Do you dream of going to college but avoiding student loan debt? Or do you just need some inspiration to stop taking out so many loans?
Either way, I’ve got something special for you today!
We went on a mission to find out exactly how some college students are able to graduate without any debt while others end up with mountains of student loans. So we asked one simple question “how did you avoid student loans during college?”
Here are six of the amazing answers we got.
Michelle Smith - Grants And Working
Well you can definitely say I’m a lucky one, however getting through school without debt is something that a lot of people can do if they put in a little effort.
It all started when I was in high school, when you are a student of a public high school in Arizona you are forced to take a standardized test called the AIMS test. It was fairly simple, with a fail, pass, or exceed scale system and it only tested you in math, reading, and writing. If you failed any portion you were forced to take it again, however you could choose to take the test again to try and exceed in all 3 categories; the benefit being that you would receive free tuition from any in state Arizona university for up to four years if you surpassed the challenge and keep good grades. After taking the test twice I finally accomplished this goal.
On top of this, I also applied for the FAFSA every year. I come from a lower income family, with no college fund saved for me or potential financial help from my parents. While it was great that I had tuition paid for, that was only a part of the college costs. There were still books to buy, rent to pay, and food to eat. So, soon after applying I found out that with a mix of good grades and coming from a low income family rather than middle class was really beneficial.
While all of my friends were taking out thousands upon thousands of dollars in loans, I received a university grant each year that was approximately $,1000 (awarded for those with good grades) and I also received the pell grant (need based), which can be up to $5,000, every year for my first three years of college. So I used this money realistically for living costs.
I was also a waitress throughout my four years of college. Working approximately 15-20 hours a week during college. This really gave me the opportunity to have spending money. By my fourth year of college my family's financial income changed and I was no longer eligible for the pell grant, however my parents still didn’t make enough money to help me with school in any way. So rather than opting for a small loan, I decided I would just work more hours and live as cheaply as possible.
If I was going to recommend advice to anyone trying to get through college without loans, it would definitely be that they need to get good grades in high school, and continue to get good grades in college. There are so many scholarships for good grades so having that asset can really help you. Also make sure to apply for the FAFSA each year as soon as possible, preferably before February 14th each year. All of the money that the FAFSA awards applicants is first come first serve so the longer you wait the faster that someone else may be getting that money. Then lastly I would recommend to get a part time job because if you prioritize right there’s loads of spare time in college.
Bridget Cramer - Working
I obtained my bachelor's degree in exactly four years.
Growing up, it was never a secret that I would be responsible for paying my own way through college. I started baby-sitting when I was a young teenager. Starting at age 16, I worked two summer jobs.
When I got to college, I worked 20-30 hours per serving and bartending. Doing this, I was able to pay for my entire college career in cash.
I paid face value for my tuition because my parents' income prevented me from getting any grants. Because I left college debt free, I was able to buy my own home without a co-signer at age 25. I don't have exact figures but I would project that my college tuition cost $30,000.
Layton Cox - Working And House Hacking
My name is Layton Cox. I graduated from the University of Arizona with zero student loan debt in 2013.
I grew up in Texas, and ever since I was a little kid my parents stressed the importance of a college education. When I become a junior in high school, we traveled across the country to multiple college campuses to decide where I wanted to go to school. I dwindled the list down to two schools: University of Arizona and Texas Christian University.
University of Arizona gave me a $10,000/year academically based scholarship. This practically made my out-of-state tuition into in-state tuition. This was the deciding factor to what school I went to.
During my freshmen year, I took out a few loans from my father to pay for school expenses. I didn't want to start working my first year into college, but I knew eventually I would have to pay him back.
My sophomore year, I convinced my father to pay the down payment on a house promising him that I would continue with the mortgage payments. This was during 2010. The real estate market, especially in Tucson, had fallen and was a fraction of what it was in 2007. We were able to buy a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom house about 4 miles from campus for around $100k. He paid $20k on the down payment and the rest was up to me.
