How to Avoid Debt as a College Student

Three Methods:Preparing Through Smart Financial DecisionsGetting Financial SupportLiving Debt-Free at College

Being a debt free college student is everyone's dream. Why would you want to be in debt when you could follow these simple steps?

Method 1
Preparing Through Smart Financial Decisions

  1. Image titled Be a Debt Free College Student Step 2
    Open a bank account. Save $100-200 dollars per month from the age of 14 on. This adds up to $4,800-9,600 by the time you turn 18. If you're already in college, choose a bank with ATMs on or near campus so you don't have to pay extra fees withdrawing money from another bank's ATMs.
  2. Image titled Be a Debt Free College Student Step 3
    Keep track of account balances. Use mobile banking or an app to help to prevent costly overdraft fees.
  3. Image titled Be a Debt Free College Student Step 4
    Work during the summers and after school to save for college.
  4. Image titled Be a Debt Free College Student Step 5
    Set definite savings goals and stick to them. Saving now (when you have 10 to 15 years of possible earnings on your investments) means you can have more to spend when you're in college.
  5. 5
    Make good grades in high school. Take both the ACT/SAT, and use the highest score to your college application. Higher GPAs and ACT/SAT scores are typically eligible for more scholarships then lower performing students.
  6. 6
    Plan carefully what career field you want to be trained in and start looking at colleges early. One of the best ways to save money while paying for college is to find an inexpensive community college to begin your studies. You can transfer to another school (or schools) after the first two years when the general education part of your degree is completed. This can save you thousands of dollars in tuition each year. The average cost of a community college per year is $2,272 compared with $5,836 for a four-year college, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
  7. 7
    Consider less expensive colleges. Remember, in-state schools are usually less expensive than out-of state; public schools are less expensive than private schools. Compare total cost (tuition and housing) to financial aid packages before choosing.
    • Consider going to community college. Take general courses and transfer those credits to a 4-year institution, saving you money and reducing student loan debt.
    • Consider taking summer classes at community college. Only do so if it cheaper to take the class at community college than it is to do so at your college. You may need a Letter of Good Standing from your college to do so. Also, make sure the summer course will transfer back to your main 4-year institution
  8. Image titled Be a Debt Free College Student Step 6
    Plan to work while you're in college. Working while in school has been shown to help with grades, as long as the hours worked don't exceed about 20 per week. Think about what part time work you enjoy doing and learn the skills now to do it. Typing, word processing, office skills, waiting tables, caring for children (in a babysitting or child care mode) all can help pay for expenses while you're in college.

Method 2
Getting Financial Support

  1. Image titled Be a Debt Free College Student Step 1
    Apply for every scholarship that you are eligible for. Never think that you are not going to win. If the guidelines say that you are eligible, then apply.
  2. 2
    Send in college application before Early-Decision deadline. Depending on the college, this is usually November 1st or December 1st. By applying before Regular Decision, you become eligible for a larger range of scholarships granted by the institution.
  3. 3
    Complete the FAFSA. This stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Depending on your family's financial position, you may be eligible for grants, low-interest loans, and work-study. Don't wait too long. Otherwise, your institution may run out of funds, leaving you with nothing even if you were eligible for a certain amount.
  4. 4
    Don't be afraid to ask your parents. Most likely, you are probably still dependent on your parents. Just ask them for money or assistance when you find yourself in trouble to avoid making a bad situation worse. In return, remember to call home sometimes

Method 3
Living Debt-Free at College

  1. Image titled Be a Debt Free College Student Step 7
    Live simply. While in college try to eat inexpensively and not eat out too much. Remember that fast food restaurants are not cheaper than the grocery store and look after your health by eating well.
  2. 2
    Use your meal plan to its fullest, if you have one. Most colleges require those who live on campus to buy a meal plan. Use to-go boxes to take food from dining halls to eat later, especially if it can be stored easily.
  3. Image titled Be a Debt Free College Student Step 8
    Don't have parties; go to parties. Keep them simple. A potluck with friends can be just as fun or more fun than eating at a noisy, crowded restaurant.
  4. 4
    Don't take a car to college. By doing so, you avoid having to pay for gas, maintenance, or parking. Plus, not bring a car keeps you closer to campus. Instead, use cheaper modes of transportation such as waking, biking, and public transportation. This is easier to do in more urban cities
  5. 5
    Consider buying used or rental books. Used or rental books are cheaper than new. Compare prices those from Chegg, Amazon, and your school bookstore. Or, you can buy or share books with a friend. Sell back used textbooks after you are done with them.
  6. 6
    If living off-campus, split rent with other roommates. Try to pick apartments that include appliances. Unlike on-campus dorms, off-campus housing are usually cheaper (depending on the city) and don't require you to buy a meal plan. Just make sure that you don't live too far from campus and factor in grocery cost
  7. 7
    If you must buy groceries, consider stores with lower prices such as Walmart or Kroger (using a savings card). Stock up on storable "dorm food" that don't require appliances such as cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, granola bars,Ramen noodles, crackers, peanut butter or hazelnut spread. Save even more money by taking some food, drinks, or condiments to-go from dining halls.
  8. 8
    If living on-campus, pick a housing option you can afford. Check your university's housing options and rates. Doubles-rooms are usually cheaper than single or suite-style, but also means less room and privacy. Weigh pros and cons before choosing.


  • Community colleges also offer short-term training(six months to a year) in in-demand fields that can help you get a higher paying job while working your way through college. Earn a certificate in a field such as health care, computers or chemical lab technician along with your two-year degree before you go on to your university.
  • Apply for scholarships. Don't assume you won't qualify. Most colleges offer a variety of scholarships based on various criteria which may include academics, financial need or program of study.
  • If you reach college age without having enough savings to cover your education, consider working and saving before you start instead of following the usual path of going right from high school into college. Or train for something that pays well but doesn't take long to train into, trades like commercial driving can put you into a good situation to go on to college later if you live frugally and save up for it.
  • Ask about other sources of financial assistance. Many colleges have programs or grants to help students who are the first in their families to attend college, low-income, students with disabilities or dislocated workers.
  • Consider teaching in public schools for a while. There used to be a program that student loans were completely forgiven if you teach in public schools for five years. An education certificate can make the difference between carrying debt or not, but you have to be capable of working within the school system. Try volunteering before considering this option, if you're not cut out for it you may be setting yourself up for serious debt. There may also be grants for becoming a teacher. That is a commitment to living on a lower income than you'd expect in comparable jobs and working long hours with dedication, so be sure you understand all that career involves before taking this step.


  • If you take out student loans to pay for college, avoid taking out the maximum amount available. You could end up making $100 per month payments after graduation for every $10,000 you take out in loans.

Sources and Citations

  • Sallie Mae Be Debt Smart Resources - Resources and tips on planning for college, credit and debt management in school and loan repayment after graduation.

Article Info

Categories: Budgeting and Financial Aid for College