One of the best pieces of financial advice that I could ever give: be student debt free.
Once you decide to take the plunge to study at a higher level, obtain technical certifications or just take training to grow some skills, you must evaluate how to afford it without digging yourself in a hole.
Monetary speaking, part of your plan to accomplish any of above goals must be around financial analysis to make it happen.
Student Debt Is Not an Asset, It is a Credit Line
Whoever told you that student debt is an asset to achieve your goals, just gave you a very close mindset advice. Student loans should be our last resource to afford studies and not the first.
It is true that loans are more accessible than free money when comes to afford tuition or fees. That is probably why the level of student debt and the percentage of students with loans are hitting record numbers.
Based on Own Experience and Not Check List
You could find several articles on the internet from financial writers sharing a dozen of tips on “How to avoid college debt and its financial burden“. Some of them have good facts and insights, others just repeat same words over and over.
However, what most of those articles share in common is the naked truth that content is not based on the authors experience but information gathering from other sources.
Hey, there is nothing wrong with that, I used that technique to learn about topics to then present it to you as a reader. At the end, my intention and theirs intersect in a common point of exposing beneficial key points.
What it was missing for me on articles was the natural touch of the “lived” experience. Everything sounds literally copied from some book. While this is ok and still beneficial, those advice sound like things that always work on paper but might not on the real human situation.
I will be brutally honest here, there is no magic silver bullet to graduate student debt free for the 95% of the mortals. The sooner you embrace that fact, the better it’ll be for your financial student debt outcome.
Then, I will walk you through a list of key points and examples about how I avoided big student debt.
7 Tips About How I Avoided Big Student Debt
- Paid internships/Co-ops
- Quarterly Financial/Educational Meeting
- Full/Part time job
- Treat Career as an Investment
- Proper School of Choice
- Take Loan in Your Senior Year
How I graduated With Only 10k Student Debt
It was not $10k but more so $10,120 to be more exact.
I went for a bachelor’s in Computer Engineer at a public and respected university where graduates loan average around 40-50k. That being said, I want to show you how I managed to only acquire 10k of student debt on a career with starting salary of 55k.
The key yield on the 7 tips I outlined above are frequently discussed all over the internet. However, I will show you how I personally applied them and what my result was.
Ideally, I want you to use my experience and take it to the next level. Goal: have less than 10k student debt. Once you do it, share it somehow for the benefits of others.
Tip #1 – Grants/Scholarship
Free money, who doesn’t like it? The reality is that there is free money around, therefore, you gotta work for it. Since grants and/or scholarships are considered free money for education, it was my first option to explore.
On my first semester, I was able to receive $2,000 in grants from FAFSA or Pell Grant. Nonetheless, it was the first and last time I would get it.
I expanded my horizons of exploring in order to obtain other sources of free money or grants. I discovered thanks to tip #3, that my college had what they called “Emergency Funds”. Those funds are used to help students that still are falling short in having enough budget to cover courses tuition.
These funds are limited and schools try to restrict the semesters you could get them in; in order to spread opportunity equally. I was able to demonstrate my financial case and obtain $600 for two semesters which was enough to cover two courses on each period. I made it possible based on my college per credit fee, and a positive result from tip #6.
Scholarships, I sat down and analyzed what my strong skills are: Passion, a chosen career, and heritage. Why? Simple, all those points would build the list of subjects that I could potentially use in order to classify for a valid scholarship.
The math is simple, if you are able to land one scholarship for 1 or 2 years (enough to cover one course or two), you will have fewer concerns to worry about. If combined with some emergency fund cash or normal grant, hey free semester right?
I came up with points like computer engineer as the career, passion for technology topics, Hispanic heritage, and cultural minority group.
With above points in mind, I went ahead and applied for scholarships related to engineering, technology, minimum GPA(3.5+), and Hispanic heritage.
Overall, I was able to obtain two scholarship for $2,000 each and third one applied in my junior year for $1,500.
