Beginning With the End in Mind: 6 Tips to Graduate Without Endless Student Debt

Getting an education is getting expensive. Many students need to go into debt to be able to afford a university or college credential with the expectation that the expense up front will be covered by future earnings. While this is generally true, as higher education tends to correlate with higher salaries, graduating with thousands of dollars in debt doesn't feel good.

It's worth noting that student loan debt is some of the best debt you can have. The interest rate is usually pretty low, and the repayment terms are much more generous than a bank would offer. If you're going to have debt of any kind, student loans are the way to go! Still, graduating with less debt is always better than more.

Luckily, there are some things you can do ahead of time to save yourself future headaches: try out this advice for graduating without substantial student loan debt.

1. Pursue a less expensive program

Some programs are more expensive than others. University tends to be more expensive than college, for example. Private universities are more expensive than public universities. Online studies may be less expensive than in-person (but not always).

So, if you have the choice, you may want to opt for a less expensive program. Look at offerings from colleges near you, or smaller, public universities, which may have similar offerings to bigger, more expensive schools.

If you haven't yet decided on a program of study, consider the trades: people like electricians, plumbers, and welders make excellent hourly wages and have a less classroom-intensive training structure, meaning you'll be earning money sooner.

2. Live at home, or with roommates

Living expenses can be one of the biggest line items in any budget. If you can live at home while studying, definitely consider it. This won't work for all students, but not having to pay rent — or just paying a token amount — can save you a ton of money over the course of your education.

Student housing, whether in residence or near campus, will almost never be as cheap as living at home! If you can't live at home, think about finding a roommate. Co-habitation is a time tested way to save money. You don't need a rommie forever, hopefully, but while you're a student is the perfect time. You may even become close friends!

3. Work like crazy

Hustle culture is everywhere, and while it's not necessarily healthy, neither is a bunch of student debt.

If you can manage it, be sure to have a part-time job during your studies. Bringing in a few hours per week, even at minimum wage, will help you cut down on the money you need to borrow.

Food service and retail are popular with students, as are things like UberEats, but you could also consider services like Fiverr or Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to pick up some cash here and there. 20 hours a week is the usual recommended maximum for students.

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4. Take surveys online

Some companies will pay you in cash or gift cards for sharing your opinion on products and services. Ipsos i-Say is one — you can take some time here and there to share your feedback and earn rewards. If you can then turn your rewards into groceries or school supplies, you'll save yourself some money in the future!

5. Buy groceries and cook — no takeout!

Admittedly, this can be tough, depending on your living situation. But cooking is a life skill that can save you a ton of money in the long run. Favour cheap and healthy staples, like brown rice, lentils, kale, and spices, and try to avoid getting takeout as much as possible. Eating at home is so much cheaper, even with rising food inflation.

6. Apply for scholarships and bursaries

If you're eligible for any financial aid from your school or elsewhere, be sure to apply!

Your school of interest will have a financial aid section of their website, laying out the scholarships and bursaries available to students. Check to see if any match you, and if so, be sure to apply before the deadline!

Not sure where you want to study yet? Browse awards on to find opportunities that appeal to you. You may discover a school or program you'd never have expected!

Scholarships and bursaries don't have to be paid back — but receiving too much can impact the amount of student loans you receive. Still, if you're trying to graduate with less debt, applying for scholarships and bursaries is a no-brainer.

If you still need to take out a loan after all this, be sure it's a registered student loan through your province. Don't go for a student line of credit unless you absolutely need to.

Most student loans have a provincial portion and a federal portion: two levels of government both kicking in cash for your education. Happily, the federal portion has no interest accruing, so when the time comes for repayment, you can focus on the provincial portion first. So even if you end up in student debt, there are ways to pay it down efficiently so you're not buried in debt for years!

Best of luck in your college or university experience!

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