How to Save Money For College and Graduate Debt Free

Student loans are one of the largest sources of consumer debt in the US. That means there are a lot of young people with some very big bills to pay. Unfortunately, if you get saddled with student debt, the interest you’ll be charged makes it much harder to pay back than it would have been to save the money before college. If you want to get a great start in life, graduating debt-free should be a high priority. It’s very possible with a bit of planning, and by developing some good habits. Below are 14 tips on how to save money for college. We’ve listed how to save money for college in high school, between high school and college, and while you’re at college.

How to save money for college in high school

The best time to start saving money for college is in high school. Elementary school is even better! If you’re thinking far enough ahead to be able to save money for college before you have to go to college, these first 5 saving tips are for you.

1. Start saving for college early

The earlier you start saving money for college, the easier it will be to graduate debt free. As soon as you can put money into a bank account, you should be saving money for college. Bonus points here if you open a high interest savings or term-deposit account. These give you higher interest rates on the money you save. Locking your savings away also stops you from using them before it’s time to pay for college.

2. Get a job

To earn more money in high school, get a job as soon as you can. If you’re too young to legally work in your state, you might still be able to get a casual job delivering newspapers or similar. Also, ask around your neighbourhood to see if you can do some paid errands for your neighbours. Dog walking, lawn mowing, and car cleaning need to be done by someone!

3. Work summer jobs

In the months before summer vacation, hustle and find some summer work. A couple of months of solid employment could mean thousands of dollars’ worth of savings you would never have time for while school was in. Just be sure to save the money you earn. Don’t blow everything you make, you’re saving money for college after all!

4. Get good grades in high school

The better your high school grades are, the easier it will be for you to get academic scholarships when it’s time to go to college (see point 9). The people who give out college scholarships will like you a lot more if you can prove you’re a hard-working, smart student. If you really ace this point you might even get a full scholarship, and not have to pay for college at all!

5. Earn college credit in high school with Prior Learning Assessments

If you know what college course you want to do, ask your school councillor about Prior Learning Assessments, or PLAs. These are tests you can do fairly cheaply, and many colleges will give you credit for them. While they can save you thousands of dollars before you even get to college, they’re not an easy way to get credit. You’ll still need to pass the tests, which means doing a lot of study on your own time!

How to save money for college between high school and college

Once you’re out of high school, the opportunities to save money for college ramp up, but so do your deadlines! Whether you’ve been able to save money for college in high school or not, here are a couple of ways you can save between high school and college.

6. Take a gap year after high school

Taking a gap year between high school and college has some big benefits, even when you put savings aside. You’ll be more mature and experienced when you get to college, and be less likely to burn out. You’ll also likely do much better in college than you would have if you went straight from high school. To save as much money for college as possible and graduate debt free, work as much as you can during your gap year, rather than travel or party. An example: If you get a job that pays $50,000 a year and save most of it, that could be enough to pay for an entire degree at a public college. Even at a more expensive school, it could easily pay for your first few semesters.

7. Live on a budget

In order to get the most out of your earnings, live within your means. That means making a budget, living frugally, and sticking to your good saving habits. Living at home, making your own meals, and limiting your nights out will all help you save more money for college.

How to save money for college…by paying less for it

There are several clever ways to reduce your college tuition fees. Spend some time on these tips and graduating debt free will be a lot easier.

8. Pick the right college

You don’t have to go to a private college. All things being equal, the lifetime earning potential of private college grads is around 10% more than public college grads. That might sound like a lot, but you’ll still live a very happy life with a public college graduate salary. There’s a bit of a selection bias here. People who can afford to go to private colleges are probably people already likely to earn more than average. So, if you’re able to choose between a private or public college, you’re probably the sort of person who’d do fine at a public college.

9. Find a scholarship – or find a few!

College scholarships are a god send for many a struggling student. If you can find an organisation or government body that will pay for some of your college education, you don’t need to save as much money to be able to graduate debt free! There are thousands of scholarships for all kinds of people. Get searching and find which ones you’re eligible for, then apply for all of them! Don’t just do this in your first year of college. Repeat it every single semester and see what you can come up with.

10. Check your eligibility for aid programs

If you’re from a low income or otherwise disadvantaged background, look into local, state, and federal aid that might be available for you. Just like scholarships, these programs are there to help you, and will make graduating from college a whole lot easier.

11. Ask your family to help pay your way

Your family wants what’s best for you, and they might be willing to help you with your college tuition if they have the capacity. By giving you a good start in life they’re paying it forward, and it might just benefit them in the future too. It can be an awkward conversation to ask your family members for money to pay for college, but it’s one worth having.

How to save money for college once you’re at college

To graduate debt free, your hard work needs to continue after you start college. It’s all well and good to pay for your first year without taking out a loan, but if you have to go into debt to get through the rest of your studies, graduating debt free will be a lot more difficult.

12. Keep working while you study

Don’t stop working while you’re at college. The more hours you can work, the more dollars you can put towards your next semester’s tuition fees. Just make sure you don’t do it at the expense of your studies – see point 14 for more on that. This applies to your vacation time too. Instead of going home and relaxing, or travelling between semesters, take on extra work to earn more money for your next round of courses.

13. Study part time

Studying part time means taking two or three courses per semester instead of the usual four. It gives you more time to work, while still giving you enough time to study. If you’re organised, it’s possible to work full time while studying part time, especially if you can take night or remote classes. This will increase the amount of time it’ll take to finish your course, and you may not be able to live on campus if you’re not a full time student. You’ll have to make that decision yourself. Remember, you can switch between full and part time study each semester.

14. Don’t fail courses

This might seem obvious, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. Many an unwary student has put in so many hours at work that they didn’t have the time to get a passing grade. If this happens, you’ll still be paying for the courses you fail. That’s a waste of money and will increase the amount of time you’ll need to be at college. Make sure you put in enough study time to pass all your courses. That way, you’ll never have to re-take a course unnecessarily.

Saving money to graduate debt free: Possible, but not essential

If you follow these savings tips, it’s really not difficult to graduate from college debt free, especially if you start saving money for college while you’re still in high school. Just remember – it’s not the end of the world if you have to take out a student loan. There’s no shame in it. If you follow the tips we’ve laid out, you’ll almost certainly reduce the amount you’ll need to go into to debt. If you’re able to stay out of debt completely, awesome! If not, you’ll still be in a better position that you would have been otherwise.

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