7 Steps to a Debt-Free College Degree

My last kiddo just graduated college in December. He is 19 and graduated debt-free. Not an easy task according to statistics. How did he do it?

  • 30 CLEP credits earned in grades 8-10. He took a CLEP or DSST as a “final” for each high school subject that he could. Under $1,000 for one year of credits!
  • Two years on-campus college classes in 11/12th grade through our local community college. Tuition-free with MN’s PSEO (dual enrollment) program.
  • One additional semester at that same community college. He paid cash.
  • His last year of college was completed online through a MN private Christian College. He paid cash.

No financial aid. No scholarships. Gma & Gpa’s bond (thank you!) and his part-time work covered his full 4-year degree cost of $14K. We discussed finances early on with each of our three kids, and made the same offer: We would pay for all college credits earned while they were in high school. Once graduated, their college bills were their responsibility. We set this expectation early so that they were able to make choices. It also was incentive to work towards a plan that they could afford.

A recent college grad shared that her parents paid quite a bit of her $42K a year school, so she graduated with only $26K in loans. Upon graduation, she moved back home and is employed in her field, making $14 an hour. She anticipates being debt-free in just a few years. No matter how you run the numbers, the cost and debt incurred is not sustainable.

Help your student dream beyond the temporary status of being a student and graduate debt-free. Together, work through these 7 Steps and they will be well on their way to a debt-free college degree:

1. Identify and Target Your Post-High School Career Goals.
We are all NOT created equal. Each person has natural abilities and interests. Students who align their talents and interests with best-fit careers find more joy and success in their jobs. The most potential for growth and development lies in the areas where we have natural talent. Assessments help students identify key personality traits, compelling interests, most-enjoyed skills, core values. Once you’ve narrowed your focus, investigate further with research and informational interviews.

2. Match Your Educational Pathway to Your Career Goals.
By 2020, 65% of all jobs will require education or training beyond high school. Contrary to popular opinion, not all career fields require a 4-year degree. Credentials come in all sizes: 2-year degree, 4-year degree, certification, or even experience. It’s important to do your homework and understand the credentials required to gain employment in your field of interest.

3. Make a Money Plan.
Don’t settle for an admissions-only financial plan, rather create a financial plan for completion. A college “experience” is not worth the cost if it takes a decade to pay off and closes doors upon graduation. Start by understanding the full cost of completion, and what outside monies you might receive in the form of grants and scholarships from the school you are planning to attend or community organizations. For most students, there is a financial gap. Determine how you will fund your choices. Rule of Thumb: Do not take out more in loans than what you will make in your first year of work.

4. Print Your Degree Plan Before You Begin.
Understand what it takes to complete the degree or training you want and have it in writing! Without it, many will spend extra time on campus which results in higher costs and higher dropout rates. Set a goal to complete on time.

5. Earn College Credits in High School.
Review your high school courses. Identify options to add a CLEP exam to the courses you are already studying. If your state has dual enrollment/ PSEO, do your homework and understand your options.

6. Gain the Skills Employers Are Looking For.
With so many graduates now on the market, employers will look for evidence of skills and work experience which will make you stand out from the crowd. A degree is not enough!

7. Parents, Keep Involved.
Make it a team effort. Ask your parents to stay involved. We all need a second set of eyes, sounding board, an opinion, and a different perspective. The financial cost of college is simply too great to not have someone in your corner.

Have the conversation: What do you want out of college? Many students look forward to the lifestyle, or college experience. Students will have many more choices and it is much more affordable if they can have a vision for themselves beyond college. Invest in helping them create an experience that goes beyond the college campus!

Please share this article with friends and introduce them to Credits Before College.


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© 2016 Cheri Frame. All Rights Reserved.
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