It is almost expected in 21st Century America that high school graduates need a college education of some variety. Let's face it, you need a post-secondary education for virtually any occupation that pays above the minimum wage. You might even need a college diploma just to be invited to an interview with a potential employer. This is one underlying reason why outstanding student loan debt is quickly approaching $1.3 trillion in the United States alone. Some people call it the “Student Debt Crisis” as young people enter adulthood with more debt than any previous generation.
What if you could earn a college degree debt free?
Would you believe me if I told you there is a way to earn a college degree for under $10,000? That's how much one semester at a public in-state college costs. You can! Although this method isn't for every degree path or every type of student, it might be a valuable option for you or somebody else. I will explain how disciplined and highly motivated students (of all ages) can earn a degree without having to borrow any money!
No, I'm not going to talk to you about applying for 1,001 scholarships, spending every spare second outside of school volunteering in the community, or getting a perfect SAT/ACT score to get a full-ride scholarship to your dream school.
Some of you know that I have mentioned how my wife has been working on an eBook. Well, after a lot of hard work on behalf of my wife & several others, I can finally talk about it on Money Buffalo!
The Student Debt Crisis
A college education is often considered the “golden ticket” to a successful career. I agree that every person needs some sort of training to get a job that will not pay minimum wage whether it's beauty school, trade school, or a 4-year university.
Because of the near-universal expectation that every high school graduate must attend college, tuition prices have skyrocketed in the past several decades. My undergraduate degree as in-state Virginia resident in 2008 cost about $60,000 for tuition, plus room & board for four years. That same degree in 2016 costs $100,000! That was the price my out-of-state classmates paid (today it would cost them $198,000).
Seeing that increase in tuition from my alma mater made my stomach queasy. And it's happening across the nation at almost every school.
Student loan debt currently at $1.2 trillion is the second highest source of household debt in the United States, only trailing mortgages. You could argue that mortgages & student loan debt are “good debt” because we all need a place to sleep & a college degree increases your earnings potential.
How much debt is too much?
Picture yourself as that 21-year old college grad who feels like they are at the top of the world, but soon realize that the “real world” is nothing like college. In six months, the loan companies will be asking for their first payment. In addition to the normal bills like groceries, food, and cell phone, all while making $43,000 (the average salary of a new college graduate). Maybe you are that 21-year old in a 35-year old body.
At 5% interest on a 20-year repayment plan, the minimum payment is $396 each month & $660 per month for a $100,000 degree. Assuming it takes all 20 year to repay the loan, the 2016 graduate will pay a whopping total of $158,400 for their bachelor's. That is $63,360 more than the 2008 graduate also on the 20-year plan! 🙁
Now most grads won't owe the full $100,000+ for the cost of a traditional, 4-year bachelor's degree. The average student loan debt for 2015 college grads is around $35,000. But somebody is paying that other $65,000, whether it's the parents, scholarship organizations, or government grants.
My loans were $50,000 at graduation. I had $10,000 in partial scholarships & my parents didn't have the means to pay for my (or my brother's) college education, unless they delayed saving for retirement & paying their mortgage. So I left college with above average debt, as the average debt load for 2008 college graduates was $30,000.
Now that I have a daughter of my own, student loan debt has become a very important topic to me. I want to prepare for the future now, as 18 years will pass in the “blink of an eye” as a wise man once told me.
I don't want my children to be saddled with the high amounts of student loans like I was.
The cost of earning a college degree is rising faster than the average income for new college graduates. Not to mention the increasing prevalence of 5-year undergraduate programs & the expectation of earning a master's degree to increase your competitiveness in certain career fields. This will only increase the total amount of student debt & delay other life events like having a family, buying a home, and saving for retirement.
Something Has To Change
Various state and national political leaders have offered solutions to reduce the student debt burden. My state has made it possible for high-achievers to earn an associates degree virtually for free from our local community colleges.
But what if your family is like mine? You know you are going to college, but don't qualify for the financial aid or scholarships that would significantly reduce the total cost and therefore you need to borrow money.
Being the free-market thinkers we are…this is where my wife comes into the picture!
Her eBook, No College Debt, chronicles how she earned her college degree without sitting through a single college class. And she was able to earn an accredited bachelors degree in one-year.
Sound fishy? I thought so too at first & I had her explain the process to me a couple times when we were dating. Believe me, it is legitimate as thousands have earned a degree this way. Her degree is just as equal as mine, we both graduated from accredited colleges.
How It Works
Three phrases…CLEP, DANTES, & Accelerated Distance Learning.
Ever heard of these before?
Maybe only in passing. These programs are more popular among adult students & military personnel, because of their flexibility. But anybody can take advantage of these programs.
This isthe secret to saving a TON of money while pursuing your college degree. CLEP & DANTES are tests you can take to “test out” of college courses that are graded on a Pass/Fail basis. For example, you think you can pass the final exam of college U.S. History without setting foot in the classroom. Take the CLEP & if your score is high enough, you get 6 credits (two semester classes) on your transcript and only out the money of taking the exam & your study materials (about $100).
It is very similar to the Advanced Placement (AP) program that high schools offer. CLEP tests are administered through the College Board, the same company that also administers the AP & SAT exams.
If you took any AP class in high school, you already have experience with this method. If you took AP U.S. History in high school and got a “4” on that test, your college may have counted your score as college credit. Meaning two less classes you needed to take in college, because of the “double-dipping.” Your AP test probably did not count towards your GPA (CLEP & DANTES do not count towards your college GPA), so this can be one downside to both tests. Some of my high school classmates were able to graduate early from college due to AP (& Dual Enrollment courses) that also counted as college credit.
