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How to Graduate College Debt Free

Updated on September 24, 2012

How I graduated college, with money to spare!

College, debt free:

As a recent college graduate, I managed to graduate without any debt. With college tuition constantly rising, I am fully aware that I am a rare case. I started planning at 16, and this is how I did it:

College in High School:

Many states offer college programs for high school students, or opportunities for high school students to earn college credit while in high school, sometimes even for free. The advantage of this is getting some credits out of the way before you actually attend college full time, thus, saving money.

Advanced Placement courses: Many colleges, especially state colleges and universities, will count AP high school courses towards college credit. Study up!

Community Colleges: Typically, the minimum age to attend a community college is 16. There is an application fee, and a placement test. This is usually under $100. And classes are much cheaper, and more affordable. When I attended community college, a full time quarter of tuition was about $1200. When I moved to a state university, it was $2800! And that isn’t including the massive amount of fees that usually come with universities. Many community colleges also have programs for high school students, where they can take classes for free. I attended a program like this while in high school; I earned college credits, for free, and they counted towards my graduation from high school (I graduated high school with 60 quarter hours, for free!) Community colleges also offer online classes, evening classes, and correspondence classes, which are much easier to accommodate schedule-wise.

Start working early!

The legal age for employment in my state is 16 years old. I started working at age 16, and tempting as it was to buy that new stereo, new computer, and new car… I saved my money. With working 30 hours at $8.00/hr, that’s a couple hundred dollars per week that I could save, because I didn’t need to spend it when I lived at home with my parents. By the time I left for college, I had several grand in savings.

Choosing an affordable school:

When looking at colleges, there is more than just their reputation to be aware of. Some things to keep in mind are the following:

Community Colleges: Can you earn your associate’s degree, then transfer to a four-year university? YES.

State Universities: Is it worth spending $30,000 per year on art school, or could you get the same degree elsewhere?

Cost of Living: Is there a need to attend that school in New York, or could one in Eastern Kentucky, for the same price, be more affordable because living expenses are a lot less?

Working in College:

Keep working, all throughout college! Not only does it help you pay your fees, but it also gives you great experience and an edge on other college grads. There is NO reason you cannot work at least 16 hours every weekend. Is being social more important to you? Then you’ll probably have to take out loans, sorry. I worked 30 hours per week all throughout college, and still managed to graduate with a degree, on time, and a B average. And I got a job. Is the fight for the 4.0 really worth going into debt for? I think not.

Live Off Campus:

Dorms and Greek houses are by far the hugest waste of money you could ever invest in for college. They typically REQUIRE you buy a meal plan (hundreds of dollars per quarter), you have to buy a parking spot if you have a car (These were $600 per quarter at my university), and you get to share a bathroom with a million other people. At my university, just the dorm itself was $3000 per quarter. That was $1000 per month, to live in a small room that you share with others. I still live in the same town, and I pay less per month for a 1200sqft, 3-bedroom house.

Walk to school: Live off campus, but live close enough to walk. Not only is the great exercise, but it is much cheaper and much more convenient than driving or taking the bus. Commuter parking spots were $80 dollars per quarter at my college, and I know that is on the cheap side as far as universities go (ones in the city will charge a lot more, because of limited space). And nothing is nicer than being able to roll out of bed 20 minutes before class.

Also, if you have ever had to share a bathroom or kitchen with 20394823094823 other people, you will really appreciate having your own! And being able to cook your own food will save you a lot of cash compared to eating at the cafeteria for every meal (and the Freshman 15!) Meals at my school’s cafeteria were $8 each. At 3 meals per day, you do the math.


Don’t buy them right away: I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten to a class and never used the book. And if you *do* need the book, you can usually go a week without it, and ride on the boat with the “there were none left at the bookstore” and “mine is on backorder” group of people.

Photocopy the small ones! I once had to purchase a book that was literally a spiral-bound collection of 20 or so pages of photocopied material for an English class. Short poems, and whatever. The thing was 20 bucks!!! I went to Kinkos and copied the pages at $0.05 per page, and quickly returned it to the bookstore.

Share: You could also split the cost with a friend or roommate, who is taking the class as well. Even if they are in another section, you can pass the book between yourselves, or photocopy the important pages with questions.

Plan classes: If your friend, roommate, boyfriend, etc. have already taken a class, and you end up taking it, hit them up for their textbook. Chances are, they didn’t feel like waiting in line for 2 hours to sell it back for five dollars.

Buy Online: I’ll just be frank with this one… AMAZON is ALWAYS cheaper!


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    • kathleenkat profile image

      kathleenkat 5 years ago from Bellingham, WA

      Thank you tussin, for sharing.

      I didn't overlook that; this is a first-hand account on how I, myself, managed to not take out loans. I never did any of that. I don't have any experience with getting scholorships in highschool, though I may have made up for that by attending college for free through a state program in high school. There are many paths to take... If you happen to write a Hub on Scholorships I'd be happy to link to it :)

    • tussin profile image

      I'M BANNED Y'ALL!!!!!!!!!! 5 years ago from Behind You

      What about getting scholarships for excelling in sports, music & arts, or academics? A more efficient way to graduate from college debt-free is to do the hard work and make the hard sacrifices while you're in high school. On weekends, instead of doing whatever it is that non-scholarship students do, just be a total nerd or jock and work your butt off to be one of the best in your chosen pursuit. That way you don't have to spend your college years folding clothes.

      The nice thing about getting paid to go to school is that you can spend your free time in college taking more classes, going on study trips, or getting involved in community volunteer projects. If you want that priceless clothes folding experience, you can always work during the summers.

      You've tragically overlooked the best ways to graduate from college debt-free.

    • kathleenkat profile image

      kathleenkat 5 years ago from Bellingham, WA

      Thanks, all!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

      I just want to congratulate you!!!! Well done!!

    • Jenna Pope profile image

      Jenna Pope 5 years ago from Southern California

      You are so responsible and ambitious for someone so young. Good for you!!! I agree that the Almighty "A" isn't worth going into debt for! Voted up.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      You were a hard working, resourceful person. I applaud you for that. Great Hub. I wrote one on how my daughter won 18 college scholarships and that got her through college.

      I voted this Hub UP, etc.

    • tipstoretireearly profile image

      tipstoretireearly 5 years ago from New York

      Congratulations on making it through college with no debt! You've made a great start on getting ahead in life, and no doubt will go far.

    • kathleenkat profile image

      kathleenkat 5 years ago from Bellingham, WA


    • g-girl11 profile image

      g-girl11 5 years ago

      Great advice, especially for motivated teens. You seem very savvy and prove that where there is a will, there is a way!!

    • kathleenkat profile image

      kathleenkat 5 years ago from Bellingham, WA

      Thanks! With text books being hundreds of dollars EACH, I found out very quickly that I was wasting too much money buying them! Especially in today's day and age, you can find most of the information on the internet, for free!

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 5 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      What awesome tips. When I was in school the college mandated that every professor require the latest version of at least one textbook. Many times they would tell us in the first day of class that they would not be using information from the textbook. It never payed to buy ahead.