One of the reasons I’ve been able to build a positive net worth quickly is because I was fortunate enough to graduate college with no student loans.
This was due to a healthy mix of luck, privilege, and hard work, so I thought I’d outline some of the ways I was able to make it happen so that you have a better picture of my journey and background.
Choosing a College
When I was applying to colleges, it was important to me that the school I chose wouldn’t send me into massive amounts of debt. I got into an out-of-state school that I wanted to go to, but even with them offering me a generous scholarship package (to the tune of $16,000 a year) it was still going to be much more expensive than any of my in-state options. So, as much as I wanted to go there, I cut it from the list.
The decision came down to my top two in-state schools I had applied to. They couldn’t have been more different. One was the state’s flagship university and promised a traditional big university experience. The other was a tiny public liberal arts college with a unique academic program and culture that promised small student-to-faculty ratios.
After going back-and-forth for a long time (and then changing my mind over the summer), I decided I was more interested in the tiny liberal arts college. My decision wasn’t based on finances, but it just so happened that the college I chose was much less expensive than the large university—and it offered me a scholarship.
This is the “lucky” part of the recipe in that I was super fortunate to live in a state that had a small liberal arts college in their public university system. I basically got a small private liberal arts college experience for less than the average price of in-state tuition. Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t have the money to go to the out-of-state college because I wouldn’t trade my small college experience for anything.
I had done well in high school and qualified for Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship, which at the time covered a couple thousand dollars per year of expenses. The college I went to provided me with a yearly scholarship as well, and I applied to a few outside scholarships and won two of them. One of the scholarships was a decent size but only applied to my freshman year, while the other was recurring for all four years as long as I remained in good academic standing.
During my first year of college, my scholarships covered all but a little over $2,000 of my tuition and board expenses. I was fortunate enough that my family was in a financial position to make up the difference.
My parents also sent me $50 per week during the school year for all four years of college to help with groceries and general living expenses.
Since my expenses were mostly covered for my first year, I didn’t have a job and focused my attention on school and my social life. After my freshman year scholarship was up though, I knew that I’d have to make up a good chunk of change. So I got to work!
In my second year, I got a job as a Resident Advisor which covered 75% of my housing costs and paid me a biweekly stipend. This alone cut my expenses so that my bill was covered by scholarships and I actually got a refund check back each semester.
My second year I continued as an RA and also started working in the school’s communications and marketing department where I did event photography, videography, editing, writing, and web updates.
At the start of my third year, I also became a tour guide in our admissions department (which was a nice fun job).
I kept each of these jobs (RA, communications, and tour guide) until I graduated.
During my fourth year, I also worked for one semester as a Teaching Assistant for a course for one semester. That meant working 4 part-time jobs while writing a thesis and being the editor of the school paper.
Do I regret that decision a little bit? Yes, yes I do. But I did it and I survived!
(As a quick disclosure: That doesn’t mean I’m telling you to work four part-time jobs in addition to school. Balancing that was a lot, to say the least, and it is definitely not the path for everyone. It’s just what worked for me.)
I also did random gig work sporadically throughout my years in college, including photography, oral history work, and babysitting over summers.
The college I chose, my scholarships, family, and jobs were all integral to me being able to graduate from undergrad debt free, and I’m incredibly grateful that that was a possibility for me.
It’s completely okay to take out loans for your education and I know folks who have put in a lot of work to pay theirs off quickly, but I’m super happy that I was able to avoid them altogether and have that head start when it came to saving.
Since my undergrad years I’ve take on a little bit of student loan debt as I began a master’s program this year, but you can read about my plan for that debt here!
What about you? Do you have student loans or no? If so do you regret them? If not, what things made that possible for you?
4 thoughts on “How I Graduated College With No Student Loans”
I stumbled across this through a Facebook rabbit hole and it was fun to read about a similar experience. I chose New College over my at the time dream school Agnes Scott because I could afford it due to Bright Futures and scholarships. I wanted to be 100% financially secure for college because I wasn’t sure how my folks would react if they found out I am queer. I graduated with no student loan debt and actually had saved 5000, mostly because I was super cheap and worked 3-4 different jobs (jack of all trades at the Ringling restaurant, marketing intern at Asoló Rep, anthro lab and Human Origins TA, nanny). Graduating with no student loan debt was a life changer for sure.
It’s awesome that you were able to save so much! It seriously is life-changing to be able to do that. Thanks for being here!
I have heard arguments for and against free college.