Yes, it’s possible to get out college without student loans – if you’re willing to work, save, and be resourceful.

Why am I so sure? Because I did it myself! When I went off to Colorado State, I was a practical, numbers-oriented girl (still am) and the word “loans” gave me cold sweats. As much as I wanted college, I did not want to go into debt for it—and I didn’t want my mom to go into debt either.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think loans are a bad thing, especially when we’re not talking about an amount that will bury you in debt for decades to come. If I hadn’t been so set on the pay-as-you-go approach, I definitely would have taken out loans to help me pay for college because I wanted a degree and I wasn’t willing to compromise on that. But there are ways to get out of college debt free. Here are a few ideas.

#1: In high school, take AP courses.

Students these days can essentially bypass freshman year – or at the very least, a few classes – by loading up on Advanced Placement courses throughout high school and “testing out” of college courses. That could save you tens of thousands dollars.

#2: Take college classes in high school.

Check out classes at a community college to get a jump start at a very affordable price. At Front Range, high school juniors and seniors can take classes under the state’s Concurrent Enrollment law. That means that your school district may cover your tuition, and the classes count toward high school and college graduation.

#3: Start saving early.

Sure, it probably seems impossible to save what you might need for college while you’re in high school, but you won’t know unless you try. Be creative about ways you can earn money. If you have a part-time job, set aside $100 a month. If you started doing that as a junior, that will amount to a couple thousand dollars by summer after senior year. Use your last summer before college to save up even more.

#4: Work part time.

It’s the most obvious way to pay your tuition bill – work while you’re in school. Work as much as you can without sacrificing your grades. Pay your bills as they come in. And as for where to work, look for work-study positions, which often pay more per hour and are right on campus. Seek out work experiences that will give you great professional experience, such as paid internships or part-time jobs in your chosen field of study. Or try jobs that earn tips – for me, it was waiting tables. I worked at a breakfast restaurant where I often got off work by 11 a.m. and raked in at least $60 a shift, just in tips. And don’t forget summertime. When school isn’t in session, you can work at least 40 hours a week and save up.

#5: Work for a company that helps pay tuition.

National organizations often have tuition assistance programs for employees. Check out companies like The Home Depot and Best Buy, which offer generous programs for full-time employees. Others, like UPS and McDonalds help pay tuition for part-time employees.

#6: Start at a community college.

Community colleges make it very easy to transfer your credits to in-state schools. At Front Range, the gtPathways curriculum is guaranteed to transfer to any public college or university in Colorado. You can start at Front Range, then transfer after 60 credits to the school of your choice – and save yourself thousands of dollars.

#7: Keep your eyes open for other opportunities.

Look at tuition-free colleges, such as Cooper Union and Berea College. Consider joining ROTC, which offers students full-tuition-and-fees scholarships (plus stipends) in exchange for military service. If you come from a low-income family, check out colleges such as the University of Virginia, which eliminates loans from the financial aid packages of low-income students through its AccessUVa program, or the University of Pennsylvania, which also offers loan-free packages to students of families under certain income levels. There are options out there that will help you pay for college – just ask and look around.

#8: Be smart and be frugal.

If Grandma gives you $100 for your birthday, put it in the bank. If you do take out loans, use that money for school, not for a new car or a fun summer trip. If it’s important to you to pay for college without going into debt, commit to it, and keep your eye on the prize. I promise – it is doable.

Of course, don’t forget to apply for financial aid. Even if you don’t plan on taking out loans, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows you to be considered for grants and scholarships, too.

What tips do you have for funding a college education?


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