Connor McCasland • Contributing Writer
Would you like to receive a college degree without owing a single penny to anyone? What if the secret to accomplishing this was right under your nose? Lucky for you, the secret to graduating debt-free is: there is no secret.
It’s true. There is no secret to graduating college debt-free. However, there is a logical plan that can still lead to said accomplishment. But first, a disclaimer.
Everyone’s situation is different. For example, a student who is forced to fully provide for themselves in every facet at the age of 18 will have to work considerably harder than a single guy still living with his parents. So, be sure to keep these specificities in mind.
First, you must decide if college is the correct path. This decision may not be as easy as it has been in past years as public opinion continues to divide. Specifically, the effective use of student loans has been deeply discussed. Longtime insurance provider Matthew Hodges has seen loans help and hurt students.
“I think student loans can be a tremendous help and also a tremendous setback. It’s important for students to take a serious valuation on how to make the time and potential debt they incur turn into a return on investment,” Hodges said.
Assuming you have determined college is a better path than entering the workforce, the first step is to create the right mindset. This means you must be willing to give up restaurant meals for homemade peanut butter sandwiches, brand-name clothes for thrift store deals, and new cars for old lemons.
You have to care less about what people think of you and more about achieving your financial goals.
Part two begins with a list of more practical steps. While in high school, you must try your best to earn a high GPA and be heavily involved in extracurriculars as well as community events. These two factors will determine your chances at winning scholarships. However, if you are not able to acquire good grades, working a job would be a fine consolation prize.
In addition to saving and earning as much money as possible, it is equally important to budget.
This can occur in many different forms, but the general gist is to track one’s money and be aware of where every dollar goes. This is to ensure precise spending habits and prevent careless purchases.
After this, taking dual credit classes can save thousands of dollars. This is because dual credit classes are a fraction of the cost of regular classes taken in college. Some college courses can cost upwards of 1,000 dollars, however, dual credit courses usually cost around 200 dollars. Nearly every degree requires an initial two years of basics. As a result, you can rack up these credits while still in high school.
After high school graduation, it is best to continue the proper saving, spending and budgeting habits. Additionally, you should continue applying for scholarships and work a part-time or full-time job.
Many companies offer tuition assistance. Companies like UPS Inc. and Chipotle Mexican Grill offer such deals and have provided students with much needed financial assistance. Thanks to community college tuition prices, attending a two-year school with the intention of transferring at a later date could also rapidly cut down expenditures.
Moreover, finding a proper living space can greatly benefit a college students’ budget. For example, most students wish to live on campus in a dorm room or in an apartment not far from campus. However, if you can remain living with your parents and avoid paying rent, this could save a considerable amount of money. In the event that you do move out, bunking with a roommate or two and splitting rent in half would be the next best option.
After this point, you must take a look into the smaller expenses. Despite the smaller purchases, the savvy college student understands that over time, these costs will begin to add up and take on a more significant form.
Campus bookstores usually sell textbooks at a premium price. Chegg.com or Amazon.com often have the same books for a far better deal. It’s important to note that most bookstores offer a price-match guarantee. But the best solution is to find a student who has previously taken the course, and to borrow or buy books from them.
Another money-saving method is to take advantage of student discounts. These can be found at local restaurants, movie theaters or other vending locations. However, you must be careful not to look for these deals so much that you spend money for the sake of the deal rather than the actual need of the product.
Finally, having your tax information in order can help the FAFSA application run smoothly and quickly. If your parents are temporarily unable to provide this information for whatever reason, you may be able to file as an independant.
If all of these methods don’t lead to a debt-free degree, student loans may be a worthwhile investment. However, this is heavily dependent on your major and earning potential. Many students have taken on student loans while also having a strong post-graduation plan to pay the debts off as soon as possible. One such UT Tyler student is Jose Reyes.
“I have always been optimistic toward this debt I have accumulated. This is because of my plan to become debt-free and attain a degree in a career field that is in high demand,” Reyes said.
No matter the decision you choose, make sure it’s one backed by careful planning and solid reasoning. Soon enough, you’ll be able to look back and feel content with the way you handled your money. Happy spending!