3 Ways to Graduate College Debt Free

Today we welcome back our Tuesday contributor, Catherine Alford!

It’s no secret that college tuition is climbing every year, and I don’t even want to think about how much it’s going to cost when my not-here-yet kids get to go.

One thing I really want for them is to graduate without debt. Student loan debt has been so pervasive in my life, and I want them to be much smarter about handling it than I was. So, below are a few things I’d advise to anyone who is about to start college so that they graduate debt free:

#1 Try a Community College At First To Avoid Student Loans

Where I went to college in Virginia, they had an amazing program with community colleges where people could attend a community college for two years and then matriculate to William and Mary or the University of Virginia. It was perfect for those people who started at community college because they saved a significant amount of money and still got to graduate from a top 30 school. I’m sure that Virginia isn’t the only state to do that, so definitely do your research and see what your state offers. I wish I would have!

You can also start attending a community college while you are in high school in the summertime. You can complete a few of your core classes for much cheaper than a university and have a whole semester out of the way by the time you start college.

#2 Carry a Part Time Job To Graduate Debt Free

If your school has affordable tuition, you can save up money from your part time job starting in high school. If you can use that combined with a little help from your parents or grandparents, you can definitely graduate debt free. This would only work if you went to an affordable state school, as most high school students don’t make enough to cover $40,000 private university tuition. However, I think this would actually make a degree more valuable, knowing that you contributed to it.

There are also many work-study programs offered at universities and a lot of on campus jobs in various departments where you can work but also have time to do your homework too!

#3 Live Modestly To Avoid College Debt

This tip is true for everyone, not just those who are about to start college. However, it’s the perfect time to start this habit, which will benefit you for the rest of your life.

Many students do have parents who contribute to their education costs, but they still take out loans for their living expenses. Many students, myself included, take out way more than they need and use it frivolously. I know that I used mine to fund a trip, and others use it on shopping and partying.

However, had I been more careful, I wouldn’t have as much debt as I do today, and I’d do just about anything to not have the $35,000 in student loans that I am currently paying back.

What are some other ways that students can graduate from college debt free?

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About Catherine Alford

Catherine Alford is a personal finance freelance writer who received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. She enjoys sharing her adventures on her blog, www.BudgetBlonde.com.


  1. You know what’s sort of sad? At the college I attended, they wouldn’t necessarily tell a student she/he qualified for work study if they already received a large amount of aid. I was such a student and it wasn’t until a friend told me to go ask if I did qualify for work study directly that I found out I did! Considering that most jobs on-campus were work-study only, not telling a student she/he qualifies for work study when she/he does is unfair to college students.

    The same thing happened to me with Perkins loans… my school tried to only offer those to education majors or kids from families living at or below the poverty line despite the fact that I qualified and was receiving Pell grants. My biggest advice about all of this is to really push your college’s financial aid office to be fully honest about what you as a student qualify for so you’re not leaving money on the table because your college doesn’t want to give it to you.

  2. I took one semester at a community college and was able to knock out 12 credits in one summer. It was super easy and I saved around $10,000 doing this!

  3. Great list! One thing to add about community colleges – even if there’s not one in your city, check into online offerings from community colleges. I added online classes to my 12 hour load at the university in my town. This saved A LOT of money and required no trips to the community college campus (which was about 3 hours away). As the number of 100% online classes continues to grow, this is a great money saving tip that I share with all new students. Just be sure the course will transfer and you’re good to go!

  4. Good points! There is a lot of scholarship money out there and all you have to do is apply. As a teacher, I won a fellowship to take 13 credits for free! In education, credits are used to raise my earnings. There are grants too. Using the internet makes it much easier to apply for a variety of financial aid.

  5. Justin @ The Family Finances says:

    It really is sad that so many kids graduate today with the equivalent of a small mortgage. I was lucky enough (I guess) to come from a very poor family and qualify for a large amount of state grants, and graduated with just around $5,000 in debt. I totally agree with sticking with a community college for the first year or two for your general classes; just make sure you ask beforehand which classes will transfer to your future college of choice.

  6. #1 is awesome, from what I read, many Ivy league colleges also have transfer agreements with in state colleges so you can do 3 years at the state U and still graduate from Yale. I did 3 years of university before going to business school, while my peers did 2 years and paid for 3 years of business school, it saved me about $12,000.

  7. That’s so cool that you saved so much money!

  8. Great tips, Catherine! I did #2 and #3 when I was still in school. I’m just so happy my sacrifices paid off.

  9. Hi Catherine. These are great tips. I did get a part-time job. It was difficult, but I did it.

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