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5 Ways to Avoid Student Loans Completely

By Maurie Backman – Updated Feb 6, 2020 at 2:20PM

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Want to escape college debt-free? Here’s how.

Right now, there are an estimated 44.7 million Americans who owe money in the form of student loans. Many are struggling to keep up with that debt, while others are experiencing the financial horrors that come with defaulting on it. 

Now, the reality is that borrowing for college is sometimes the only way to swing an education. But if you'd rather not go that route, you can try these approaches to steer clear of student debt completely.

A man carrying a bag as he climbs over a brick wall.

Image source: Getty Images

1. Defer your studies and work full time first

Unless your parents socked away a fat pile of college savings or have the means to pick up your educational tab for you, it’s pretty difficult to go from high school straight to college without racking up some debt. But if you take a little time off before starting your studies and work for a couple of years, you’ll have the opportunity to earn some money that can then be used to pay for your education as you go. 

2. Work during your studies

It’s hard to work a substantial amount while also taking college classes. But if you’re eager to stay out of debt over the course of your studies, you may want to secure a job and work while pursuing a degree. If you find a job that demands, say, 30 hours a week of your time instead of the classic 40 (or more), you can take a few classes as you go so that you’re not completely putting off your education, but are also earning enough to pay for it. 

3. Choose a low-cost education

It may be the case that you have some college savings to work with, but not a lot. Or maybe you have a modest income from a part-time job or business you started, but not enough to swing a private college education. If that’s the case, you can still stay out of debt by keeping your college costs as low as possible. And generally, that means going to community college for two years, and then switching over to a four-year, in-state public college after that to finish up your degree. 

The College Board reports that for the 2018-2019 academic year, the average cost of tuition and fees for community college was $3,660. Compare that to $10,230 a year for a four-year, in-state public college, $26,290 annually for a four-year, out-of-state public college, and $35,830 a year for a four-year private college, and it’s easy to see why community college is an extremely economical choice.

4. Skip the dorm

Living in a dorm can be an interesting experience. But it’s also a costly one. The College Board says that average room and board for 2018-2019 was $8,660 for community college, $11,140 at public colleges, and $12,680 for private colleges. By residing at home and commuting to college instead, you can eliminate one major expense, and in doing so, avoid debt.

5. Pursue grants and scholarships

Some colleges offer free money to students based on need or merit. The same holds true for different organizations and businesses. If you manage to secure a grant or scholarship, it could cover some or all of the cost of your education, thereby allowing you to graduate debt-free. 

Once you decide which colleges you’ll be applying to, do some digging to see what grants or scholarships you may be eligible for. At the same time, search for scholarships online, either via a general internet search or based on a specific talent you possess. For example, if you’re a top athlete or musician, you could snag some money for college by virtue of that skill alone.

Graduating college without any debt at all is no easy feat -- but it can be done. And if you do manage to avoid student loans, you’ll be very thankful for it later on. 


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