If you’re a recent college graduate, you likely have student loan debt, perhaps crippling student loan debt. I graduated from grad school 14 years ago, and finally, this year, I’ll pay off the last of my student loan debt. (Debt taken out for a career field I’m not even in anymore.)
If you’re right there with me, know we’re not alone. Yahoo! recently featured the stories of 7 people, ranging in age from their mid-20s to 40s who were suffering under crippling student loan debt. One woman has a life threatening illness and can no longer afford her student loan payments. Another man has $140,000 in student loan debt, but the only job he can find is one that pays $12 an hour.
However, contrary to media reports, there are still plenty of ways to get a college degree without drowning in student loan debt. You just need to strategically plan your path to higher education. The time and dedication will be well worth it when you’re the only one of your friends not drowning in student loan debt.
1. Go to a community college first.
Attending a large university as a freshman or sophomore is overrated. You can get all the basic classes out of the way at a low cost community college. Even better if you can live with your parents during this time and save on living expenses. Then transfer to a university. Employers only care about where you ultimately earned your degree, not the college you attended first.
2. Don’t work too hard.
This sounds contrary, but if you’re taking a full load of college classes, likely the most you can handle is 20 or 30 hours of work outside school. I used to teach at a college, and I can’t tell you how many of the same students I saw year in and year out because they worked too many hours and didn’t have time to devote to their classes. They failed several of their classes each semester and wasted money taking classes over and over.
3. Have your employer pay for your education.
A smart alternative is to get your job first and then let your employer pay for your education. There are jobs that will hire students right out of high school and will also cover the cost of some of your college classes.
4. Join the military first.
The military will pay your educational costs after you complete your years of service. Of course, this option isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re up for the challenge, you can avoid all student loan debt and get a full ride to college.
5. Get a job at a college.
Apply for jobs at a college right after high school. Perhaps you can land a job as a secretary or as a maintenance worker. If you’re working full-time, the college or university will likely let you take a number of courses for free as one of your employee benefits. You’ll likely need longer than 4 years to graduate, but you’ll be making money all that time, and, even better, you’ll be avoiding debt.
There’s no doubt that our country is in a student loan crisis. However, if you’re clever, you can implement these strategies to avoid massive student loan debt.
If you avoided student loan debt, how did you do it?
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