How to Pay for College Without Going Into Debt

So, you don’t want to have debt, huh? That’s a crazy idea…so crazy, it just might work!

For example purposes, let’s say you just graduated “This School Rocks” High School (TSRHS) and you decide to go to The University of Oklahoma (bear with me, pokes fans). The average cost for tuition and living on campus is $17,427.50, as reported by their college website, for in-state residents. Now, this number may not seem too crazy, but multiply over 4 years and you’re looking at $69,710about as much as a group permit to climb Mt. Everest (decision, decisions…).

But, where there is a will, there is a way. Use these avenues to lower your student loans and possibly even obliterate them.

1. Scholarships and Grants – If you’re like most high school students, you hate writing papers. A lot. But do you like making paper? I thought so. I cannot tell you how many times scholarship and grant foundations only receive maybe 4 or 5 applications. Some of them may have it in their budget to give out 10 scholarships and only 7 people send in an application. Translation: Everybody gets free money. If there’s a scholarship that you qualify for, whether its through your school, church, local foundation, the rotary club, etc., it is your FREE MONEY DUTY to write a paper and send it! And lots of times, you can simply tweak the same paper for multiple scholarships. I’ve known students who have been able to pay for their entire school in scholarships and grants alone*. Maybe you can be one of them.

2. Federal Grants – More free money! Filling out your FAFSA should “numero uno” in your pursuit of debt-free-ness. Federal aid, through FAFSA, is administered not only on a needs basis but one a first come-first serve basis. This means, you should fill yours out the first week of January. But Dominick, I do have my taxes done. That’s ok. There’s the option on there that you “will file.” Fill out and go back in later to change the tax numbers. This gives you an up-front spot in line and a huge boost in your chances of getting that free moolah!

3. Working and TMS – Hey! You want to be debt-free, right?? Working through college not only helps you manage your time better (since time suddenly becomes more valuable) but allows you to have some extra cash for fun. Let’s break it down. A semester at OU costs $8713.75. The minimum wage is $7.25. If you work 20 hours a week, that amounts to $2,030 per semester. While it doesn’t seem incredible, that’s nearly a quarter of your college cost – all paid for just by working. Again, it depends on how bad you want to be debt-free.

4. Living at home – I know, I know. You’ve been waiting for the chance to move away from Mom and Dad (stereotypically, at least). But what if staying with Mom and Dad meant you get an extra $8,060 per year? WHAAT?! Oh yeah. Over the course of 4 years, that’s over $32,000 you didn’t have to pay. And chances are the food is probably better too.

5. CLEP tests – A mystery to many high school graduates, CLEP tests actually let you test out of several general education classes, which means less time you have to be at college, which means less money you have to pay. Now, CLEP tests aren’t free. Usually to the tune of $80 per test, you get full credit for a course if you make a 65 or higher (this number may fluctuate a little). What does it save you? Depends on how many you pass. If you pass 5 of these, that’s a whole semester knocked out – aka $8,713.75. Not bad for $400.

So let’s see how we did!

Scholarships and Grants: Let’s say $1,500 every year for four years.

Federal Aid: The average Federal Aid received is about $3,700 peryear


Work: $4,060 per year

Living at home: $8,060 per year

CLEP test: Let’s say you pass 2. That’s a one-time savings of $396.


Total annual savings: $17,419 per year

Not bad! Now, you still have to find an extra $8.50 to pay for everything, but I think you’re creative enough. After all, you’re reading this blog.

Stay Smart.

Dominick Cooper, Director and Lead Creative Tutor of Launch Academy, DaVinci Scholar, University Guest Speaker

*By the way, good ACT/SAT scores help your scholarship chances HUGELY. Be sure to check out these easy articles on the “launch secrets” so you can maximize your score.

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