Yes, graduating without debt can be done!

How Would You Like To Graduate Debt Free?

by Harrine Freeman

How would you like to attend college for free? Or at least graduate without big student loan payments?

The Institute for College Access and Success reported that seven out of ten students graduate with student loan debt averaging $29,400. Private colleges have an even higher price tag. Many students choose student loans as a first option due to lack of knowledge about other financial aid resources. However, student loans should be used as a last resort to pay for college tuition.

Many adults are still struggling to pay student loan debt that is five, ten, or fifteen years old. Student loan debt may reduce your credit score and monthly cash flow and may affect approval for future loans or credit.

Despite the statistics and media stories, do not let tuition costs discourage you from attending college. Some factors to consider when looking at a potential college include your intended major, the size of the school, number of students and classes, location of the school, school environment, college expenses, financial aid offered, extra-curricular activities offered, and the type of school.

"The most important thing is not the free tuition, but the freedom of studying without the burden of debt on your back," says Ann Kirschner, university dean of Macaulay Honors College. The first two years of college are the most expensive. Avoid making assumptions about college. Talk with your parents early on about college tuition and expenses. Determine who will pay for college, the cost of books, supplies and equipment, meal plan costs, clothing costs, health insurance costs, and the cost of unexpected expenses.

Related: 5 Ways to Avoid a Ramen Diet During Your College Years


Everything is negotiable. Students can negotiate financial aid packages, tuition, or both. Know upfront what you can afford to pay. Look at all funding sources. Use a college tuition calculator to get a detailed assessment of the total tuition costs. Ask the college if they match other offers. Identify special circumstances like financial need, family structure changes, or health changes that affect your ability to pay the full cost. Consider using a college tuition worksheet like the one at to help determine tuition costs.

Opt Out

Many colleges accept credit by examination. Military veterans can opt-out of courses at some colleges based on work experience. Non-military students should consider taking examinations to opt out of courses. Opting out of courses reduces tuition costs. Students can take the College Level Exam Program (CLEP), the Prometric DSST program, Thomas Edison State College exams, or Excelsior College exams. Contact the college to verify what examinations are accepted.

Go Part-Time

Attend college as a part-time student and work either full-time or part-time. Also, consider working part-time and attending college full-time by either working a work-study program job or part-time job near campus.

Related: How to Win a Scholarship

Take Advantage of Employer Benefits

Work full-time and use tuition reimbursement benefits to pay for all or a portion of your college tuition. Verify the requirements prior to registering for a course.

Ask Others

Ask relatives, friends, neighbors, or mentors to skip giving gifts and donate to your college tuition.

Consider Community College

Consider attending a less expensive college. You can also consider attending a local two-year community college and then transfer your credits to a four-year state college. Do research to determine which local colleges accept community college credits.

Find Free Tuition

Attend schools that offer free tuition or college reciprocity to local students or those living in neighboring states based on financial need, such as Harvard University, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown University, the Western Undergraduate Exchange, or Midwest Student Exchange Program. In addition, some colleges offer discounts or free tuition to alumni and their dependents and relatives.

Related: Free College!


Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, National Health Service Corp, Volunteers in Service to America, WorldTeach, or City Year volunteers receive student loan repayment assistance and other benefits. In addition, several private organizations offer scholarships based on community service. Some states offer volunteer tuition credit programs, such as New Jersey.

Apply for Financial Aid

Apply for financial aid early using the FAFSA and other resources. Apply for at least 50-100 college scholarships at sites such as Contact the college's financial aid office and get to know your financial aid counselor. Do research on your own or get financial aid advice from currently enrolled students or recent graduates. Apply for more financial aid than you need because some colleges may experience budget cuts, which may cause a reduction in financial aid offers at the last minute.

Related: 5 Things FAFSA Doesn't Tell You


Finish college in three years instead of four. Take at least six courses each semester and consider taking courses during the summer sessions to finish sooner. This reduces the time available to participate in extracurricular activities or to obtain employment. However, this is advantageous since most colleges charge a flat rate for full-time students.

Reviewed January 2018

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