Taking out loans in order to complete your college degree sets you up for years of repayment. Not only that but having student debt can also make it difficult to finance major purchases, such as a car, after graduation and may force you to take a more stressful job just for the higher salary. Thus, staying out of debt while in college will afford you greater freedom after graduation.
When applying for colleges, do your research on the cost of tuition, room and board and other required fees such as laboratory and supply fees. It is important to remember that the most expensive university is not necessarily the best university or the right one for you. In most cases, private colleges and universities are more costly than public or state colleges, and out of state public colleges usually cost more than in-state schools. Seek scholarships through Pell Grants, national foundations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and foundations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars. If you have trouble finding aid on you own, stop by your college financial aid office to get a listing of scholarships to which you can apply.
Although having a job while in school puts constraints on your time, it teaches you the value of hard work and gives you experience that will look great on your resume upon graduation. Seek a part-time job in an area that appeals to you or that will give you an edge in your field. For example, if you are majoring in education consider working in a preschool, childcare center or as a nanny. Your college may also offer work-study opportunities to help pay for your tuition.
Ideally, before you go to college, you will already understand how to balance a checkbook, pay a bill, calculate simple and compound interest and prioritize needs versus wants. However, it is possible to enrolled in one of the top online PhD programs in the nation and still not know these basic financial skills. Luckily, it is never too late to learn them. Banks, religious institutions and college financial aid offices all usually offer financial literacy classes. By taking these courses you will learn how to manage your money so that you do not make bad decisions, such as taking on credit card debt.
When in college, prioritizing needs versus wants is integral in staying debt free, explains Dave Ramsey. If you buy everything you want when you want it, no matter how many scholarships you receive or hours you work, you will be in debt. While a laptop may be a necessity, the most powerful and expensive model is a “want.”
Avoid Credit Cards
Federal legislation disallows anyone under the age of 21 from holding a credit card without an independent, significant income or a cosigner on the line of credit, claims the University Parent Connection. However, foregoing the credit card altogether will help you stay debt free by forcing you to only spend as much as you already have. By paying with cash or debit rather than credit during college, you avoid credit debt and all the associated costs of credit, including finance fees, interest and late payment penalties.
Going out to the bars or a concert every weekend is a huge temptation for many students. However, weekends of partying and tropical vacations over spring break can put you into debt. Instead, spend your extracurricular time improving yourself and developing skills that will serve you in the future. Explore your campus and the surrounding town. Utilize the fitness facilities. Drop in on lectures from notable experts in topics outside of your area of study.
Take advantage of student discounts on books, airline travel home and at area restaurants and stores. Your college may offer its own coupon book to help save you money on necessities. In addition, make sure you enjoy all the free activities for students on campus such as theater and band concerts.
With the price of a college education soaring, staying debt free in college is a challenge. However, graduating without debt is not impossible if you have your priorities in order, avoid temptations and put in the time needed to research different colleges and learn about personal finance. The skills you develop to stay debt free in college will build a solid foundation for your financial future.
About the author: ‘Brittany Lyons’ aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog.