Getting Through College Without Student Loans

With the increasing costs of tuition, and fewer number of scholarships available, is it still possible to graduate without thousands of dollars in debt without help from your parents?

Anyone who has graduated from college (or is currently still in college) knows how difficult it is to graduate debt free. I know of several people who have accomplished this feat, but with great difficulty. In fact, some statistics suggest that the average debt for a student graduating from a four-year school is over $20,000. It is no longer a rare occurrence to hear stories of people having over $100 thousand in school loans.  That’s the value of a small house in some areas of the country (without the house). Despite the difficulty, I survived and not only graduated college without any debt, but with money in the bank. Here’s how I did it.

Getting Through College is Hard

It was in my first semester at college that I realized how much money I was spending. I am lucky. Some don’t figure that they are spending too much money until late in their college track. After spending over 1/5 of my savings on unnecessary items (like eating out, appliances for my dorm room, etc), I realized I needed to cut back.  Make sure to evaluate how much you are spending and if you have enough money to continue your current spending habits.

Establish a Simple Budget

I found that my major expense (at least that I could control; tuition, after all, wasn’t optional) was for food. I decided that I needed cut my spending as much as possible.  I was extremely frugal, forcing my monthly food budget to $100 per month.  I remember being told by my family that I was crazy when I told them of my frugal food budget, but I was able to accomplish this goal.  I was able to do this by going to the grocery store once a week and spending only $25 per week.  Any seasoned college student also knows to look for the free meals on university campuses as well as how to stay around until the events are finished to claim any leftover food.

Work Hard

Getting through college without any debt almost always means getting at least a part-time job.  The important thing to remember is that every little bit helps.  At one point, I was working a job that only required 3-5 hours per week but it paid well and fit with my schedule.  It wasn’t a lot, but it helped supplement my other part-time job.

The other thing that any college student ought to learn is the importance of good grades.  Good grades not only translate into acceptance to better graduate programs, if one chooses to go on, but also more scholarships.  Many universities offer some form of an honors scholarship.  By maintaining a 3.7 GPA or above, I earned over $16,000 in tuition because of an honors scholarship.  I would say that those few extra hours that I spent studying to ensure good grades were well worth the time.

It wasn’t always easy, but I was able to graduate without owing anyone any money.  This allowed great flexibility in what I chose to do right after school.  I wasn’t forced to get a high-paying job so that I could repay those loans. Instead, I could choose to go to graduate school and continue studying a subject of interest.

What are some ways that you saved money in college? How did your choices work out for you?

Update for 2017: When going through some of my old popular posts, I realized that I didn’t give any specific resources for people to check out. If you are looking for some information about paying for college and minimizing student loan debt, here are some of my favorite resources:

37 Responses to Getting Through College Without Student Loans

  1. Great post. I like your point about working hard. Not only will this help with getting scholarships like you mentioned but it will also help out in the workforce later. If an employer has testimony that you work hard they usually are willing to hire you at a higher salary. The higher salary can help with paying of your college bills quicker or get started out in a home faster.

  2. I like your angle about working hard. I worked by butt off in college with part- and full-time jobs. The last year I attended I did slack off and get some Stafford loans for about $3000.

  3. I started working when I was 15, but I didn’t realize I would use the money for college, but in the end that’s what I did…

    I also worked during college and especially hard in summers. I think I hope to make it easier for my kids…

    • That is good to hear. It sounds like a trend. I will have to keep this in mind if I ever have kids (or try to teach my nephews/niece financial tips) 🙂

  4. I worked through college and I think it made me a better person for it, I truly appreciated having the degree in the end. I did end up with $5,000 in student loan debt in the end but I had it paid off in two years after college.

  5. Great suggestion! That’s unfortunate, but I am sure you will get out of it soon (if you haven’t already).

  6. Were you able to eat Healthy on a $25/week budget? I imagine it would be tough on said budget – plenty of Ramen noodles! Although it sounds like you thought through all of this – so I’m sure you found an apple tree to satisfy your fruit needs! 🙂

      • I’m a student now and that’s about how much I spend on food in the average month ($100). It may help that my area has discount grocery stores where I am able to purchase from bulk bins and on sales, but I’d say I eat relatively healthy.

  7. One of the ideas my wife adopted to avoid students loan is to spend one year in community college to earn credits. There are various scholarship that are available which can save almost entire college cost and if you do something to earn side money, chances are there that you come out with some saving from college rather than debt.

    • Yes, I know of a lot of people that have spent 1 or even 2 years getting the general education requirements out of the way. That is a great tip!

  8. Interesting article, parents have to need to aware their children on money management. Complete your study without study loan first thing you need to apply for scholarship, try to use local transport or bicycle don’t use personal car, use secondhand book with good condition, try to save money when you’re young and search source where you invest money at the age of 18.

  9. Great post. You are wise beyond your years. Very helpful tips for current and future college students. The tips can still be applied to college graduates and people in the workforce. Using a budget and working hard, recipe for success in my book. Thanks!

  10. It’s ridiculous that colleges overcharge so much for meals. Students with limited incomes are negatively impacted the most. There is a huge financial burden on those who can last afford it. And if you choose to skip the meal plan and cook for yourself, good luck balancing school, job(s), AND trying to find the time and energy to cook decent food. The time crunch is even tougher if you live off campus and have to rely on public transportation
    to get to campus, jobs, and the grocery store.

    There is a third choice! Get a group together, and ask your student senate or student government to petition the board of trustees to have a sliding scale for meal plan payments. The kid whose parents are a doctor and a lawyer can probably afford to pay $20 day for meals. But the kid whose parents are a teacher’s aide and an unemployed carpenter can’t afford the same high fees. Charge more to rich students, less to financially struggling students.

    To get maximum support for your plan, think it through carefully, have it covered in the student paper, and maybe have petition sign-up sheets in the cafeteria. And if local media (media outside of college) covered it, that would help too.

  11. […] advantage of health care reformSeveral key components of health care reform can help after graduation from college when they purchase new individual health insurance policies on their own:Lifetime dollar limits on […]

  12. […] Have you ever set a goal only to fail later? I bet you hate failing to reach your goals. I know I do. If you are in debt and trying to get out, this may be the post for you. For anyone who has been reading my blog for any time, I don’t write about debt that often. In fact, I often write about how to avoid debt at all costs. The primary reason for this is because my wife and I don’t have any debt; mostly because we were able to graduate from college without any student loans. […]

  13. This is my goal right here. I know after spending $3200 on my mandatory first year meal plan that I can cut off a lot of money from my food bill in the coming years.And the scholarship thing is one I am going to consider when I am deciding if I should study or slack off some more. I will now be putting money into the equation which ensures my marks will go up.