How to Graduate with (almost) NO Debt

By | March 18, 2014

College debt is ridiculous

Student Debt InfographicAfter four years of studying and partying Suzie* has racked up $21,000 of undergraduate debt. And then she’ll spend months trying to get a job with no luck in this job market. What blows my mind the most is that she thinks that this is normal, unavoidable, AND that she will be able to pay it off in a timely manner because of the fantastic $100k/year job she plans to get.

Yeah, Good luck with that.

Even if the debt is payed off in several years, she spent those years paying loads of interest and NOT contributing to retirement. But college debt can be largely avoided. Seriously though. Read on – hopefully I can help you learn how to graduate debt free.

How I graduated with minimal student loans

Accidentally become a great student

I wasn’t even trying especially hard. One day in high school I got an invitation to a student awards event for my good GPA. It involved free pizza, a small awards ceremony complete with certificate, and engraved pen – all while excused from class. Yes, please! From then on I made sure I made the list every quarter.

Settle for the cheap local school because the boyfriend didn’t even apply for Florida State

We agreed to head south for our education together. I think I applied to 6 or 7 schools. I was thrilled when I was accepted to my dream school FSU! But my slacker boyfriend didn’t apply to any school except the University in the city we lived in. I didn’t want to leave without him and I had also been accepted at the local school, so I settled for that despite my disappointment.

Have a poor single parent

My 2 siblings and I were raised by my single blue-collar father. When it came time to fill out the FAFSA, we discovered that the U.S. Government gives a lot of “free money” (grants) for lower-middle class students to go to college. Since I chose the cheap school, grants covered a huge portion of my tuition.

Get the hookup from the nice old man at church

Growing up we went to church regularly. As a teen I was very involved with the youth group and got to know a lot of my fellow church-goers. Among them was a really nice older man who had some sway at the local Rotary organization. He suggested I apply for the local Rotary Scholarship, so I did. And I got it! Another small dent in my tuition.

Apply for every scholarship on the internet and don’t get any

Yeah I spent HOURS applying for scholarships online. Essays, letters, forms galore. I think fastweb was the site. I didn’t get any of them.

Burning Money

Final Aid Package – REFUSE THE LOAN

When I got all the numbers from the Financial Aid office at the school I was offered lots of different loans. Subsidized, Unsubsidized, and the counselor told me I could also seek private loans on my own. It was time to accept and decline the offers from the government. I took all the grants and refused EVERY loan.

Live at home

I knew I couldn’t afford my own dorm or apartment + utilities because I had refused all the loans. I lived at home with dad. It seemed lame, while all my friends had their cool dorm rooms with the dry erase board on the door.

Have no life

I worked my ass off with a decent part time job during school year and got nearly straight A’s so I could keep my financial aid. I put my nose to the grindstone while I watched the other students play frisbee and sunbathe on the lawn. I worked full time during the summer to save up for books, art supplies, and future bills.

Make the biggest mistake of my life and buy a house at the peak with 7.25% interest AND $0 down – but pack it full of roommates paying you almost enough to cover the ridiculous mortgage

Not much to elaborate on, that sums it up. I bought a house at 19 years old – completely financed with the most ridiculous interest rate possible. My only saving grace was that I had plenty of roommates which helped pay the mortgage.


Okay so that’s how I graduated college from a 4 year University with only $5,000 in student loan debt which I had paid off within 2 years. I realize that my situation it pretty unique. But you can still take advantage of my strategy in your own way. The simple breakdown is that you can really minimize student debt if you put your mind to it. It will require hard work and choosing an affordable school. Take advantage of your resources. File the FAFSA early and apply for every grant or scholarship you can find, focusing on the local, more attainable ones. When you get the aid package, say NO to the loans and bend over backwards figuring out how to scrape together cash for tuition. Keep your costs low and stay employed for day-to-day expenses. Good Luck!

What are your best tips for avoiding college debt? What was your job when you were in college?

*Suzie is a completely hypothetical person I made up on a whim. She enjoys reading romance novels and burning cookie-scented candles.

2 thoughts on “How to Graduate with (almost) NO Debt

  1. Nicole B.

    That’s awesome! I graduated completely debt free without any loans or assistance from my parents. I worked 2-3 jobs all through school so that I could pay as I went. It’s totally doable. It makes me sick that people think debt is the norm!

    1. Bex Post author

      YES! So glad some people my age see the light! I feel bad for my friends who have mountains of debt. Sad to think of all the years and interest that it will take to pay them off – all that time and money that could go into retirement savings! Taking advantage of compounding interest! I’m glad I made it out with only $5k – still seems like a lot of money to me, but I’m glad it’s past me. Now I just have to worry about my house – which is basically worse at this point *sigh* 🙁


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