Education should be free, but unfortunately the costs are increasing virtually by the year. An exploding number of students, whether trustingly following well-intentioned advice, going along with the crowd, or simply feeling like they have no choice, are financing their education with student loans. I have written before about why I think this is a bad idea, and why it is, in fact, your civic duty not to take college loans. But if you have your heart set on going to college and don’t want to come out of the experience loaded up with debt, what should you do?
First understand that all education is self education, and the quality of your education comes from you. What you get out of it is proportional to what you put into it, not to how much you spend on it. By earning some credits at cheaper institutions, clepping out of classes, and taking courses over the summer, when tuition is cheaper, you can trim the fat from your educational budget. In fact, there is a program, the Do-It-Yourself Degree, designed to streamline this process for maximum time and money efficiency.
It may seem like a lot of work to take a thorough and systematic approach to acquiring scholarships, but compared to slaving away in debt for years or decades of your adult life, it’s like a little slice of heaven. By taking a determined approach to earning scholarships, any student with a decent academic record can get some or all of college paid for. There are a plethora of scholarship search engines that can assist you. However, you can’t expect grades and test scores alone to make earning scholarships a shoo-in; grades and test scores are just numbers, but what really makes you stand out and grabs the attention of scholarship selection committees is unique accomplishments. Your communication skills, particularly writing and interviewing, also play a key role.
You don’t have to go to college immediately after high school. The “best years of your life” can be spent gaining experience in any number of ways, from travelling to volunteering, networking to interning or apprenticing. From a financial perspective, putting off going to college allows you to gain a little more worldly wisdom before you make what may be one of the biggest financial decisions of your life, as well as relevant experience that can make applying for scholarships, grants, and fellowships even easier. It can also help you avoid the mistake of borrowing huge amounts of money to start on a career path that isn’t right for you. And who knows, you might even realize that there are better options for you and decide that going to college isn’t worth your time after all; just ask Bill Gates.