How to Pay for College Without Taking Out Student Loans

Many students leave college with $20k, $30k, or even $100k or more in student loan debt. And even with a high-paying job directly out of school, it can take years to pay off these loans and move on with your life. But what if there were a better way?

The Trap of Student Loan Debt


Research from NerdWallet shows that 62 percent of the class of 2019 graduated with a diploma and student loan debt. Among these college graduates, the average student loan debt clocked in at $28,950.

In total, 43 million Americans have student loan debt (roughly one in eight people). Those in the 25-to-34 age bracket are most likely to have student loan debt, while the largest amount owed goes to the 35-to-49 age range.

The worst part about student loan debt is that it lingers. While the standard repayment plan lasts for ten years, most people end up making adjustments and taking much longer. In fact, one study shows it takes an average of 18.5 years for people to pay off their student loans. The typical borrower starts at age 26 and doesn’t end until age 45. That means the first two decades of a borrower’s career are spent making payments. And with an average interest rate above 4.5 percent, it’s costing thousands of dollars per year in interest and fees.

Student loans certainly have a role to play. They can allow people who otherwise would have no access to higher education to tap into world-class learning opportunities and acquire valuable degrees. However, they can also saddle unsuspecting young people with a decades-long burden that prevents them from living life to the fullest.

Tips to Help You Pay for College Without Loans


Paying for college without loans might seem like a pipedream, but you have more options than you realize. While financial aid is the first option to explore, we’re assuming that you’re already on top of this. (If you have not applied for aid, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – a.k.a. the FAFSA form.) Beyond financial aid, there are plenty of other options. And if you’re strategic about it, you can layer some of the following tips together and graduate college without taking out any student loans. Take a look:

1. Find Scholarships

Scholarships are one of the single most powerful tools for paying for school. And while they can require significant work to find and secure, it’s free money that never has to be paid back. That’s a huge blessing that can end up saving you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime.

Most people assume that they can only qualify for scholarships if they have a 4.0 GPA or are the beneficiary of some major award or endowment. But there are thousands of scholarship opportunities out there – and only a few of them are based on academics or financial standing.

For example, if you’re studying to become an accountant or other financial professional, click here for the Wiley Accounting and Finance Student Scholarships, which are given out on a monthly basis to students who satisfy different qualifications.

Treat your search for scholarships like a full-time job and you’ll “earn” more on an hourly basis than any low-wage summer job could ever give you. If, for example, it takes you 20 hours to find a scholarship that pays you $2,000, that’s the equivalent of getting paid $100 an hour for your time. Who wouldn’t take that opportunity?

2. Apply for Grants


People often lump grants and loans together, but they’re totally different. With a grant, you do not have to pay the money back. Grants are awarded by various organizations, schools, and federal assistance programs. Filling out the aforementioned FAFSA form is the first step. But even if you don’t qualify for one of these grants, your state grant agency might have other avenues for you to explore. Never assume that you won’t qualify. It’s best to fill out the appropriate forms and then let the folks in charge of doling out the grants figure out if you qualify.

3. Start With Community College

Paying for tuition to a four-year private college or public institution is expensive. But guess what? A much more cost-effective option is to spend the first year or two at a community college.

All of your general education credits – which are what the first two or three semesters of college consist of – can just as easily be earned at a local community college (where they cost just a fraction of the price you’d pay at a four-year school). Once you acquire these credits, you can then transfer to the larger school and finish your degree.

4. Start Working


The days of waiting tables and bartending at night to pay for college are gone. This might have worked for your parents, but the exponential rise in college education over the past two or three decades makes it virtually impossible today. However, working can provide a significant boost and help you pay for college…when combined with other methods highlighted above.

Even if it’s $100 per week during the school year and another $400 per week during the summer months, every little bit adds up. Also, enrolling in an online school can help you with your time management when you need to work and study. Rasmussen has a great online finance bachelor’s degree that has an accelerated Master’s program so you can save money on your MBA as well. Click here to learn more. Use your time wisely, and you can eventually leave school with little or no debt.

5. Try Income Share Agreements

A totally new and revolutionary concept of schooling has come onto the scene over the past several years. It involves a unique approach where you attend school for no cost and then agrees to pay back a small percentage of your post-graduate income for a period of time. These Income Share Agreements, or ISAs, almost always end up benefiting the student in the long run. They’re particularly common for industries like graphic design, web development, and various tech fields.

Adding it All Up

Graduating from college without student loan debt is difficult in this climate. It’s not impossible, though. Today’s culture often gets those two ideas confused. Difficult things might feel impossible, but they can be achieved with the right balance of grit and strategic forethought.

About Nina Smith

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