If you are still following me here, I didn’t obtain all those funds during the same time period; that would have been very foolish. Instead, I figured out a chain of events to be able to join funds for coming semesters.
Thanks to tip #6, my chosen college for the firsts two years was burning around $900 for 3 courses (3 credits) or $1,200 for four. I normally took 3 classes in spring/fall and 2 on summer. However, I will go more into detail on tip #5.
Let’s just share the fact that my first two years of college were done in 6 full semesters.
Tip #2 – Paid Internship/Co-ops
While tip #4 will cover more the subject of jobs, I want to isolate this topic by itself to show you some potential around it.
For both Uncle Sam and College, paid internship are the same as a normal job to prove income. However, pay careful attention here, if your current job is a paid internship and you have no other form of income, you will find it easier to obtain extra college funds to help cover tuition.
For some reason, financial decision makers still fall in your favor if you have paid internship and requesting extra funds to cover coming semester.
I secured a paid internship opportunity for 32 hours/week for $15 an hour. That was super decent money for any student and more than enough to cover my living/school expenses. Still, I managed to obtain my last $1500 scholarship for an engineering student with low income.
My university, as many out there, has an office for student internship and career development. All I did was go there, fill out some forms, and then to have an interview with program supervisor.
I explained to the individual why I was only looking for paid opportunities and what skills I had to offer.
They placed me into the system and in matters of days, I started receiving potential clients requesting somebody with my profile. I applied to few and only one came back to me, one opportunity was enough.
Not to lose you on the timeline, paid internship came to me in my Junior Year. Normally, internships or co-ops are only available once you enter your junior or senior year.
It is extremely unusual to see them for freshman or sophomore, yet I advise anyone to ask around on early stage about internship opportunities. It might be offered at your college and you didn’t know.
On paid internships you will receive a higher income than any regular student job (except cash opportunities). Also, doors will open for you to build early professional link relations. Not to mention that you will experience a taste of real workforce reality.
Tip #3 – Quarterly Financial/Educational Appointment
This is one of the most overlooked college opportunities and long considered a waste of time for the majority….wrong!!! This was an open door for many opportunities in my student path.
Relationships are key, and this one is a hidden “master key” to open many doors. Have you heard the saying : “If you want to grab company president attention, start by having his/her assistance first..”? The same applies to financial and educational advisors; especially the latter.
Once per semester, I booked myself an appointment with the same educational advisor (pick a favorite) where we would go over my education career path and evaluate progress.
Why? Well, by looking at my graduation path, I was able to grab her constant insight on what was the recommended course for a strategy to take and which order.
The educational master plan saved me from throwing time and money away into the unknown. Also to maximize my brain while pairing the right courses on each semester.
All it took was a frequent visit to educational advisor each semester…
By building a solid relation with an advisor and gaining a strong sense of educational planning, I also gained her attention and respect.
Furthermore, who do you think was the person granting me overrides to classes already full and nobody could register anymore? You got it, my favorite educational advisor.
If you didn’t know previously and now you should, courses always have a limit of seats, let’s say 30 people, but colleges always reserve extra seats (let’s say 5) for unexpected situations: last moment student transfer, financial situations, student need class to graduate, or something else.
Since I already demonstrated to my advisor my level of commitment, I had access to see a system full of availability through her eyes. I was able to pick interesting/easy courses at my convenience, good enough not to give me any job conflicts.
It was the same educational advisor who influenced college financial supervisors to grant me “Emergency Funds” twice( to cover courses and books).
Without her, I would have never reached the necessary vote of the person making the decision.
Tip #4 – Full/Part Time Job
I had the fortunate position to choose my schedules using early online registration or advisors. Most of the time, I was able to pick wanted courses in the morning session then I could go and work afterward.
During my first two years of college, I used a combination of full-time job and some time to cut hours during summer to accommodate courses load.
