Five Ways to Go to College and Graduate School Debt-Free

college and graduate school

One of the common beliefs in our culture about post-secondary education is that it is impossible to go to college or graduate school debt-free. My friends, that’s a lie that does not have to define your life.

Quite simply, that’s nonsense. There are plenty of ways to cash flow and fund your education without sacrificing your future earnings to loan payments.

Here are my five top ways to pay for your college or graduate school without student loan debt.

1. Do Well in High School and on College Entrance Exams

This sort of goes without saying, but many schools offer good academic scholarships for prospective students who worked hard in high school, attained a good GPA, and earned high test scores on the SAT or ACT.

The higher a student’s GPA, the more likely they will receive academic merit scholarships, and the broader range of schools they will be qualified to apply to.

This also applies to graduate students. While you are still in undergraduate studies, perform as well as you can. Study hard for exams like the GRE and LSAT. These test scores often prompt schools to offer higher scholarship awards.

2. Start at Community College

The local community college is something that a lot of high school juniors and seniors roll their eyes at (guilty!). But in the long run, starting off at these schools for a year or two can pay off big time.

Community college tuition is almost always much less than a traditional four-year institution.

So since you’re going to have prerequisite courses anyways, things like math, history, foreign language, and philosophy classes, doing them at community college can save many thousands of dollars upfront.

3. Choose an Affordable College or Graduate School

is college worth it

You’d be surprised how many objections there are to this point. There is just about every sort of rationalization out there for choosing insanely priced schools and accruing tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of student loan debt.

Some students have literally said, “I like the trees at this college.”

Really, trees?

When this amount of money is on the line, the deciding factors simply can’t be the trees. Prospective students ought to look for a college or graduate school that they can truly pay for.

The average cost of a private four-year college per year is about $32,500. For a public out-of-state four-year college, it’s about $24,000. But a public in-state school is about $9,500 a year. A two-year community college averages about $3,500 a year.

These are staggering differences!

4. Fill Out the FAFSA and Apply for Outside Scholarships

Did you know that in 2015, there was nearly $3 billion of unclaimed scholarship money in America? That’s right, three billion with a B!

A large portion of students did not even fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid before they went to college. They ended up paying a lot more than they could have because they missed out on opportunities for grants, which don’t have to be paid back.

Another option is to apply for scholarships online. The internet affords us more access to money than any civilization could have ever dreamed of. There are tons of scholarship opportunities from all areas of the world available online.

For outside scholarship resources, check out my article on what I used to earn my law degree debt-free.

5. Work While Enrolled in School 

Many of us worked part-time during school and we got through okay. It’s not going to irreparable damage to take on some work and help pay for tuition.

One objection may be that a student may not have enough time to study if they work. but what often happens is that working students do better academically than non-working students.

I can speak personally on this subject. During law school, I ran my coaching practice part-time. After 3 years, I not only achieved that goal but also graduated in the top 10 of my class.

I’m living proof that student loan debt is not inevitable. And working while in school does not have to result in reduced academic performance!

seth connell graduate school
Seth Connell, J.D. (May 2022).

Final Thoughts on Going to College & Graduate School Debt-Free

These are just a few ways to get that degree without taking out loans. The idea that college without loans is impossible is simply not true. If you put in the effort, it’s absolutely achievable.

But are you willing to put in the work? That’s up to you!

What are some other ways to pay for college and graduate school without debt? Share your thoughts with me!

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