9 Tips to Graduate College Without the Chains of Debt!

graduate debt freeWith the costs of college tuition and living expenses skyrocketing, I hear a lot of people, particularly teenagers in high school, talk about whether it is possible to graduate from college without incurring any debt.

The truth is, despite the rising costs recently, it is possible for someone to obtain a degree without burdening themselves with student loans.

I myself was able to pull it off due to a combination of planning, saving, and generous assistance from family and relatives.

In order for it to happen, though, someone has to make it a priority, not merely wishful thinking or an afterthought. Avoiding debt in higher education requires thoughtful consideration and strategic decision-making.

To help out, here are a few things I learned along the way which could be of use to those who either are about to embark on their college journey or have children or younger siblings who have a few more years before they have to worry about it.

1. Get a job ASAP

I got a job as a sophomore in high school working as a birthday coordinator (yes, that was the actual title) for a local recreational place near my house. I then got another job as a clerk at the local grocery store and worked continuously until the week before I left for my first day of college.

Getting a job as early as possible is important not only because it helps pay towards your college, but it also teaches you skills which you help be successful in college. For example, my senior year I ran on the cross country and track team in addition to my grocery clerk job. This meant I had to be up at around 6 a.m,. , leave home at 7 a.m. in the morning, finish cross country practice at 5:30 p.m. and not get back home until 10 p.m.

To survive, I had to be organized and efficient with my time. I had to learn how to cram in study sessions in between lunch breaks at work or before school and sports practice.

The discipline I had acquired from that really helped me my final quarter of college, when I was working as the news editor for the university student newspaper while also taking 22 credits.

2. Save, save, save

When I first saw money trickle into my bank account, there was a terrible temptation to spend some of it. Occasionally, I did. After all, it seems as though you can afford to spend small amounts, especially when the number rises into the thousands of dollars.

The problem is it’s an illusion. Although your savings may seem like a lot, remember it’s going to pay for several years of college amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. You will need every penny.

After deducting a small amount of your paycheck for tithing and expenses, tuck the rest of it away in a savings account and don’t touch it. It won’t accumulate much interest, but you will be less tempted to spend it there, especially if you love your debit card. I made the mistake of making lots of small orders on Amazon.com, thinking I wasn’t spending much, until I counted up the total spending and realized how much it actually turned out to be.

Don’t let spending creep up on you by avoiding unnecessary purchases.

3. Take as many Advancement Placement classes you can where you have a realistic chance of passing the test

While in high school I took three separate AP classes, all of them social studies-related. And I passed all three tests and got college credit for it.

There was a reason I didn’t bother in math or science; I was terrible at both. Today, there is a strong push, depending on your school district, to take AP classes, and even more pressure to take the test. Don’t listen to anyone except yourself on this. As Dirty Harry said, “a man’s got to know his limitations.” Know yours. Take only the AP classes where you either have the time to study or the material comes easy to you and you won’t have trouble with the test.

I say this because when it comes to college, the test is all that matters. If chances are you won’t pass the test, you risk taking a class where you won’t receive any college credit, and all the hard work and studying will only take away time you could have dedicated to your other classes.

By taking AP classes, and passing the tests, I freed myself up from several requisite courses which, in addition to other decisions, enabled me to graduate two quarters early.

4. Do running start for the last two years of high school

This was one big regret of mine from high school. I never took running start, and looking back if I could have I would have done it in an instant. Aside from some extra costs, it is essentially two free years of college that also count as two years of high school. When you eventually go to the college of your choice, you will have two years already completed, freeing you up to pursue other courses. The downside to this option is that it will separate you socially from the rest of your high school peers, but if you’re participating in a sport of other extra curricular activity this won’t have as much of an impact. And frankly, sparing yourself two years financially of college is worth the juvenile social drama.

5. Be realistic about the colleges you can afford

I do say this with somewhat of a side note: this is for people who are interested mainly in obtaining a degree with incurring debt and don’t have a specific college in mind, or their financial capacity to afford it is the highest priority. If you aspire to attend a prestigious private university or Ivy League school, where the costs are substantially higher, or your career involves an extended education, i.e. doctor, lawyer, master’s degree, it becomes increasingly contingent upon your financial background and the scholarship money/financial assistance you receive if you still want to graduate debt free.

From the get-go, I selected colleges I could afford based on the amount of money I had saved, would make during the summers in-between school, and other financial assistance I received from my family. Depending on your circumstances, i.e. scholarships, financial assistance, family finances, you may have a greater range of colleges to attend than others.

