Everything You Need To Do To Graduate With No Debt
While education is the one of the most valuable things you can invest in, it’s almost one of the most costly. And there is a line that makes it not worth it.So how did I manage to travel to 5 continents and pay off my student debt before I graduate? A lot of work. There’s no glamorous way to say it, but it’s possible and the sooner you start, the better. And I would like to preface this by saying this is 100% my experience. Everyone is in different financial and personal situations. I understand that travel is a luxury and not everyone has the family or financial circumstances to act upon all of these tips but I do hope some of it is helpful.
- My Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Minor in Psychology with Co-op Option
- School: The University of British Columbia, Canada
- Living Situation: Lived at Home; Canadian/Local Student
- Time frame: 5.5 Years (for a 4 year degree – so worth it)
- Tuition (with student fees but excluding books and supplies): $26, 388.66
- Scholarships and Bursaries: $14,050
- Total paid: $12,388.66
1. DO YOUR RESEARCH
If you aren’t sure about what to choose – don’t get yourself into more than you can handle. If you’ve wanted to be a doctor since you were 5 and love science and all that jazz, by all means go for what you’re passionate about. But if you’re unsure, even a little, give yourself the breathing room to grow and take general courses or work experience if you need to before doing 3 years of an undergrad in Sciences just to realize Med school is just for you. We all have internet, so here are some questions to think about when looking at a career option:
- What is a realistic salary? Does it justify the cost of the degree? Most people will not make 6 figures after graduation so how long will it take for you to pay it back? Make a mock payment plan – is it worth it? I know some people in their 40s still paying off student loans.
- What does the job market look like for that position? There are some fields more saturated than others. Fields like computer science and triads are actually quite competitive because they are always needed. You don’t have to think about the future job market as much as the skill set acquired. If you love Sciences, there are many options besides research and being a doctor, nursing, consultancy, private sector are there as well, just look at what the skillset required and cover your foundation bases first.
- Most importantly, does this fit your geographical needs? Looking at a ball-park figure salary is great, but salaries and opportunities vary across the country from big cities to small towns – would you be willing to move? I’ll go back to the doctor example, most big cities already have enough doctors, but small towns need them more, is that something you’re willing to do?
I did a relatively cheap degree. I know the prices of American schools are a lot higher and European schools are free so Canada is somewhere in the middle (excluding Quebec). There was definitely pressure and opportunities elsewhere and at a young age, you want the best. But really you’re undergrad is not that important and going into 6 figure debt will not be worth it.
2. TAKE YOUR TIME & CONTINUE TO LOOK AT ALL THE OPTIONS
You do not have to decide what to do for the next 40 years when you’re 18. It’s okay to change your mind, even after all that research. I did 5.5 years on a 4 year degree because I took time to do co-ops and travel while studying in between. And I didn’t regret a second of it.
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, and I hated being asked that question. Here’s a secret of adulthood: No one knows what they are really doing. We all just fake it until we’ve got some resemblance of a career. I’m am especially a huge advocate of co-op and internships to help you decide. But make sure you make the most of them!
I’ve worked in every industry you can imagine, things I didn’t even realize exist. Unless you’re 100% sure of what you want (and even if you are), make sure you’re not putting all your eggs into one basket when choosing your specialization. It’s okay to change your mind, it’s actually very normal. What makes it difficult is if you dedicated 4 years to nothing but one topic and learned no other skills. Look at all the options and continually keep that in mind. Remember, if you go through a year or two of a degree and realize you hate it and it’s not for you, it’s easier to change your mind at 21, than 41. Boom, 20 years saved.
3. NO MATTER WHAT THE JOB, WORK DURING YOUR DEGREE
Unless you’re going into academia, school is not enough. Most employers want to see some kind of work experience on your resume as a new graduate. I never had difficulty finding work after graduation, even though my grades were average. Not one employer (other than one from co-op) has ever asked me for my transcript or grades. I’m sure it’s different for other fields, but every employer has been much more interested in my work experience.
I got a job during university as a weekend/holiday receptionist for a travel agency. I started at one day a week, and gradually learned enough to work full-time it summer times in the Customer Care department and assisted with other special projects along the way with Marketing. I know it’s easy to feel like you don’t have enough time to do everything and the time management is hard. But just because you’re not a complete adult yet, doesn’t mean you need to shy away from responsibility. It makes it a lot easier down the road.
Psstt…. this is also the secret to graduating with job experience!
4. APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS AND BURSARIES
I know, I hate doing scholarship applications. They are a lot of work and can be some be very disappointing. Writing essays and getting references on top of your already hectic schedule is a lot. I completely understand it. But they can pay off.
Also, look into government bursaries and subsidies depending on your family’s financial situation. Especially if you’re struggling to pay for school, look into your local options.
I got good grades in high school, but a genius I was not. I took out student loans purely for that fact that I would be eligible for bursaries. When you say you’re on student loans, you’re financial situation has already been assessed and sometimes there’s scholarships designed specifically for financial need.
5. PRIORITIZE WHAT YOU WANT
Very few people can “have it all.” If you want to pay off student debt, you’ll have to make sacrifices. If you want to go to the most expensive school, and live on campus with lots of social activities, that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with wanting that if you have the financial means or are willing to pay them down the road. But most of us don’t.
I didn’t live on campus. I sat on transit (bus/train/bus) 3 hours (there and back) everyday to go the school I wanted and lived at home to save money. I considered living on campus but the housing costs were higher than my tuition and I simply could not afford it. So I sucked it up and learned how to study on the bus. Looking back, it was ridiculous but it has made every single commute since that day easier. Now I commute 20 mins to work and I think it’s too short because I used to reply to texts, emails, catch up things on the bus and now I have to find that time elsewhere.
Know yourself. To some, it may seem like a lot and that they want the “full university experience.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it comes at a huge cost – in the amount of student loans that you can spend a decade paying off. I instead used that money to save and travel the world.
The feeling of no debt at the end of the degree far outweighed the cost of a long commute for me. And frankly, I completely disagree with the idea that you have pay out so much for the “best four years of your life” when you’re only 22.
The best is yet to come.
BONUS: IT’S NOT FOR EVERYONE
I’m not downplaying the value of an education, but there are different means to education that may suit much more than others. Not everyone needs to go to university to get a degree because these days it doesn’t guarantee a job. I think that education is an invaluable investment but there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing a technical school, diploma, certification, or a hundred different options. Or a lot of people gain their positions through work experience and then later have their companies pay for a second degree or subsidize their education. Of course you’re not going to be a doctor through work experience, but don’t limit your options and allow yourself to change your mind if you find your passion is for something else.
Come to terms with the cold hard facts, not everyone is made for university/college. And that’s okay. It does not make you more or less of a person. I repeat, you are not a worse or better person for going not spending thousands of dollars for something not for you, just because your friends are doing it.
In today’s market, finishing a degree is not a guaranteed and contrary to what your parents may think, it does not make you more or less of good employee. Your work ethic and creativity does.