Walking across that graduation stage, college students are now getting much more than a diploma. The average college student is looking at a staggering $29,000 debt that they must start paying upon completion of their studies, a number that is increasing by as much as 6% every year.
With tuition rates increasing annually, and job prospects after graduation looking hopeful at best, it is useful to know that it is still possible to get an education without a pile of debt. If you are looking for ways to finance your education, here are some strategies that can help you get that degree with no added surprises (or continued burdens) on graduation day.
Apply for scholarships
Many prospective students make the false assumption that scholarships are only available for stellar students with a perfect gpa who graduate at the top of their class. While a strong academic record will certainly put you in a better position, there are scholarships available for every background, talent, and need.
As there are no limits on the amount of scholarships a student can use and receive, you are doing yourself a disservice by not putting your name in the running for all the free money floating around. Local companies often offer scholarships to students at area schools, with only a college acceptance letter needed to be considered.
There are also scholarships for students who have dealt with hardships, who are creatively inclined, who volunteer, show everyday patriotism, have a disability, and even those who can construct an awesome prom dress made of duct tape. There are thousands upon thousands of scholarships out there, and they can really add up against those tuition fees.
Start with community college
Every student, regardless of their chosen academic path, must take the same basic courses. Algebra, English, History – these prerequisites can all be taken at a fraction of the price at your local community college.
In the 2013-2014 school year, the average tuition for a four year college was $7,977, while a two year came to only $3,361. By choosing to attend a community college for the first two years, you could expect to save no less than $10,000. Since most students choose local community colleges, you can also save money by bypassing on-campus housing – this alone can save you an additional $8-10,000.
Work during school
The best way to earn money for school? A job. Most students don’t want to work during college, but even working weekends or a few days when you don’t have classes can make all the difference in staying debt free.
If you decide to work during school, be sure your employer understands that you may need some flexibility from time to time. Your education should remain your top priority, so only undertake a job if you are certain you can keep up with your classes as well. A part-time job is a solid strategy on how to get a college degree with zero debt.
Utilize employer funding
If you are looking to go back to school, or further your education, your employer may be willing to reimburse your tuition, books, and fees. It is in their best interest for you to further any knowledge or skills that will help you to do your job better. If your employer doesn’t offer full tuition reimbursement, they may still be willing to at least cover your books and give you time off for testing.
Even part-time employers may help you finance your education. Starbucks for example, offers all employees tuition assistance up to $1000. If your employer agrees to go ahead with the assistance, expect to sign a contract promising x number of years in exchange for the funding; if broken you would be liable for paying the company back.
There is no doubt that an education will help you in the future, but a lifetime of paying off student loan debt may not be worth the sacrifice. Utilize some, or all, of these strategies and graduate without the burden of debt on the horizon.
Jessica Galbraith is a full-time writer and author of the travel blog The Fly Away American. She hopes to help others avoid the student loan debt she found herself faced with after graduation.