For me, it was mostly confined to in-state public universities, so my options were somewhat limited. The university I ultimately chose, Eastern Washington University, had one of the lowest tuition rates in the state (tuition has spiked since, though). But I was realistic about what I could afford.

If you’re in college

6. Try to work a part time job during the school year

This is easier when you’re attending a college located within a larger city, where more jobs are available, but if you can, try to find some way to make money while you’re at school. Thanks to Craigslist, you can often find part-time or freelance work in your region, or apply for one after the school year starts. You can also apply for jobs at the university you attend. One popular job at my university for students was working in the library. Others tutored or taught music lessons.

This is beneficial because working year round, rather than merely during the summer, will help even if it’s confined to the weekends or a few hours in the afternoon each day. It can be difficult, though, for those with greater academic loads or more rigorous courses.

Additionally, if the job happens to give you career-related work experience, it’s two birds with one stone, so to speak.

7. Take classes you have to take to graduate, not ones you want to take

Most universities have a list of requisite courses you’re required to take in order to graduate. Some of them give you flexibility as to the course. Others do not. I took lots of literature courses, such as Shakespeare or Western Literature, but they all applied to my general course requirements.

What I’ve found after college, however, is that many classes I took, purely out of my interest on the subject, were a waste. With the Internet, you can not only study the subject just as thoroughly for free on many websites, but you can also check out the required reading for the course, order the books online or from a library, and then study at your leisure. This certainly isn’t the most orthodox manner in which to educate yourself, but it will certainly save you more than a buck.

8. Cut costs any way you can

I know you’re supposed to “have fun” in college, but “having fun” shouldn’t bankrupt you. This is the time to be frugal and not get harangued for it. Shop at thrift stores where you can buy second-hand items for dirt cheap. When you shop for food, buy inexpensive, but healthy products like fruits, vegetables, and pasta. And stay away from the liquor section of the grocery store.  Try to avoid things like cash loans.  Instead, work additional part time jobs!

Some universities require you to live on campus for the first year which include their meal plans; if you can, avoid it. Generally speaking, their “meal plans” are the equivalent of a coal mining company “truck system.” Since they control where you spend your meal plan dollars, they can set the prices as high as they like.

If you are required to live in the residential halls, get the cheapest meal plan you can and shop for the rest. When purchasing books for classes, there are dozens of ways to either avoid the eye-gauging prices at the university bookstore or paying for them at all. for the first two quarters my freshmen year, I had to buy only two full-priced books; the rest were either borrowed or the earlier edition, which is usually 10-20 percent of the original price.

If you aren’t required to live in the residential halls, be willing to settle for less than you’re accustomed to at home when it comes to your living situation. After living in my (Beta Theta Pi) fraternity house for two and a half years, I moved into a slightly renovated miner’s shack from the Great Depression after finding it on Cragislist. It was 300 square feet. No insulation between the single board walls. The temperature never got above 60 degrees even with the electric baseboard heaters on day and night. When the temperature outside dipped down to near zero degrees, I woke up in the mornings with frost on my side of the walls stuck to my blanket.

Was it a sultan’s palace? Not really. But it was cheap and a monthly lease, which is exactly what I needed. I wouldn’t recommend this for 99 percent of people, but if you can find a cheaper place with less amenities than usual, give it a thought before you turn it down.

9. Pray about your decisions before you make it, and keep praying

This is something I really didn’t do until my last year of college, and I very much regret, but before you make major decisions about what school to attend and what career to go into, the best thing you can do is to pray about it.

As a Christian, your life isn’t just about what you want, but what God wants, and often they are not the same. For example, you may wish to attend a certain college or get a certain degree, but God could have other plans for you. Or, they may be the same. The only way to find out is to pray about it.

I regret not praying over it because after I chose which university to attend I got anxious about whether or not I had made the right choice. I also know people who were dead set on graduating from a certainty university, only to find themselves, due to circumstances mostly beyond their control, end up elsewhere.

But prayer shouldn’t stop there. The desire to remain debt-free is biblical, so there is nothing wrong with asking God for help in that endeavor. Just remember to pray, not wish.

photo by smemon

Alcohol Consumption Puts College Students in Credit Card Debt

beer moneyAccording to the Trends in College Pricing 2010 report compiled by The College Board, the average estimated undergraduate budget❠for a   student during the 2010-2011 academic year is $20,339 for a four-year public school and $40,476 for a four-year private school. These numbers factor in tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation and miscellaneous expenses. But do those numbers include the $500 a year that Rachel Barrington of the University of Wisconsin claims the average college student squanders on alcohol?

