Friday, October 4, 2013

how to live within your means: college without a single loan

I'm not sure if you know this about me, but I have a college degree.

Say whaaa?? "You stay home with your kids and haven't worked in years! I never knew! Why don't you use it?"

I know that's what you're thinking, so I just said it for you. There, it's out there. I went to college. I spent 5 years working toward a bachelor degree. It's in Psychology. Okay, that probably answers the "why don't you use it?" question. Because we all know that a BA is useless without at least a Master's Degree. Amiright?

But no, that actually isn't the reason I don't use it. I honestly never planned to use it. But I made a promise to my father before I got married that I would finish school. And I like to follow through on commitments, even if it's hard to do.

And now that I'm totally off topic, let's refocus. The purpose of this post is to share ways to go to school without getting a loan.

I did not take out a single college loan.

I don't say that to brag. In fact, I usually don't ever bring it up. But I do say it now just to show that I have some experience in this area.

My first year of college was paid for by my parents. They did take out a loan, but we won't talk too much about that, only to say: parents, don't ever ever ever do that for your kids! I know, I probably sound harsh and mean but it's true! No one should be borrowing money for education whether it be your's or your childrens'.

At the very end of my second semester, I got married. Like, 2 weeks before the end of my semester. When Ben sought my father's permission to ask for my hand in marriage, my dad made it very clear that not only would he now be financially responsible for me finishing school, but that I was expected to finish school. Ben agreed. And from that point on, we were completely on our own when it came to tuition.

How did we pay for my education? The simple answer: I only went to school when we had the money. If we didn't have the means for me to go, I didn't. If we did, then I went. And over the course of 5 years, I finished my degree.

Here are my tips to getting an education without loans. All of them are from personal experience.

take AP classes in high school or clep out of classes when possible
I took 3 AP classes (and I barely passed 2 of the tests). The tests costed $79 each. That is a giant savings when considering how much tuition would have been for each one of those classes. Also, although I have never cleped out of a class myself, it is definitely an option. Again, these tests are $80. Huge savings!

when you can, go to community college
I attended my first year at a university. It was nice, I guess. But it wasn't necessary. If there is a community college near you, go there! Get all of your pre-req's out of the way and save a ton of money doing it. I think my first semester at community college for 15 credits was under $500. I know that will vary depending on state, county and city, but compared to a university, it will be so much cheaper.

go where you will get in-state tuition
If you can, don't go to school in a state where you don't have residency. It's so ridiculously expensive to do this. If for some reason you have to go to school somewhere that you don't qualify for in-state tuition (you got married and moved, your family moved, etc), then consider living in that state and working full-time and saving for school to earn your residency. Then start school. Will this take longer? Yes. Will it save you a ton of money? Yes.

fill out your FAFSA every year
While there have been years that we didn't get any aid, there have definitely been years that we did. And while I'm not a huge fan of federal aid, there are times when we do need it. But, watch out on this one. Don't accept loans offered to you, whether they are subsidized or subsidized. Both are loans. Both are you borrowing money from someone. And both require you to pay back every penny that you borrow plus interest. Grants, however, are aid that are not required to be paid, nor do they incur interest.

apply for scholarships all the time
This one was difficult for me. I don't qualify for most scholarships. Without sounding too hard on myself, there isn't much that is "special" about me. I don't play a sport, my grades are average, and I don't have any special talents. Let's be honest, there's not a whole lot out there in the way of scholarships for the average Joe. But that doesn't mean there aren't scholarships available to us. You just have to search, talk to people, meet with someone in the financial aid/scholarship department at your school, think about what really does separate you from others and search for scholarships based on that. And if you qualify for any scholarships, apply.

I received a scholarship just one semester. It was a scholarship for military enlisted wives, given by officer wives. It was a simple application process. I filled out the application, compiled a resume and wrote an essay. And guess what, I got it! And what an incredible blessing it was for that one semester. All I can say is, you never ever know. So just give it a try.

work during the semester and pay with the cash you earn
I did this during a summer semester. I hadn't worked in a couple years, but I needed to get 3 classes out of the way and summer was the perfect time. I got a job on campus as a student worker and paid for my classes using the money I earned. Obviously if you're already working, this one won't apply, but it's "pay for school as you go" in it's simplest form.

join the military
I know, you're like "Woah! She just said that!" This one is obviously a big giant commitment, but it's not unrealistic for some people. There are training programs within some branches and there are a bunch of career fields within the military that will pay you while you go to school and are on active duty. You can also consider the option of the ROTC program. This means you go to school during the year and the military pays. During the summer you go for training. Then, depending on the program you are going through, you have to give so many years on the backside to basically pay them back for paying your tuition. And then there is the GI Bill. If you serve active duty for your contract, you earn GI benefits. You'll go to school while the VA pays your tuition and also pays you a book allowance and housing allowance. This is how my husband, who served 8 years in the Marine Corps is currently making his way through school.

pray for direction and provision
While all the other tips I've shared can be considered "practical advice," I don't think there is one single tip more important than this one. Consider that maybe the Lord doesn't have "college education" on the list of His provisions for you. That probably sounds crazy, but it could be true. Really, pray about that.

If He is clearly calling you to get a college education, then seriously pray about it. Pray about the school He would have you attend. Pray about the degree program He wants you in. Pray that He would provide for you every single step of the way. Pray about what ministries or student groups you should be involved in on campus. And be sensitive to His guiding. If you are at school at His calling, He has a purpose for you while you are there and once you finish your degree. He also has a way for you to pay for school without going into debt. Because, God would never call you into debt. That would be contrary to scripture.

I feel like I need some deep, meaningful conclusion here. But I don't have one. In the end, I really just hope that this post is helpful and causes serious consideration about when it's "okay" to be in debt, and shows that debt is not as necessary as we are made to believe. Because it's not. Can I also just say, when something is of the Lord, when it's truly a calling from Him, he will provide. It is not difficult for Him to do so. No debt required. Trust Him.


  1. Great ideas, Jessi! I had the choice to go to a more well-known private university and take out loans or go to a local (but still wonderful) school in my hometown on a full scholarship. I had my heart set on the expensive school but I ended up going with my local university and it was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. It was so freeing to come out of school without debt!

  2. And don't forget your scholarships from GSofA. Paid for books.

  3. Love the IF God calls you to be in college clause... I feel like we have made higher ed such an idol in our culture and some people are not meant to go... It's a waste of their time, their parents' money and doesn't actually train them to use their talents and gifts. So sick of the everyone "deserves" access to college agenda!

  4. My parents taught us three things about college. 1) You have to go. 2) You have 6 siblings, we aren't paying for college. 3) You can't get loans.

    So that's what we're doing! I was very blessed with a 97% free education due to scholarships--and I lived in my grandparents in order to not have to pay dorm fees. My brother and sister are currently living with relatives and taking the strategy of going to community college, applying for scholarships, and working their butts off in order to pay for it themselves. AP classes weren't really an option for us because of the complications of being homeschooled overseas (it probably could be done, somehow...) but I think it's an excellent idea to get cheap college credit if you can.
    My husband had never been taught anything about not getting in debt, so he took every loan that was offered and graduated with about 25K in loans. However, by that time he realized it was a bad idea, so he lived with his parents and worked 60 hr. weeks and paid off his loans in a year so that we could get married with no debt. And that I'm very grateful for!