The average annual cost of college in the US today is $36,564 and many students take up to 6 years to complete their undergraduate degree. If you do the math, that’s nearly $220K for a college education. Including tuition, room, board, books, and even studying abroad, my college education cost a total of $37,129. Here’s how I managed to graduate with a B.A. in French without any debt to my name.
Graduating College Debt Free
1. Had help from family.
I’ll be upfront: my mom paid for half of my schooling, which I’m incredibly grateful for. This included tuition, room, board, and books. Whatever the total for the semester was, she split it in half, paid her portion and left the rest up to me.
She gave me complete freedom in choosing the school I went to. If I had wanted to go to a private school for $100K a year, she would have paid her half and I would have had to come up with $50K myself. (Luckily for me, she taught me money smarts early on!)
I also received $2500 for college as graduation gifts from family and friends. I put this directly in savings and didn’t touch it until my first school payment was due.
2. Chose a public state school.
This is the most critical factor to me graduating debt free. I did not choose a private or out-of-state university, although I was accepted to a school in Washington that I was tempted to attend. The only thing I knew for sure before choosing a college is that I wanted to study abroad. The University of North Dakota in my hometown had some options I really liked and if I studied abroad with them, I’d be paying regular in-state tuition for my program, which was an average of $6400 a semester including room and board. So in-state it was!
In total, my college education cost $37,129, making me responsible for $18,564.50.
3. Applied for scholarships.
Any scholarships I received went towards my portion of my tuition. In total, I received $9,465 in scholarships, covering more than half of my portion of my college costs.
- $4,000 awarded by the Language Department for studying abroad
- $3,000 President’s Tuition Waiver based on my ACT score
- $2,000 awarded by the Honors Program
- $320 given through Dollars for Scholars
- $145 awarded by my high school
4. Worked part time.
Starting my senior year of high school, I worked at a local consignment store. I carried on my job for the next 4 years, until I graduated college. On average, I worked about 25 hours a week. Sure some of this money went towards pizza and nights out with friends, but the majority went towards my schooling.
Related Post: How I Learned to Budget Money in High School
5. Bought and sold books online.
Half.com was my best friend. I found my books cheaper online than the discounted rates on campus, and when I sold them back on half.com, I got way more money than the university bookstore was offering.
6. Graduated early.
Originally I was going to school for French Education with a certificate in ELL. But when I had a breakdown the fall semester of my junior year and wasn’t sure if teaching was right for me, my mom gave me the best advice ever: “Just get a degree.”
When I realized that I had already completed all of my French major and general requirements, I decided to take my mom’s advice, drop the education portion of my degree, and graduate with a B.A. in French in 3 years. Cutting out my last year of school saved me nearly $13,000 and I don’t regret it for a second. Plus I have the same B.A. as those who graduated in 4 years.
I wholeheartedly pass this same advice on to others. If you aren’t aiming for a career that requires a specific degree (like teaching, medicine, or engineering) and you’re questioning your major, just get a degree. The extra years you spend trying to figure out your major will cost you more money. Instead, get a degree, and after some life experience, go back for your Masters. It will be a much more worthwhile way to spend both your time and money.
What things did you do to save or make money during college?
This post was originally published on March 24, 2016.