Gayla Martindale’s estimate in her article, A Look at the Spending Habits of College Students, posted on the stateuniversity.com blog is somewhat jaw-dropping: Each year, American college students spend $5.5 billion on alcohol.❠That’s a lot of money to be pouring down the hatch, especially in light of the fact that most students enter the workforce after having earned their post-secondary degree, carrying debt that they accrued along the way.

So how is the average, financially-strapped college kid affording all of this booze?

Some students spend using credit cards. In fact, most students â“ some 75% of females and about 70% of males â“ have 1-3 credit cards. The cost of teenage alcoholism is high, from the expenses they incur during their drinking sprees to the toll it takes on their health.  Plastic is used by many to charge school necessities such as books, supplies, and even tuition. Credit cards are relied upon by students for discretionary spending as well. While it can be advantageous for a student to begin building his or her credit score while still in school, the risk is that the temptation is there to fund fun nights of drinking with friends while sinking into a pit of debt.

According to a 2009 article published by Sallie Mae, entitled How Undergraduate Students Use Credit Cards, Undergraduates are carrying record-high credit card balances. The average (mean) balance grew to $3,173, the highest in the years the study has been conducted. Median debt grew from 2004’s $946 to $1,645. Twenty-one percent of undergraduates had balances of between $3,000 and $7,000, also up from the last study.â

At California State University Fullerton, workers in their administration office claimed that their institution sees more students discontinue their education due to credit card debt more often than due to academic failure these days.

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) uncovered in a 2009 article that A recent survey of more than 30,000 first year students revealed that nearly half were spending more hours drinking than they were studying.â

That means many college undergrads are opting to drink away dollars that would better serve them by being put towards school-related expenses. In turn, perhaps less drinking would result in fewer students dropping out due to their insurmountable debt.

If it’s true that, as Caralee Adams reports in her article Lack of College-Educated Workers Will Hurt Economy, Americans that have graduated college with a bachelor’s degree earn an annual salary that is an average of 74% higher than those earned by workers with only a high school diploma. Students who focus on overdrinking during college, rather than studying, may be doing much more than merely drinking away time and money that could otherwise have been better spent. They could very well be drinking away their future earning power.

photo by greencolander

The Truth About Cost Differences Between Online and Traditional College

If you hear someone mention online college, the first thing you probably think of is the University of Phoenix, which so far has been the most popular of web-based college learning environments. But even if online degrees aren’t your thing, surely you’ve at least wondered if there’s a cost benefit to taking classes online instead of by visiting a campus. The truth is that while savings are definitely apparent, the true nature of the savings isn’t so obvious. Here is how it really breaks down:

If Schools See Savings, They Don’t Pass it Onto You

It’s obvious that schools are going to shave off the costs of keeping lecture halls heated and cut down on the amount of carpet cleaning that needs to happen if more students simply attend their courses online, but such savings are miniscule. Miniscule when compared to the overarching costs of the institution’s research budgets and other big projects. By removing yourself from the campus you don’t do much to help a school save money and so that in and of itself isn’t going to net you significant savings.

The Savings are What You Make of Them

Instead, the money that can saved by attending classes online is determined entirely by the student. While the tuition itself won’t change, you can avoid the high costs of living on campus and commuting when not having to physically travel to a campus. But this is based on the idea that you’d otherwise be living in a dorm or driving daily to your university. If neither are the case, then savings❠are imaginary.

If the Education was Cheaper, So Would the Degree

It’s important to remember that education is priced ideally in accordance with its quality. The degree program that costs significantly less online than it does achieved in the real world indicates that the quality of education was itself reduced. To employers, this doesn’t look too good. But to aspiring students, this should be as equally unacceptable. The ultimate savings you can hope to achieve when getting an online education amount to about $5000 during the course of a four-year degree pursuit. Anything less will be the result of a hindered education relative to that of competitors.

The difference in costs to the college is nominal. For students, its a matter of their personal situation. Either way, the simple truth is that nothing remarkable separates either experience from the other. They both provide the same level of learning and as such are priced about the same. Picking one over the other is simply a matter of personal preference.