Higher Education Without Student Loans
With more and more young people graduating with student debt which their careers of choice won’t pay off for decades, it makes you wonder if students can realistically fund their own higher education and graduate debt-free.
For students that are accepted to attend the nation’s most elite colleges and universities, a degree can come at a hefty price. Among those who weren’t blessed by their parents with a sizable college fund, that price tag can be their ultimate barrier to entry without some kind of aid or loan. For these students graduating without debt seems even more unlikely.
Some people believe that the same education provided at institutions that set students back $100,000 or more in just 4 years can also be had at much less expensive schools. Some of these more expensive schools acknowledge this notion themselves, along with the idea that education is not what they give students in exchange for tuition dollars.
Instead, the value exchanged for tuition dollars is to be the brand-name diploma that a student receives for completing the necessary course work. Schools like Harvard and MIT – along with many others – reinforce this philosophy by providing free online versions of their courses through the EdX platform, but still a degree from these higher profile universities has an obvious appeal.
This was the case for Aliyyah Camp, who at the age of 16 was about to graduate high school and dead set on attending University of Pennsylvania. Even as a gifted student who would graduate high school several years earlier than her peers, Aliyyah’s household income would make her decision of where to attend college heavily reliant on the financial aid package.
To ensure that the necessary aid would be available for Aliyyah to attend her dream school, she made use of QuestBridge, a platform that aggregates application processes. More specifically, the platform makes use of early acceptance deadlines to give its students from lower-income households the greatest opportunity for acceptance and favorable aid packages at the top universities in the country.
For Aliyyah the QuestBridge application, a single application that replaces the need to apply to each university individually, was due in September.
“I started working on my essays that summer,” Aliyyah said. Through QuestBridge, “The admissions office got to see a select group of applications before all the other competition arrived in November and January. Had I waited until [the regular decision deadline] to apply, I may not have gotten into such a great school with generous financial aid.”
Simply put, early application for admission and financial aid gives students the opportunity to appear in front of decision-makers while a freshman class is just starting to take form and when the greatest number of aid dollars are still unspoken for.
In Aliyyah’s case, early application through QuestBridge gave her the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school without borrowing any money to pay her way.
Hustle Your Talents
There is the same benefit to early application for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, but that doesn’t mean all students should expect to get 100% of their education expenses paid for through financial aid or need based scholarships.
When Andrea Miller approached higher education her goal was clear, “Graduate in four years, debt-free, with a double-major from a private university.” It certainly helped that her mantra for this chapter of life was, “Do whatever it takes!”
So, when financial aid didn’t cover 100% of the expense for Andrea to study entrepreneurship and piano performance at Saint Louis University she was still in good shape. She had already applied for 25 merit based scholarships through private organizations and the University’s music department. Of the 25 scholarships she applied for Andrea was awarded nine.
“I tried to find scholarships that were not open to every high school student on the planet, because I figured it gave me better odds,” said Andrea.
Not only did Andrea gain an influx of tuition dollars through the scholarships she was awarded based on her merit, community involvement, essays, letters of recommendation, and a piano audition for the music department, but she also worked part-time throughout college to pay for her living expenses.
As a piano performance major with years of experience performing and teaching piano lessons, Andrea paid many of her living expenses by teaching lessons and performing at weddings as well as other events. While she often found new students through referrals, Andrea would also send cold-emails – or visit in person – all the area wedding coordinators, banquet halls, along with churches to introduce herself and maintain consistent work as a performing musician.
Start a Business
Entrepreneurial hustle was similarly critical to Russab Ali’s ability to graduate from New York University without any student loan debt, but it took some time for him realize the potential of his enterprise.
Having run a small ecommerce shop throughout high school, Russab found himself at a crossroads upon being accepted to the school of his dreams. There was no way his small business could fund his attendance at NYU.
Russab was disappointed for weeks. It wasn’t until a friend’s father who owned a local pizza shop suggest that Russab put the digital marketing skills he’d learn running his ecommerce store to work marketing the pizza shop online.
“I realized that I had a skill: the ability to grow companies online,” recalled Russab. “I quickly began helping any small business I could.”
And just like that, his agency which would come to be known as SMC Digital, was born.
This new source of revenue seemed to make attending NYU a possibility again. The true cost of attending NYU however wasn’t yet apparent to Russab until the wheels were already in motion for him to attend. To make up the difference between how much he was making from his businesses and how much school really cost, Russab started accumulating student-debt.
During his sophomore year Russab realized his potential as a digital marketer far outweighed his potential in ecommerce. With that realization he promptly killed off the online store to double down on his marketing business.
Even though his marketing business was growing to the point of becoming an actual agency, Russab still wasn’t able to fully fund his educational expenses during his first two years at NYU. By the start of his junior year Russab had racked up more than $70,000 in student-debt.
Russab’s debt wouldn’t grow any more however, because as his agency continued to grow he managed to net twice what he needed to fund his education and living expenses over the course of his junior and senior year.
This allowed him to start paying off his loans before the first payments were even due. By the time Russab graduate from NYU with degrees in finance and marketing he had paid off his debt.
