College without Loans is Possible: How to Get a Debt Free Education
The cost of college tuition continues to increase as the national student debt is currently at a reported record-breaking $1.3 trillion. According to a report by the State of Working America, wages for college-educated Americans have been in steady decline over the past 15 years. The result is a generation of graduates saddled with more debt than ever. What most people don’t know is that there are alternatives to taking on debt in order to complete a higher education degree.
If you (or your child) want to avoid taking out student loans for college tuition, the good news is that there are more options than ever to do so. If a debt-free education is the goal, consider the possibilities:
1) Community College
Contrary to popular belief, community colleges are actually great places to start a college education. My own brother began his academic career at a local community college after a bumpy high school experience. My mother suggested he enroll in community college since his grades weren’t quite good enough for scholarships and taking out loans for him would have been risky. I’m proud to say that my brother recently graduated from a world-class institution with a PhD in civil engineering. He has a very small amount of student loan debt and is now gainfully employed. So, as you can see, community college is a viable option that can definitely seed success for later academic pursuits.
It’s also worth mentioning here that you don’t have to wait until you graduate to take community college classes. There are 38 states in the U.S. that offer “dual” or concurrent enrollment so that a high school student can begin taking college classes as early as sophomore year. They can also apply those credits towards a college course of study. What’s more is that many of the dual enrollment programs are free to the parents and students that elect this route! Check your state and local community college requirements for eligibility.
2) Obtain a Full-Tuition Scholarship
These scholarships can be awarded for a myriad of reasons: academic merit, proposed area of study, need, exceptional performance in a skill like music or sports or other very specific criteria.
Though obtaining a full-tuition scholarship sounds daunting, it’s really a matter of matching a student’s qualifications with the right award and institution. The student will have to be flexible about their college choice since it’s possible that where they want to attend may not award full-tuition scholarships. If this award pans out for you or your child, this can be an excellent, debt-free option. (Note: these awards may not include the costs of boarding, so be sure to research additional scholarships to help with this need.) Here is a list of 111 higher education institutions that offers full-tuition scholarships.
3) Obtain Scholarship Awards to Cover all College Costs
If a student can’t obtain one single award that will cover the entire cost of tuition, then it’s quite feasible to obtain a number of smaller awards to cover both tuition and other expenses. A few thousand here, a few thousand there can add up quickly! This will require research and preparation, but is another option for a debt-free college experience. Check out this list of scholarship search engines compiled by U.S. News & World Report here. You can also hire scholarship coaches who can help you fully cover the costs of a college education. A few people come to mind in this area: Brenda High of the ScholarShopMom.org, Jeannie Burlowski ofJeannieBurlowski.com and Lynette Khalfani Cox of AskTheMoneyCoach.com
4) Attend a Tuition-Free College
I had not heard of these institutions until some students from Chicago-based Moody Bible Institute began interacting with our community here on the Southside of Chicago. Working with them, I learned that Moody Institute is, indeed, a tuition-free school. Remember that room and board is not always included, so consider how you will cover other associated costs aside from tuition.
5) Work Some Place with Tuition Benefits
The list of American companies offering tuition assistance is growing. Tuition assistance can come in many forms that include everything from grants, partial to full reimbursement and more. Make sure to research the terms of these programs so that you qualify for the benefits offered. Colleges and universities are workplaces that have especially generous tuition assistance programs for both employees and their children.
6) Obtain Military Tuition Benefits
To take advantage of this, you’d have to be part of one of the branches of the armed forces here in the United States. There are a couple of programs that either totally cover the costs of college tuition or give a substantial amount of financial support for servicemen and women pursuing higher education. Military tuition assistance comes in many forms and in some cases assists not only the service member but also spouses and family members. Visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website for more information on education programs and tuition assistance.
7) Raise Money
Crowdfunding is another way to raise funds for your educational costs. You can ask friends, family and even business organizations to contribute to your college fund on a number of online platforms. Thankfully, technology makes reaching out to people easier than ever. To make your crowdfunding campaign successful, study the ways to craft your funding campaign for the best results. USA Today’s college section offers some help on the subject here.
Could you imagine graduating college with no debt? I wish that I had at least tried to imagine that outcome. Even though student loans are pretty easy to get these days, the debt-free options could yield a much less expensive degree without all the years of painful payments. I think it’s at least worth a try.
8) Pay for Tuition Outright
Again, this sounds so much harder than it really is. In college, I probably made enough money, between working during the school year and at my fancy summer internships, to pay for my college education twice over. With so many ways to make money, this generation has the greatest advantage in terms of income earning possibilities. With this approach, you might be able to find a lower-cost institution and cover the fees out of pocket. Strongly consider many of theaffordable online options for a college degree and see if you might be able to be creative in paying for the tuition outright.
It’s also worth mentioning here, that having a savings account for college can’t hurt either. No matter how close you are to starting your college studies, there’s time to put aside money. The earlier you start, the better. Time equals money when it comes to compound interest. If you are a parent reading this, open a 529, Coverdell, UTMA or ROTH IRA brokerage account to help fund your child’s education ASAP. Just putting away as little as $50 per month over 18 years at a 5% interest rate would yield a whopping $17,723.41! It might not sound like much, but it’s an amount of money that could make a big difference for a college hopeful. Check with a financial planner or advisor to find a college savings plan that is best for your family’s situation.
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