Student loan debt is a continuingly growing concern in our nation. In 2012, most college graduates (69%) resorted to student loans to help cover their education costs. It seems that very few students are immune to the financial strain created from pursuing a degree. For some students, they will concede debt as a necessary evil.
But there is hope. Students can graduate debt free. Admittedly, it is not as easy as it was in the past, but it can be done. Every year, college and seminary graduates walk across a stage to receive his or her diploma without any looming student loan debt payments. They launch into ministry without any financial baggage, free to chase their calling.
How do they do it? Here are some suggestions on how to graduate debt free:
A debt-free graduation starts before you step on campus.
- Perspective matters. When it comes to your future, put more stock in your ability to learn well and work hard, not a diploma from a particular school. A forty to fifty-year career is never determined by the name of a school on a diploma. If your “dream school” is expensive, be open to other options.
- Find a cost effective option. Tuition prices do not determine education quality. There are many lesser expensive schools that are academically excellent. Find a school that balances a lower cost with good academics.
- Check for available financial aid opportunities. This is not just governmental assistance. Most schools have several scholarship opportunities available. Some school give tuition breaks. The College at Southeastern and Southeastern Seminary give significant discounts for military personnel and members of Southern Baptist churches. Determine what is available to you.
- Focus on the net cost. A $25,000/year school may provide you with a 50% scholarship, but you are still paying $12,500 every year. A $10,000/year school with no financial assistance can actually be a more wise choice.
- If you are in high school, take courses that count toward college credit. These courses are typically cheap and will eliminate the need to take them at full cost in college.
A debt-free graduation happens to those who are committed to a plan and work hard.
- Have a plan and stick to it. Create a budget that will allow you to graduate without debt, but realize that it is not just the creation of a budget that will help you reach your goal. The goal is realized through commitment.
- Be willing to live a lifestyle that is simple and cheap. Use self-control. Remember, your goal is to put money toward education costs, not the latest smartphone.
- Never stop searching for financial aid. New scholarships regularly arise. Make it a habit to check on your opportunities to secure financial assistance.
- Find companies that provide tuition reimbursement. You will probably be working while in school. Get the most out it by working for a company that covers a portion of their employees’ tuition costs.
- Work at the school. Many schools provide tuition discounts to their employees. Check to see if there are any job openings at the school.
- Determine your education tax benefits. You may be able to deduct some of your education expenses. Take full advantage of any deductions allowed by the IRS.
- Only take classes you can afford. If you find yourself needing to take on a significant debt load to pay for classes, pull back. A temporary reduction in hours is far better than the ramifications of student loan debt.
- At the same time, finish as quickly as possible. Today, the opportunity to attend school often requires significant sacrifice. You and your family can easily get burned out with the effort if your education continues to drag on. Being intentionally hurried will increase the likelihood of you leaving school with a degree in hand.
While writing this post, I sent out a question on Twitter. I wanted to know how those who graduated without debt did it. Here are a few of their responses:
— Aaron Earls (@WardrobeDoor) November 12, 2014
— Alex Melton (@melton_alex) November 12, 2014
A debt-free graduation is possible. You can avoid student loan debt. Wise decision-making and commitment are necessary for anyone to achieve this goal. Of course, if you must take on student loan debt, never take more than you need and pay it back as quickly as possible. Graduating without debt will be a tremendous benefit to you, your family, and your future ministry.