“If I could do anything differently, it would be to start earlier,” Russab said. “If I had started my business as soon as I had skills I would have saved two years of worrying, made lots more money and be two years further down the road today.”
When Kate Stephens attended high school in her home state of Washington – where 11th and 12th grade students can take up to two years of college courses without being charged tuition – she completed two classes using a dual enrollment program at Cascadia Community College.
Upon graduating high school Kate transferred those 6.67 credits from Cascadia Community to Northwest University where she would pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
For Kate, dual enrollment was the beginning of her cost efficient college experience, but it was a long time coming.
“Ever since I was a little girl, my parents have emphasized the importance of earning an education without debt,” Kate said. “They had taken on student loans, and didn’t want their only daughter burdened with them as well.”
While Kate appreciated her parents’ concern, it also challenged her. “I considered giving up on such a lofty goal,” Kate explained after sharing her experience of having tried to obtain financial aid, private scholarships, and work-study but being awarded next to nothing for her effort.
Before waving the white flag however, Kate came up with the idea of cutting her college expenses in half simply by spending less time in college. Her logic was that if it only took two years to graduate, she’d only have to spend half the money to earn what would traditionally be considered a four year degree.
To achieve this feat Kate earned credits by taking non-traditional courses, attaining credits by examination, working an internship, and attending classes over the summer.
“I sought out suggestions from counselors, teachers, peers, and online forums. And if an idea seemed plausible and affordable, I gave it a go,” said Kate.
The most significant time and money saver throughout Kate’s college experience was taking 30 credits worth of CLEP exams in place of the respective courses. CLEP exams did cost Kate some money, but at only $90 to $100 per test the price was a welcomed alternative to enrolling in the class just to receive the same credit hours.
When CLEP exams weren’t available or feasible in meeting degree requirements, correspondence courses by mail and online courses were Kate’s next favorite option. These courses were not only much cheaper, but when they were self-paced Kate could complete them in less than a month.
In 2007 Kate graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a concentration in management from Northwest University.
By accelerating her degree and graduating in half the time Kate not only saved herself an estimated $60,000, but avoided the burden of student-loan debt. Being debt-free is something Kate considers a great asset after having graduated college.
“I didn’t have the same pressures as many of my classmates. With their student loan interest continuing to mount and payments due a mere six months after graduation, they scrambled to find work, sometimes settling for work they hated,” Kate said. “Free from these concerns, I wasn’t forced to settle on just any old job. I could discover my passions, explore my interests, and chase my dreams.”
4 Strategies For Graduating Debt-Free with a $100K Education
The underlying theme in all of these success stories is long-term vision. The sooner you start planning for the expense of a college education, the more options you’ll have for both graduating on time, graduating ahead of schedule, and doing it without student debt.
By applying for admission early not only are you likely to receive your acceptance sooner, but you’ll also be among the first to claim financial aid.
While the school you attend can impact the financial aid you qualify to receive, by applying early there is a possibility you’ll be accepted by more schools and that each of those schools will have more financial aid yet to be claimed that they can extend your way.
Hustle Your Talents
By playing to your strengths, pursing scholarships and grants that you are uniquely qualified for, you can expect to increase your chances of being awarded tuition funds before you even start your college career.
Not only can your talents and skills serve you in getting scholarships and grants, but with the growth of the gig economy there is likely a way you can monetize those skills to cover the expenses your scholarships and financial aid will not.
If you are however, a musician who aspires to make a living or pay for college expenses by teaching music lessons, Andrea Miller might be exactly who you need to connect with. You can find out more about Andrea and how teaches musicians to hustle their talents at MusicStudioStartup.com.
If you’re not a musician, the book Buy-Buttons by Nick Loper is a great introduction into how you might monetize your unique talents and abilities to pay your tuition.
Start a Business
Similar to hustling your talents, entrepreneurship while enrolled at a university has more advantages than just helping you to pay tuition.
For Russab Ali who was studying marketing and finance at NYU, it gave him an opportunity to apply his education in the real-world before he even graduated.
If you can start working in the field you are hoping to enter upon graduation while still in school, you’re likely to gain a lot more from college experience.
Not only can you take the maximum number of classes each semester, enroll in correspondence courses, or take classes online to rapidly accumulate credit towards a degree, you can start accumulating credits before you even graduate high school.
Kate Stephens did this through a dual enrollment program in which she was able to get college credit at no cost while still in high school. In some areas high school students also have Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams they can take to receive credits that will be accepted at the colleges they ultimately attend.
Once enrolled at the college level, CLEP exams can provide another avenue for students to receive credit by way of examination. For Kate Stephens CLEP exams eliminated the time commitment and expense of attending an entire year of classes.
For more tactics that will save you money on your college education check out Kate’s book, COLLEGE, QUICKER: 24 Practical Ways to Save Money and Get Your Degree Faster.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brendan Alan Barrett writes about professional development at www.StartInPhx.com, a blog dedicated to career success and fulfillment without student debt. Brendan is also the author of READ WRITE DO Professional Development and Career Success Playbook, a guide for professionals who want to jump start the career they’ve always wanted.
For more information on a debt free college education, check out the guide below: