How To Get Through College With Zero Debt

Getting through college isn’t easy, or cheap. The average student loan debt for the graduating class of 2016 was a whopping $37,172, which is more than some students can expect to make in a year. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? We’re told we have to get college degrees to get decent paying jobs, and before we can even enter the work force we’re already saddled with a negative balance that seems to grow every year. Add that to the fact that our salaries aren’t rising at the same rate as costs, rent, mortgages or college tuition, and finishing college can seem like an increasingly impossible dream.

Thankfully, there are still ways to get through college with little or no debt at all.

The first thing you want to look at is scholarships. Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships. Most people avoid searching through these because there aren’t a lot of great central databases you can comb through, and a lot of them seem to require very specific sets of criteria. It’s exhausting to dig through thousands of opportunities only to come up with one or two that you even qualify for.

A great place to start is always your college’s website. You may have to do a little digging or asking around, but your school should have a list of scholarships. A lot of these are going to be local to your school or region, and some may even be major specific. This gives you the opportunity to be part of a smaller pool of applicants which increases your likelihood of being chosen.

Apply to absolutely every scholarship you think you might qualify for. You never know when you’ll get chosen, and some scholarships only end up with one or two applicants in the first place.

If scholarships alone aren’t enough to cover your tuition and living expenses, consider working full-time and doing classes in the evening, on the weekends or online. Online classes are becoming increasingly more available at large universities, and taking courses online allows you to fit them in with whatever your work schedule is. Just be careful not to push yourself too hard. Working full-time may make it impossible for you to tackle a full course load, so know your limits and make sure to leave some time for sleep!

If you can’t get a full-time job, or if you really need to do classes full-time, there are more opportunities out there for earning an income on a flexible schedule than there used to be. If you have a car, driving for Lyft or Uber can make you a decent amount of cash depending on the city you live in. Look and see what kind of delivery services are in your area, like Amazon Prime Now, UberEATS, DoorDash, and more.

Depending on your income level you may also qualify for a PELL grant. This federal grant is given to you free of charge, and you don’t have to pay it back. Simply fill out the required information on their website on January 1st and you’ll be told at the end of the application process whether or not you qualify.

Some states have a similar program that you can apply for as well. For example, in California you have both the Middle Class and Cal Grants programs, providing various degrees of financial assistance depending on your income level. And since they’re grants, you aren’t required to pay them off after you graduate.

The short of this is: apply for as many scholarships and grants (not loans!) as you can, and if you still need help, find a job that fits in with your school schedule. Remember to prioritize your education, and try not to let a job derail you from your studies.