High student loan debt is a major issue for millions of Americans. If you’re a current college student, you should be doing everything in your power to avoid a similar fate. But without a scholarship, what are your options?
The Cost of Student Loans
Today’s college students are graduating with an average student loan debt of more than $37,000. For those who follow up undergraduate with medical school or law school, it’s not uncommon for debt to be in the six figures.
For someone with an average amount of student loan debt, the monthly payment is nearly $400 per month (assuming a standard interest rate and a 10-year repayment plan). That might not sound like a ton, but for someone bringing home a net income of less than $3,000 per month, it’s a pretty substantial amount.
If you’re a high school student preparing for college – or a current college student who has suddenly realized how much your education is costing you – the prospect of owing hundreds of dollars per month for the next decade of your life can be frightening. But you don’t have to succumb to the same bitter reality that so many of your peers will face after graduation. Even without a scholarship, you can finish school without debt.
Paying for College Without Scholarships
Scholarship money is helpful, but it isn’t the only way to pay for college. Depending on your situation and the time and resources you have available to you, there are numerous options. Let’s explore a few of these strategies, techniques, and best practices.
- Work Part-Time
Let’s start with the obvious: working your way through school. This used to be a common approach but is now a bit of a lost art form. The question is, why?
Research shows that the average college student spends just 2.76 hours per day on education-related activities. That comes out to less than 20 hours per week for both class time and studying. If you consider that you only sleep for seven or eight hours a night, this means you have enough time to work five or six hours per day and still have a social life. Plus, you have the opportunity to work full-time during the summers. If nothing else, you should be able to pay for a large percentage of your tuition as you go.
- Reduce Your Expenses
For most college students, it’s a lack of financial responsibility that does them in. They waste money on things that don’t matter, leaving very little left over to pay for school. But this doesn’t have to be your story. Try reducing your expenses by:
- Cooking meals from home. School meal plans are extremely expensive. Eating out is even more costly. You can save hundreds of dollars a month by cooking most of your meals in your dorm room or apartment.
- Purchasing refurbished tech. There’s no need to purchase brand new technology every year. Buying a refurbished laptop, for example, could save you hundreds. The same goes for smartphones and TVs.
- Buying used textbooks. Compared to 20 or 30 years ago, the cost of college textbooks is astronomically high. You can save a considerable amount of money by purchasing them used (and then reselling them when you’re finished).
Over the course of eight or nine semesters, saving a hundred dollars here and there can make a big difference in your ability to pay for tuition and avoid debt. Don’t underestimate the power of living on a budget.
- Attend Community College
While community college might not be as fun as a four-year public or private university, it’s a whole lot cheaper. Consider starting your college career off by taking a year or two of classes at a community college. You can save a few thousand dollars and then finish your career at a school of your liking.
- Negotiate Lower Tuition
Did you know that many schools are open to negotiating tuition? In some cases, universities will be willing to offer discounts on housing, food, or tuition in exchange for part-time work.
Get a Head Start
Leaving school without student loan debt is something that very few people are able to do these days. If you can manage to do it, you’ll have a significant advantage over your peers.
When you don’t have student loan debt, your paycheck is effectively much larger. Instead of funneling hundreds of dollars towards debt payments, you can save and invest. In fact, if you spend the next ten years investing $400 per month (the amount of an average student loan payment), you’ll have close to $75,000 in your nest egg (assuming an average rate of return).
It’ll require sacrifice and discipline, but you can pay for school without a scholarship. Now is the time to create a plan for getting ahead. Your future self will thank you for all the hard work.