How to Get Your Degree Without the Debt


We’re in the middle of the Dog Days of summer and that means school is about to be back in session. When I graduated from high school in 2008 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or where I wanted to go to college, which is polar opposite from most of my classmates.

It seemed like everyone I talked to had already applied to colleges in September or October and knew where they were going by February. Most of them were going away to college or chose to live in the dorms on campus if they were staying in town.

I chose to go to the local state college for my first two years of college and then transfer to the local university (which just so happens to be the 2nd largest university in the nation) and live at home throughout college. Personally, I wanted to have fun during college and stay out of debt.

So what did my friends end up paying if they decided to live on campus throughout college and were able to graduate in four years?

According to College Data, the average expenses for only one year of college is $22,261, but let’s just use round numbers and say $22,000, which means four years of college is going to set you back about $88,000. That’s for a public college, which means a private college would be even more expensive! So where does all that money go? Here’s a brief breakdown of expenses for in-state students going to a public college.


This is what most people think of when it comes to college. A moderate estimate would be about $5,000 for only two semesters as an in-state student at a public college. That’ll end up costing $20,000 at the end of four years. However, if you chose to go to a state college for your first two years, you’d be looking at about $2,100 for two semesters. You’ll end up saving $5,800 if you went to a state college (where you’d take the same exact classes that you’d be taking at a university)


It sounds like colleges are looking to get all your money with these fees, but the $3,700 they’re charging you are used to pay for all the “free” services on campus. Usually there’s free printing, free computer labs, and if you’re involved with student activities, you’ll know that SGA (Student Government Association) has a budget. That’s where all these fees go. They’re unavoidable, so while you’re at college, take advantage of all these “free” services; you’re paying for them.

Housing and Meals

Your room and board cost is going to be different depending on what dorm and meal plan you choose. A good round number to keep in mind is $9,200. Whoa, that’s more than tuition and fees combined! You can choose to rent an apartment, which will be a little cheaper, but you still have to eat. The university will gladly sell you a meal plan or you can go to the grocery store yourself. If you choose to live at home and go to the local state college and university, you could potentially be saving $36,800 by living at home for all four years that is if your parents don’t charge you rent and still let you eat their food.

Book and School Supplies

There’s no way to learn without the proper tools and books are still the way to learn. There’s no avoiding the average expense of $1,200 a year. However, you can reduce that cost by buying your books used and online.

Personal and Transportation

This is an expense in which you can control. The average cost is about $2,900 per year and can be reduced if you really wanted to. This includes gas, sporting events, club expenses, etc. Remember, you still want to have fun in college, so don’t make yourself miserable by not having any fun.

How do you pay for all this?

Grants and Scholarships

These are two great ways to pay for college. Grant money is free money that’s awarded to you and that you never have to pay back. Scholarships, you typically have to work for by getting good grades, being a good athlete and playing a sport in college, etc. Again, you never have to pay back scholarship money

Student Loans

These are the worst types or repayment and I say to avoid these about 95% of the time. The only time where I think it’s somewhat all right to take out a student loan is if you’re studying to be a doctor or a lawyer. If you choose to take out a student loan, you have to pay back that money with interest. They’re awesome while you’re in college since you don’t have to pay it back, but six months after graduation you have to start making those monthly payments. And what happens if you don’t get a job right out of college?


No one ever said that you can’t work while you’re in college. One way to do it is pay-as-you-go. That means, if you have a job and can only comfortably afford to take two classes per semester, then only take two classes per semester. It’ll take a little longer to finish, but you won’t have any student debt.

As you can see, one of the easiest ways to save money is to live at home for all four years and start out at a state college. This plan will save you $12,100 in the first two years and $48,900 over four years.

A college education is irreplaceable, but it isn’t something you can go into debt over for the exact same degree you can get at a local university. Something to keep in mind is that a college education is a tool, not an investment. It’s a tool to help you get a good job, but doesn’t guarantee you a job, so there’s really no point to go into debt over something that’s not even a guarantee.

It may not be glamorous to live at home during college and to start out at a state college, but it’s worked for me. I’m now 23 years old, am debt free, with a full-time job, and still live at home. It may not sound fun, but it actually is because I have don’t have to worry about as many bills, I get to save more money, and I can go on more trips with my friends. I’d choose that life over stressing about how I’m going to be making my next rent or student loan payment.

About Justin Fricke: Hey there! I’m a 23-year-old recent college graduate from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!) holding down a 9-5. I always find time for new adventures at night and on the weekends and you can read all about them on my blog The Weekend Warrior. I hope you’ll stop by and say hello!

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