Four strategies to graduate from college debt-free. 

Last week, I wrote a post on ways to pay off your student loans. This is part two of that post on how to avoid taking out loans in the first place. There are many ways to graduate debt-free but these are strategies I used to obtain my undergraduate degree for free. I’ve met only a few people who have done this successfully.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the most expensive college in my state with zero debt. My cost of attendance ended up being close to $50,000. I didn’t have an athletic full-ride scholarship, help from parents or an employer. I worked full time, between 40 – 50 hours a week with two jobs while taking at least 12 credits a semester. I worked my way through college. 

This happened in four ways: The FAFSA, scholarships, an IDA account (if you don’t know what that is google it and see if your state offers it), and my personal savings.

What is the FAFSA?

Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the official form used to request federal, state and school assistance in paying for college. The FAFSA asks questions to determine the student’s level of financial need and establish his or her expected family contribution, or the amount of money the student and parents are expected to pay out of pocket for the student’s college expenses.

Based on your situation you could have up to $5,800 per year in grants. I qualified for the full amount of Pell Grants for the first few years because my mother was single with five kids. I’ve heard of way too many students not filling out the application and have missed out on a ton of money!

Should I attend community college?

I went to my local community college for the first few years and finished my associate’s degree for free. A decision that saved me $24,000. I then transferred to get my bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah. 

Can I really get scholarships?

I was worried about how I was going to afford my bachelor’s. I knew I couldn’t afford to pay for it out of pocket. So I went crazy applying for scholarships. I didn’t want to waste time so I made a small investment of $7.99 and ordered a book off of Amazon called “How to Write an Award-Winning Scholarship Essay.” I ended up receiving over $13,000 in scholarships. It was the best $8 I’ve ever spent! A 162,400% ROI. If I didn’t apply what I learned in that book, I wouldn’t have graduated debt-free.

What is an IDA?

An Individual Development Account (IDA) is an asset-building tool designed to enable low-income families to save towards a targeted amount usually used for building assets in the form of homeownership, post-secondary education, and small business ownership.

Because my wife and I were newly married and I only worked half of the previous year because I was on a church service mission we qualified to participate in the IDA. Over a two year period of saving money each month, I was able to use $4,500 towards college. 

Can you do it with a Master’s Degree?

I finished my bachelor’s degree with no debt and I am starting a Masters in Personal Finance in the fall and already have a plan in place to not have to borrow loans. 

I have taken a challenge upon myself to graduate debt-free with a master’s degree. I picked a master’s degree that will cost me about $19,000. I already have $9,000 secured in scholarships, $4,000 covered because I will be working for the university, which leaves me with $6,000 out of pocket. I will pay for that by working and my last semester of college I’ll wipe out any loans I may have from my savings. 

Graduating debt-free requires a ton of work.

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