My original goal for the house was to rent out the extra bedrooms to cover the cost of the mortgage and then just coast. However, being a landlord is not easy. I struggled to find reliable and trustworthy roommates. This was an emotional, physical, and economical strain.
Over the next two years I had to take up various other jobs to cover late rent, empty bedrooms, and the repeating empty summers (students don't stay in town if they don't have to, even less of them pay rent in the summer).
I worked as a pawn shop broker for a year, I worked as a mortgage banker for a while, I even worked in student government to collect a paycheck through the university as well. Eventually I started interning at the company I am at today.
In September of 2013 I sold my house for right around $150,000. After paying back my father's security deposit and the small loans I took from him at the beginning of my collegiate career, I came on top about $30,000.
This is how I paid for college. Through a luckily timed real estate investment and a lot of long hours finding roommates and working in a pawn shop. I got lucky. If the real estate market had continued to go down instead of up, I would not be able to write this story today.
I would never ever recommend someone pay for college this way. It was a lot of work and sleepless nights. There were days when my mortgage payment would hit my account and I would have less than $5 to get me to the next payday. I became a big fan of canned tuna and ramen noodles. Luckily, I survived house hacking. I'm glad it worked out, but I would never do it again.
Now I'm still in Tucson. I work as an investment advisor (ironic huh?) and sunk that $30,000 into the down payment for my condo I'm living at now. I learned a lot outside of the classroom that has greatly helped me today, and the majority of it came from that damned house.
Tiffany Mason - Grants and Scholarships
As an undergrad, I attended Empire State College where I majored in Human Development with a concentration in psychology. Because I recently got married, I knew that I didn't want to take out a big fat loan in order to get through college.
I did a lot of research online for different scholarships and grants. I looked at the deadlines for each scholarship/grant and made sure that I submitted all the necessary requirements. I was able to receive Pell Grant, TAP-NYS Tuition Assistance Award, and scholarships from the military. I also applied for FAFSA every year.
My advice for you would be to do your research and look for ways to pay your college debt-free. It is possible. I'm a living example of the power of doing your research and having college paid for.
Nick Niehaus - Scholarships
I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in December of 2009.
I had three scholarships, one from school, Bright Flight from the state of Missouri, and a National Merit scholarship from Boeing. My grandparents had a fund that helped pay some, my parents paid a portion and I paid the remainder with money I earned doing an internship with College Works Painting for all 4 years of school.
Michael Clarke - Community College
I graduated in 2011 with a degree in landscape architecture and a minor in environmental horticulture from the University of California Davis. I spent nearly two years at two Southern California community colleges and three years at UC Davis. I was able to avoid taking out student loans by running my own lawn care business while at community college.
When I transferred to Davis, I was able to keep the business going while also applying for grants and scholarships which covered the majority of my tuition. During the summers, I also had a paid internship with HDR Architecture and Engineering.
Tuition rose dramatically when I started Davis in 2008 from roughly $1,400 per quarter to roughly $3,400 per quarter in 2011. However, each year I applied for grants that covered the increase. I also participated in several extracurricular projects for rewards. Upon graduation, I have since brought my business into commercial scale and can say that not having hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt has helped me tremendously in advancing my career.
Michael’s Company – MGS Landscapes
Three POWERFUL Takeaways
Did you notice a common theme in these incredible stories? Grants, scholarships, and part time work is the key to graduating from college debt free. It's why these are high up on our list of ways of how to pay for college.
I hope this post encourages you to really take your time and apply for as many grants and scholarships as you possibly can. On top of that find some type of work – whether that be a paid internship, or a part time job, or your own side business and use your income to pay for your tuition.
While graduating from college without debt is no easy feat it’ll set you up for financial success in the long run!
What takeaways did you get from this post?
Alexa Mason is a freelance writer and wanna be internet entrepreneur. She is also a newly single mom to two beautiful little girls. She chronicles her journey as a single mom trying to make it big at www.singlemomsincome.com.