How I Graduated College Debt-Free

A large measure of my success is because I’m lucky. I’m lucky to have been born when and where I was born, into the family I was born into, and so on and so forth. My family’s definitely had some hardships, but we’ve never been wanting for anything. I’m also a white male, which means I probably have it easier than most. I wanted to acknowledge these facts, so keep those in mind, but now let’s move on to talking about what I did to manage my finances in college and graduate debt-free.

In general, the way I avoided debt in college was this:

  • I chose a college with pretty low tuition costs
  • I got good grades (and a good ACT score)
  • I worked

Let’s go in order of that list.

First, I went to a college with low tuition costs: Brigham Young University (BYU). Their tuition for full tithe-paying members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ridiculously low. We’re talking $3/3.5K per semester, so less than 7 thousand bucks a year for full-time undergraduate students. It really helps to go to a university with low tuition costs. BYU is constantly ranked as one of the best value higher education institutions, so keep that in mind when you’re looking at colleges.

Next, I got good grades (and a good ACT score). The first 3 semesters at BYU I got a half tuition academic scholarship based on my high school GPA/ACT (I had a 3.9 GPA and got a 32 on the ACT). The last 4 semesters of my undergrad I got full tuition academic scholarship based on my GPA at BYU. So basically I got good enough grades at BYU to make the cut-off for full tuition.

I must say, half tuition was alright, but full tuition was awesome.

Finally, I worked. I needed money. I got a job at Jiffy Lube right when I moved up to Provo. I worked there for about a year and a half. It was good to learn a few things about car maintenance and customer service. But it was also good because I needed to pay the rent, foot the grocery bill, and come up with the other half of the tuition, which was about 3K a year. My first semester of college was pretty easy, so I worked 28-30 hours a week. Most of the time after that I worked significantly less (15-20 hours a week), but I did what I had to to pay for my expenses and not dig myself into a financial hole.

I left Jiffy Lube to go work in the laundry at the Provo City Center Temple. It was awesome. I got really good at folding pants, socks, slips, nylons, and more. (I also got paid like 2 or 3 dollars more per hour).

After six months, I got a job working on the content for language learning software through a friend of a friend. That paid another 2 or 3 dollars an hour more per hour. A few months went by and I finagled my way into a computer programming job working on the language learning software, and I got a raise for that as well.

I’ll stop there, since the point of this is that I always had a job, I was always working. I never stopped working just so I could concentrate on my school work. I know that might work for some people if their parents are paying for their school, or they were smart and saved enough to live on during school. Working was a necessity for me if I wanted to continue going to school and living in my apartment and eating my food.

Besides low tuition, another thing to consider is the difficulty (and length) of your major. My major - Spanish translation - is pretty easy when compared to other majors like mechanical engineering or exercise science. It also only had 37 required credit hours, which means I finished rather quickly while still having space in my class schedule to pursue other interests (e.g. a minor in computer science, which is what I did).

So there you have it. In summary:

  • Find a college with lower tuition costs.
  • Get good grades (in high school and college).
  • Work - get a job (or two).
  • Also, choose an easy major if you can; otherwise, don’t.

There’s my not-so-expert advice, but it’s the best I’ve got.

Created August 22, 2020