I worked weekends and chose my two days off during the week. I used days off to do labs, homework, essays, or study.
The key here is to find a job flexible enough to do handle schedule changes while notifying your supervisor a few months in advance.
If you recall, I used early registration, solid planning, and clear career path. That granted the clear strategy to plan my job schedule without making managers upset; I kept the same job for 2 1/2 years while fluctuating hours.
I had some opportunities to use my technical skills and rendered some services which brought some quick cash over the table; useful cash to cover my expenses.
In Junior year, I landed the chance to work on an internship and they were super mega flexible around my college schedule. I took it very seriously and that was noticed. Schedule was around 32 hours per week and my work was always done.
In exchange, I had a professional job paying well that was able to work around my schedule. What else I could ask for.
Senior year came and the sacrifice paid off. I reached my last year with zero, nichts, rien, zip, nada in student debt. It was now time to focus on finishing school and nothing else.
Prior to starting my first semester, I applied to FAFSA for a government loan and signed for $10,000 loan total. I will expand why now and why this amount on tip #5 and tip #7.
Tip #5 – Treat Career As Investment
For many the greatest one and for a few the beginning to greater things towards their future. Do yourself a favor, invest in your education as if it was your own business.
I started college at the age of 19 and I have to say that always had a very mature mentality which helped to build a light student debt version.
I was constantly learning about business, money market, finance and investments. Before starting my career, I sat down and drew a sketch as to how I would tackle my degree’s financial burden.
The plan was simple: graduate with zero or at the very least the smallest amount of student loans possible. Here is how I did it…
I had the sketch and design of my plan but the real components happened on the fly; there was no way I could predict how precisely to do it but I knew exactly my goal.
Thanks to tip #6, my chosen college for the firsts two years was very affordable. I used my first $2000 in Pell grant plus all of my work savings to cover two semesters (7 classes = 22 credits * $110 -> $2,420).
Next semesters I ranked a total of 5 classes for 18 total credits = $1,980. The amount was covered by the first $2,000 from scholarship plus $300 from emergency funds to get books and materials.
In the last two semesters, I gathered 20 credits spread throughout 6 courses for a total of $2,200 covered by my second scholarship ($2,000) plus $300 from emergency funds and some money out of pocket for books.
I took 3 classes over the summer which almost killed me. I wouldn’t advise anyone to repeat that part of my experience unless there is no choice for you.
I completed the required 60 credits, earned an Associate degree and got transferred to the University for the rest of my career. I will explain on tip #6 just how I did it, stay tuned and be patient..
In my first two years of college, I was able to gather $3,000 in cash savings. I used that money, combined with the last $1,500 in scholarships plus internship pay savings to cover my junior year.
I was sooo close and I could feel it and that is why I am now revealing the last trick out from my hat. I already exhausted all my options of free grants and hard earned money, no more tricks allowed in the game.
The moment of truth had arrived, I chose to focus on my career and that is when I took the student loan and sold my soul… My math was simple: hardest year ahead of me, graduation project, credits had increased in price, not enough time to work and study, and tuition hovering close to $8,000.
Your best chance here is to find a way to avoid rent this year (family & friends) or you could add another 6k on top of everything for living expenses which still not that bad.
I was able to stay with family for this year, not working at all and focusing solely on school; the loans will take care of the rest. Thanks to family support, I only consumed my requested $10k of loan money and got my way out like Ocean’s Eleven.
Tip #6 – Proper Choice of School
Oh yeah, proper choice of school. I would love to go to Stanford, Duke, Caltech or any other school with a prestigious computer science program.
However, I wasn’t and I don’t come from an affluent family, have an unexpected inheritance, nor I’m not a descendant of royalty.
Since none of these applied to me, I put my feet back to earth and looked for a more realistic plan.
Fortunately, in my home city of Orlando, the public universities catered towards engineering careers are excellent; which was a bit of a lucky strike for myself.
