How to Lower College Costs and Avoid Student Loan Debt

The increasing cost of college tuition has many wondering if it is really possible to pay for a degree without the help of student loans. With outstanding student loan debt now surpassing credit card debt in the U.S., it has become clear that most of us accept student debt as a normal cost of a higher education. But does it really have to be that way? Is there a way to attend college without borrowing?

college students

Planning Ahead for College Costs

I have student loan debt. I’m not sure that I could have avoided with my graduate education, but I can see how I could have avoided with my undergraduate degree. Indeed, I really shouldn’t have had a problem paying for college without student loans. I had a full-tuition scholarship, and a part-time job in the university cafeteria (I got free food regularly). My parents paid for my housing. During my junior and senior years of college, I was a Resident Advisor, with free housing and a stipend. With some better planning, and better financial habits, I could easily have made it through four years of undergrad without borrowing.

Planning has a lot to do with whether or not you end up needing student loans for college. In anticipation of rising college costs, we’ve been contributing to college savings for my son since he was six years old. We’ve also encouraged him to work hard in school, and talked about the benefits of getting scholarships. There are numerous scholarships that can be applied for, and it is possible to earn several smaller scholarships to pay for school if you can’t land one big one. Starting as early as possible to save up for college, and work for other ways to have schooling paid for, can help reduce the need for student loans.

Other Options for Avoiding Student Loan Debt

There are other options that can help you avoid student loan debt.

  • Community College – My husband attended community college for the first two years of his schooling. It was affordable without loans, and he was able to transfer to a four-year school easily. Plus, his grades, which were lackluster in high school, were good at the community college — good enough for a scholarship when he transferred to the four-year school.
  • Living at Home – Attending a community college for a time, living at home to reduce living expenses and paying less in tuition, can be a good way to get started with an education and a degree without borrowing.
  • Part-time Job – You can also try pay for college by earning extra money. On campus jobs, or flexible jobs in town, can be great opportunities to pay for books, living expenses, and other costs. While a part-time job might not pay your tuition, you can combine it with other resources.
  • Other Options – If you have a scholarship, or money saved up in an ESA or 529 account, you can use that for tuition, and work part-time to cover the incidentals that come with attending university.

Bottom Line

If you want to avoid taking out student loans for college, the time to start planning is as early as possible. Consider your options, and look for ways to get ready ahead of time. Chances are that there won’t be one solution sufficient to pay for a college education; you will probably need a combination of strategies.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons


By , on Nov 7, 2012
Miranda Marquit Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.


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  1. If you are setting aside money for your son’s future education costs, make sure you talk to a good financial planner about the use of cash value life insurance.

    Any money put into your child’s name is counted on the FSFSA form. Cash value life insurance is not included in the calculation. The tuition savings can be tremendous.

    The accumulated cash can be used to pay for tuition, and if one parent dies early the death benefit will be needed.

  2. Planning ahead for college will help you avoid student loan debts. Living at home will reduce your college expenses because you don’t need to worry about food and lodging expenses. Taking a part-time work will help augment income too.

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