After my column last week discussing the danger of student loan debt, I received a lot of feedback. The reactions ran the gambit from some who were in full agreement to others who felt I was causing unnecessary levels of fear and apprehension. However, the nearly universal sentiment from readers was that although student loan debt is a bad thing, it’s also unavoidable.

My wife and I both have degrees, one of which is a masters, and we would beg to differ with that opinion. We are walking proof that you can graduate debt free without the help of wealthy parents. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying it’s easy, or that it will work in every situation, but what I am saying is this: it is not impossible.

After receiving several questions basically asking “If you’re so against student loans what’s your solution smart guy?” I thought it might be beneficial to share a few of the alternatives to taking on student debt. Again, not all of these will apply to you, but if I can at least change the perception that student loans are inescapable, then I will consider my mission accomplished.

Probably the most obvious alternative to loans is scholarship based financial aid. Although most full‐ride scholarships are determined by academic or athletic performance, many smaller, lesser known scholarships are not. These are often based on things such as ethnic background, area of study, income level, age or the region in which you live. You can find information regarding these scholarships online through a variety of searchable databases. Probably the most well‐ known and available of these scholarships in the state of Missouri is the A+ program which provides high school students 2 years of full tuition to a community college if certain eligibility requirements are met. The key in this is researching the requirements early in the students’ academic career so that you make sure all eligibility requirements are met by the time of graduation from high school.

Another great way to decrease the overall cost of your education is to be a smart shopper. Not all places of higher learning provide the same bang for your buck. In general, public universities, are significantly less expensive than private ones, especially if you choose one that is in‐state. Community Colleges are an excellent value as you weigh your options. They offer greatly reduced rates for their credits, and for the most part are transferable to most four‐year universities.

By going this route, students are often able to save even more money by living at home for a few more years. That’s  why when comparing the cost of various schools you should look at more than just tuition cost. Make sure you factor in all aspects of the overall cost, including such things as, ease of transportation, cost of living in the area, and the overall job market.

This leads me right into another tactic to graduating without student debt: work part time while earning the degree. Not only does this provide necessary income to help pay your tuition bills, but it can also be an avenue to having your employer subsidize your education. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs even to part‐time employees. Often, these reimbursements come with a requirement that you will continue to work for the company for a certain amount of time after you graduate.

Private companies are not the only ones willing to pay for your education in return for a term of service. The military offers an excellent set of benefits through the G.I. Bill, and some schools like the College of the Ozarks provide tuition free of charge in exchange for working on campus for the school. At many universities it doesn’t have to be you working for the school. Students who have family members employed by the college can qualify for deep discounts in the overall tuition rate.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I don’t pretend to say the process of graduating debt free is easy. But with an intentional plan, some creative thinking and a lot of sacrifice it is possible…..and certainly beneficial.

(Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Advice is intended to be general in nature.)