Even though it is a public university, course credits were around $180 at the time of my enrollment. At that rate, I wouldn’t survive my entire career without taking a big sum of loans.
That is why I started researching for options. A few days in, I found that the local university launched a joint program with a college to encourage students to continue higher education and not stop at a A.A degree.
In a few words, I could go to college for $110 a course credit, take the first 60 credits (120 total), and then transfer to the university.
This was music to my ears…. and that was how I pulled it off. I treated my career as an investment and never settled for the first option without looking to other alternatives.
I went for a lower cost per credit in my first two years without sacrificing quality. Then I would continue operating by using savings plus some cash aid. Finally, I would look for an investor to cover the final phase.
As any successful business, you start with some cash and build a foundation with a lot of sacrifices and hard work.
Next, you will use the cash generated to stay in business and continue operations.
Lastly, you bring a substantial amount of cash from an investor and launch your business to success.
Tip #7 – Take Loan in Your Senior Year
This is it, the final step on climbing the career path, or at least toward a higher studies foundation.
I worked very hard not lose the focus on this last tip; I aimed for this the same way a hawk targets its prey from above.
All previous combined tips helped me to achieve this one. I looked to my senior year as the phase where the idea is about to take off and needed some venture capital injection.
I analyzed the options available to me and was happy to get into a student debt of $10,000 at 6.8% interest rate; 10 years repayment. And that was what I did.
I highly suggest taking a look at government options first rather than private loans; yet don’t settle too quickly for it.
Instead, I advise you to perform a thorough analysis of what is available out there.
A favorite article at Financial Samurai put together an insightful review about SoFI Social Lending that you should take a look as well.
I used the money to cover tuition, books, and graduation project expenses plus personal needs as well. I was frugal and careful since I wasn’t working anymore.
Loans gave me the time needed to concentrate and be dedicated to graduate and graduate only. Having no previous student debt made this decision super easy and comfortable.
I felt like I had the control over my future finances and had the student debt situation within my comfort zone.
I would have 6 months after graduation to start paying back around of $150 per month.
My college experience was converted to 7 Tips about “How I Avoided Huge Student Debt”.
I actually did it and wanted you to know that is possible. Not because a few articles say so but more so my shared experience demonstrating on how I did it.
These tips are not on a linear timeline but there is a logical order on them.
Essentially, you should save in the back of your brain that your future career is an investment; and as an investment, you should treat it as so.
You have to lay down a financial plan on how you would tackle the coming semesters expenses.
Financial planning starts with choosing the right schools.
Schools that possess the potential for your interest and at the same time carry a comfortable ratio of affordability.
My example was to take the first two years or 60 credits at a community college where credits were around $110. I made sure that the college had a program allowing me to continue my bachelor’s into university while carrying over full 60 credits. University credits were around $180 and it was part of my financial plan.
I didn’t borrow a single cent from loans during my first three years yet I managed to obtain valuable grants/scholarships.
I had access to college emergency funds as well as privileges when signing for courses.
The latter was possible thanks to building a solid link with educational and financial advisors back in college.
A full-time job and a paid internship were part of my career sacrifices and architecturally supported my plan to afford tuition.
Leaving loans only for last year was key, I would say essential.
At the beginning of my career, I scoped out the job market realizing that a possible entry point salary would be around 55k.
Therefore, I set a limit of $20,000 loan student debt total.
I exceeded my own expectations by only accumulating $10,120 in loans, and only in my senior year.
It allowed me to use autopilot and get my degree on the wall without losing sleep about my future student debt repayment. If you could only have one takeaway from my post it should be this: Take your first and final loan application on senior year.
If you— the reader— reached here, you are now better than I was. You are now equipped with a powerful weapon and one that you should not be afraid to use.
I challenge you to use as many components listed from the above-mentioned tips. Use them and ultimately be better than the person writing this blog.
Have you done it better, different, nothing?