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I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in post-secondary education. I’ve studied arts, sciences, social sciences, languages, communications, business, math, engineering, and computer science. I spent my university years studying every subject I could enroll in, and loved most of what academia had to offer. The first time I headed off to school I was an impressionable teenager, fresh out of high school. I was clueless about the world of academia and the university experience. I was also clueless about money

Yet, despite my lack of investment and money knowledge, I managed to graduate with my first degree without any student debt. Astounding, non? What is more astounding is despite my early success in managing my student finances, I somehow racked-up 17K in student debt during my second degree. How did I go from zero student debt in my first degree to a 17K pit of debt in my second degree? What did I do differently? Here are some tips I should have considered while studying the second time around.

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Five ways to avoid student debt:

1. Go to an affordable school (or one close to home):

Some colleges and universities just cost more than others. I discovered this truth when I paid my first year tuition at an Ottawa-area university. For some reason, my communications courses cost less than those same courses at a Toronto-area university. The programs were similar and achieved the same result, however the price tag was very different. Over the span of 4 years, I probably saved myself 5k in tuition fees. I also discovered that by attending school close to home, I saved considerable money on the following:

  • Going home for weekends and holidays: An easy car ride costs far less than a train or plane ticket.
  • Laundry: I would take my laundry home on weekends and save on detergent and coin operated laundry machines.
  • Food: I would eat weekend meals at home and even take some food back to school with me.
  • Utilities: My father loved the movie E.T., and would often give me money for my phone bill telling me to “phone home.”

2. Get a scholarship:

Some people are just darn smart and manage to score a scholarship or bursary for school. I’ve seen numerous scholarships awarded to a variety of students, including: nerds, jocks, those with special talents, and those with organizational affiliations. I’ve seen students score high-value scholarships just from applying to a variety of competitions. When I entered my first degree, I landed a generous university scholarship by having strong high school grades. I also managed to keep my scholarship by maintaining my academic standing on the honour roll. I figure, working hard and being a nerd saved me 7K.

3. Live at home:

Living away from home costs big bucks. Students that stay home for school save money on food, residence, utilities, and transportation. I think the biggest expense with going away for school is the “going away” part. Living expenses are just darn expensive. Of course, living at home may prove difficult if your parent’s home is not near a college or university. I wasn’t able to live at home during either my first or second degree. I had friends though who lived at home for several years during and after their degrees. These friends of mine saved huge bucks on living expenses. I really hated them, sometimes.

4. Buy used textbooks:

Some courses use the same textbooks year after year. Course material in calculus, chemistry, and computational theory never seems to change. I saved lots of money during my first degree by buying used and abused textbooks. Some students get all caught up in buying the latest edition or just want to crack a fresh book spine. Not me. I attended book sales, viewed “for sale” boards, and even called senior students to buy their books for less. Saving 0 or more on every course’s book list really added up!

5. Do co-operative education:

Some college programs offer students co-operative job placements with participating companies. For me, being a co-op student really saved me big bucks. Not only did I gain valuable job experience, but I earned school credit and got a decent pay check to boot! If your school offers co-op job placement, APPLY. On the job training not only lines your pockets, but the experience is really priceless.

6. Get a part-time job:

If your academic program does not offer co-op job placement, may I suggest working a part-time job? During my first two years of school I worked several part-time jobs to help pay for tuition. Every little bit of money really helps to fend off the evil pit of debt.

How did you get though school financially? Did you graduate debt free?

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