Five Tips for Graduating College DEBT-FREE 

The Best Ways to Stretch Your College Dollar

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I’m a 22-year-old senior in college and, in just a few months, I’ll be graduating without any student loans. Yes, you read that correctly. I haven’t taken out a single loan since I’ve been in college. I don’t come from a wealthy family, but between financial aid, scholarships and working non-stop, I’ve managed to remain debt-free all these years. I understand that many students have no choice but to take out some sort of loan, so I compiled five tips for keeping those loans as low as possible.

Fill Out FAFSA

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form is the first step for anyone who plans on attending college. By completing the form, students are considered for every type of financial aid that’s available. The FAFSA form takes approximately 30 minutes to complete and becomes available online January 1, 2014. To learn more about FAFSA, check out

Apply for Scholarships

I cannot stress enough how important it is for students to apply for as many scholarships/grants as possible. Over the course of my entire college career, I’ve received no less than five or six different scholarships. Five hundred dollars here and $1,000 there can really add up. Applying for scholarship after scholarship can be a bit time-consuming, but it pays off in the end. Think about it: If you win, it’s free money you don’t have to pay back.

Some useful websites include, and Also, don’t forget to check with financial aid to find out what university, as well as endowed scholarships/grants are available. For those of you who don’t know, endowed scholarships are funds that are invested through the university foundation every year, and 4 percent of the money is set aside to put toward the scholarships.

Rent or Purchased Used Textbooks

It’s no secret that college bookstores are a rip off. During my first two years in college, I spent roughly $500 on textbooks each semester. I’ve now reduced that amount to about $95 each semester thanks to websites like and These companies offer affordable textbook rentals and free return shipping at the end of the semester.

In addition to renting textbooks, I recommend buying used copies, as well as older editions — with the approval of your professor, of course. Believe it or not, I once purchased a used, older edition of a textbook for a penny on, another great website for finding great deals on textbooks.

At the end of each semester, be sure to sell back the textbooks you no longer need — using any of the websites I mentioned earlier.

Work Overtime During the Summer

As a college student, it can be a real challenge balancing classes, work and extracurricular activities — not to mention your social life. Squeezing more hours into an already hectic schedule is often unrealistic, especially during the fall/winter semesters. That’s why many students, myself included, work extra hours during the spring/summer semesters — I normally take on anywhere from 35-40 hours per week. I use the extra money I earn to help pay a portion of the tuition for the upcoming fall semester.

Don’t Take MoreThan You Need

And last but not least, if you find yourself having to take a loan or two, don’t make the mistake of accepting all of what you’re offered right off the bat. Borrowing only what you need, and not what you’re offered, is the best way to go. Oftentimes students may not need the entire amount and could possibly receive a refund later in the semester.

Princess Gabbara is a former Metro Times editorial intern and will soon earn her bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University.

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