With No College Debt, you or your child will learn how to get college credit without having to sit through the first drowsy lecture.
Instead of attending actual college classes, you study for an exam and when ready, you take an electronic test at a local testing center (usually at your neighborhood college or university). If you make a certain score, you get college credit for the class. Depending on how many tests you take, you may never have to step into a college classroom.
Even if you do not pursue an entire bachelor's degree with this format, you can at least test out of your general electives at an estimated cost of $100 per test. That is still a noticeable amount of money saved, compared to taking every course at your future alma mater.
Will Any College Accept Credit By Examination?
There are certain, accredited colleges that are very receptive to this type of degree program & they are discussed in No College Debt. Traditional schools also accept transfer credits, but some are more selective than others. The same can be said if you went to a community college for the first two years before transferring to the state college. Some of your credits may not transfer & you might have to retaken certain courses in order to obtain your bachelor's.
It's unfortunate, but each college has their own criterion. If you or your child have a particular college in mind, you might try asking their admissions department how they handle transferring credit from CLEP exams and dual enrollment, AP classes, & community college courses too.
Advantages of Earning A Degree the No College Debt Way
Besides saving a lot of money in tuition, there are several other advantages of earning a college degree this way.
#1. Earn A Degree On Your Terms
This path allows you to earn a degree on your time schedule. Whether you are an 18-year old graduate or a 40-year old who never went to school but has always wanted a degree, you earn your degree as quickly or slowly as you desire. This is great if you work, have children, or simply like the flexibility.
Depending on which college you pursue your degree from, you might be able to take zero classes. A capstone class might be required, depending on your major, and this can be accomplished via the Internet. Meaning you still won't have to physically attend a class.
If you eventually plan to transfer to a traditional school, you can test for a portion of your degree requirements before needing to commit to attending traditional college courses or online classes.
#2 The Traditional College Scene Isn't For Everybody
Some people simply do not want to attend a regular college for whatever reason. They might not want to be “just a number,” do not want to get caught up in the party culture, or they have sat through enough lectures while earning their high school diploma & want to be anywhere but sitting through another academic lecture.
#3 Employers Like “Different”
A slogan my alma mater published for a season was “Don't Do Ordinary.”
One problem that employers normally encounter when interviewing recent college graduates for job positions is the lack of problem-solving skills. The traditional public school system format was designed during the industrial revolution to prepare factory workers (my public high school freshman English teacher also told me this). Colleges are not much different. The “entrepreneurial spirit” & creativity isn't encouraged as much as it could be, instead following instructions and routine are emphasized. Don't get me wrong, plenty of business & community leaders are products of public schools.
So although you may not have a degree from Virginia Tech, the Ohio State University, or whatever the popular college in your neck of the woods is, employers are intrigued when they hear you earned a degree in a non-traditional way.
Who Benefits From No College Debt?
The students that are going to benefit the most from earning a degree this way are ones who are self-starters, enjoy self-study, & want to earn a degree on their terms. Some people need the structure of attending physical college classes in order to pass an exam.
If you are somebody who wants to pursue a college degree in Liberal Arts, Communications, Psychology, Business Admin, Computer Science, Accounting, or Social Sciences, then you are an ideal candidate for this option.
If your degree concentration is not one of those listed above, don't get discouraged, you still can still lighten your academic load by trying to test out of some general electives like English, History, or Psychology.
If you are a high school student who is unsure of what degree path you want to pursue, you too can also use this test taking strategy when the material is fresh in your mind. We encourage “double-dipping” whenever possible. My freshman year of college was essentially a repeat of my final two years in high school. While I enjoyed taking American History & Statistics again as they helped “pad” my GPA, that's 12 credits I could have avoided. Had I taken these tests in high school right after taking the class, I might have been able to take even fewer classes in college.
Who Should Stick With Traditional School?
As I mentioned before, this degree path isn't for every student.
#1. Certain People Need Structure
If self-studying is your weakness, you should probably stick with a traditional college education whether you go to a local community college before transferring to a university or immediately enroll in a 4-year college. Certain people need the structure & routine to succeed in college.
Students (& adults) who are majoring in engineering or hard science might not benefit from this. It's virtually impossible to test out of engineering or chemistry labs. If they don't make a test for the subject you want to test out of, you have to take the class. Sorry.
#2. Tests Are Only Credited On A Pass/Fail Basis
Another downside of testing is you are graded solely on a pass/fail basis. If you have ambitions of attending grad school after obtaining your bachelor's degree, the lack of a GPA can greatly harm your chances of getting accepted to the school of your choice. To compensate for no GPA, graduate programs might require you to get a high score on the GRE to be accepted. A score you might not be able to reach. I would love to get a perfect score on the ACT or SAT, but I never will in this life no matter how much I study.
If you fall into this boat, I recommend you check with your prospective schools before delving too far into this program.
You may only want to consider testing for your general electives like English or History. Whatever classes you don't test for will count towards your GPA. Graduate programs will look at your transcripts & give more consideration to applicants who took “hard” courses instead “powderpuff” classes like Rocks For Jocks or Ballroom Dancing only to pad the total GPA.
Are You Onboard?
Do you know somebody that could benefit from this method?
It's not for everybody, but there are lots of benefits to those who do obtain a bachelor's degree this way.
For more information about the eBook and consulting, please visit NoCollegeDebt.net
Just because other college graduates have climbed Mt. Debt to get their diploma doesn't mean you have to. Take the helicopter instead!
Thanks For Reading,
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.