How I Graduated From College Completely Debt-Free

I’ve always dreamed of earning multiple degrees and having the ultimate college experience. But I’m also realistic and knew that my dreams would come at a cost. I don’t come from a wealthy family and I’ve seen what living with debt looks like. I wanted to study the Humanities and let’s be honest, those majors are not making bank after college.

So I’m going to share with you exactly how I got two degrees (Associates and Bachelors) without owing any money.

Photographer: Kelly Lodge

Photographer: Kelly Lodge

Attend and graduate from community college

Going to community college wasn’t my first choice and my mom basically had to bribe me into going. But it was the best decision I have ever made. Community colleges are filled with scholarship money. There were five full-ride scholarship programs offered by my community college and a handbook full of other smaller scholarships. I was fortunate enough to receive a full-ride scholarship, which covered my tuition, fees and books for four semesters, as long as I maintained a 2.5 GPA and performed a certain amount of community service hours.

Apply for departmental scholarships

During my final semester at community college (end of Sophomore year) I saw a flyer for a Humanities honors scholarship. The requirements were that I had to have taken 7 courses in either History, English, Political Science, Sociology or Political Science, a 3.0 GPA and been accepted to a four-year university. After writing a short essay and submitting my transcript, I received it! That $1,500 scholarship helped me cover my fees for my four-year institution.

Apply for state transfer scholarships

If you attend a community college, almost all have partnerships with flagship institutions for transferring students. Not only was I granted guaranteed admissions but I received different transfer scholarship offers. I had proven that I was good student and could handle college level coursework at this point. I ended up receiving a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Maryland. Back when I graduated from high school, UMD didn’t offer me any scholarship money at all. (It’s funny how things work).

Ask family to pay for summer classes instead of gifts

None of my scholarships covered summer or winter classes. I was super determined to graduate in four years so I knew I had to take classes year round. Instead of asking for birthday or Christmas gifts, I asked my family to help pay for my classes instead.

Get books from the library

When I transferred to UMD, I didn’t have a book stipend anymore. I would register for my classes early and ask the professor for the required reading list. I would then reserve the book at my college’s library. Usually if there’s no one else requesting the book then you can renew it multiple times. The majority of my History classes required older books so the edition of the book was never an issue.

My final thoughts

Graduating debt-free was not easy. I sacrificed a lot. I didn’t get to have that Freshman experience living on a campus and instead of going on summer vacations, I was in a classroom. But was it worth it? Hell yes! Not having student loans is a weight that isn’t on my shoulders. And that’s priceless. 

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