Your college years are some of the most memorable you’ll have. Don’t spend those years digging your way in debt.

College is about new and exciting experiences as well as greater independence. The last thing you need is student loans crushing that freedom – and your future.

Rather than rack up thousands of dollars in debt, get straight-As on your finances. Click or swipe here for 9 strategies that will help create a debt-free college experience.

1. Take college classes while still in high school

Take college classes while still in high school

High schools across the country offer various college courses that, when completed, bring college credit. Although it means college-level homework and studying, it can also mean less money to pay in the end. Some studious high school kids knock out up to two years of college courses this way.

Advanced Placement (AP) classes require you take a rigorous test at the end of the year. If you score a 3, 4, or 5, you can qualify for one to two semesters’ worth of college credit. You also get a one-point bump on your grade point average (GPA).

Also, local community colleges partner with many high schools to offer dual-enrollment classes. As long as you can get a C or better, you’ll get college credit without any extra testing requirements.

2. Consider a tuition-free college

There are tuition-free colleges around the nation that help you get associate and bachelor’s degrees as well as professional certifications. Some have stipulations like local residency or work-study requirements. Certain colleges may only provide this option to low-income students.

California residents can also benefit from a law enacted in 2017 to provide free community college for a student’s first two years. It includes tuition and non-tuition costs like food, transportation, and textbooks.

3. Work before and during college

Work before and during college

If you work while in high school, it can help your parents with the financial burden of college. You’ll apply more of your own money to tuition rather than borrowing for it. You may also try harder because it’s your own hard-earned money paying for your education.

When applying to colleges, see which universities participate in the Federal Work-Study Program. Try an on-campus job at the cafeteria, dorms, or one of many academic departments.

You can also work off-campus at a public agency or nonprofit connected to the Federal Work-Study Program. Focus on finding positions related to your area of study.

4. Apply for every scholarship possible

Surprisingly, many scholarships go unused each year, which is why it’s so important to scour the Internet and local organizations. Check your high school’s career center for additional direction on where to look.

Use the online FASFA application process to save some time. The federal government provides this free, streamlined application to apply for a wide range of scholarships and other financial aid simultaneously.

5. Explore different attendance options

Changing how long you attend college can help make your loan debt lighter. If you attend part-time, opt for a two-year degree program, or study online, your tuition savings may be worth the alternative degree pathway.

It’s entirely possible you could even get a full-time job that covers a part-time education. It may take longer to get your degree, but certainly not as long as it would take to repay big student loan bills.

6. Attend a school close to home

Maybe you want to experience the camaraderie of dorm life, but not when it can make up half of your degree costs. According to the Education Data Initiative, room and board costs an average of $11,620 per year at a four-year public institution and $13,120 at a private four-year institution.

If you’re willing to live with your parents, you may be able to skip this cost entirely. Or, you can significantly reduce it by contributing to rent and food.

7. Save as much money as possible

Reduce frivolous spending early on and maintain your discipline at college. Follow a budget. Try one of those apps that rounds up your change and invests it. Avoid always eating out, attending every concert or festival, or buying the priciest clothes.

These strategies will help you put more money aside, rather than turning to credit or parental help. And, actually saving during college may help pay off any loans you take out at a faster rate than if you hadn’t saved.

8. Look for industries and careers that help pay off student loans

Look for industries and careers that help pay off student loans

We don’t recommend picking your career based on who will cover your student loans. However, looking at prospective companies early on that do offer loan repayment benefits may save you money later.

Many businesses list tuition reimbursement or student loan assistance as part of their benefits packages. With more companies recognizing how this attracts great candidates, it’s a viable college debt strategy to keep in mind.

9. Take an alternate path via the military or a job (they may cover the cost)

Rather than rush toward student loan debt, postpone college. Join the military or enter the workforce.

By enlisting in the Armed Forces, you can get up to $4,500 a year to apply to tuition and higher education costs. Also, the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers 40% to 100% of tuition for an in-state public college depending on how many years you serve.

In many industries, you may be an attractive candidate even if you haven’t gone to college yet. Some companies may help you pay for college courses as you take them because they see it as a way to keep strong young talent on board.

10. The debt-free college experience

The debt free college experience

There’s a lot of hard work involved in creating a debt-free college experience. However, a little creativity, as well as time and effort, can lighten the long-term financial load. You can avoid years of servitude to an avalanche of student loan debt. And, you’ll enjoy college and financial freedom as you enter the workforce.

Click here to sign up for our free financial education email course.

Did we provide the information you needed? If not let us know and we’ll improve this page.
Let us know if you liked the post. That’s the only way we can improve.

About the Author

John Boitnott

John Boitnott

I am a tech writer and journalist for more than 20 years who contributes to several respected online publications including BusinessInsider, Inc., and Entrepreneur. In addition to journalism, writing about social good companies and in-depth research, I’m also active in my community and enjoy metaphysical book reading groups, as well as hiking on the amazing trails of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Published by, LLC