell Grant, which is designed to help families with substantial financial need afford college. You’ll want to fill out a FAFSA application to get started.
You’ve probably looked up ways to earn money online in the past. And while most of the advice is bogus like filling out surveys and selling gift cards on eBay, there are actually plenty of legitimate ways to create revenue.
One of the best options is to sell a skill as a service on a platform like Fiverr. Whether it’s writing blog posts, designing graphics, doing voiceovers, or developing mobile apps, you can find a way to monetize your skills and generate several hundred to several thousand dollars per month.
Find a Deferred Tuition Program
Perhaps a traditional college education isn’t what you need. If you’re going into something like graphic design or programming, you might be interested in one of these deferred tuition programs.
Tuition-free programs give you free, intensive education in a highly-specialized area of study. You’re then required to pay back a percentage of your salary for a couple of years, but only once you start earning a certain amount. Don’t end up with a job? You don’t owe a dime.
Don’t Fall Behind
When you’re 18 and entering college as a bright-eyed freshman, it’s tough to have any context for what $30,000 – $100,000 worth of student loan debt means in the real world. But if you’re reading this right now, you need to understand how much money that is and how much it’ll cripple your finances in your 20s and 30s.
If you can avoid student loan debt, you instantly increase your ability to save and invest during the years where it matters most. Treat paying for college like a full-time job and you’ll thank yourself for decades to come.