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4 Alternatives To Student Loans OR How To Be A "Weird" College Student

I know that may sound super controversial and like there's no way that it's true.

But it is true that you don't have to do it despite what the culture and the "student-loan-industrial-complex" try and force you to believe.

And avoiding taking on student loans will make you "weird" in all the right ways (i.e. not being a debt-slave for the rest of your life).

There's a pervasive and sinister meme out there that says, "everybody has student loans" or "student loans are a necessary evil".

The meme has many different "expressions" if you will, but it's always some semblance of those phrases.

This is a lie! Not everybody has student loans and there are plenty of alternatives. It just takes some information and planning.


Well, I'm here to tell you it's a lie and that you should flush it out of your head right now and replace it with some of the considerations I'm going to give you as highly qualified and verified replacements.

We've talked a lot about student loan debt around here. In fact here's a post called, "Student Loans And How Not To Hate Your Future Self" that's specifically geared toward pre-college students and parents packed with all the pitfalls and reasons to avoid student loan debt at all costs.

There are other ways to fund college that do not include over-leveraging your future with debt.


4 Alternatives To Student Loans That Will Make You "Weird" In All The Right Ways:


1. Look at attending a state school or a community college:


Community college can be a great and less expensive alternative for your first two years of higher ed.


When I think back to my college years, I remember the steady barrage of inquiry I got about, "where are you going to go to school?" as well as, "what's your major going to be?"

I remember feeling this immense social pressure to know precisely what I was going to do with every single working moment for the rest of my life.

AND, I'd better get this college thing perfect, otherwise my life would slide into a roadside ditch culminating in "living in a van down by the river".

If I could give you the benefit of hindsight and just how much those questions don't even begin to matter 20+ years later, I'd package it up in a tasty little sugar pill and UPS-overnight it to you.

Well, I can't do that but I can tell you, it doesn't begin to matter as much as it seems like it does in this moment.

I can likely count on one hand how many times anyone has asked me either where I went to college, let alone what I studied.

Indeed, you could argue that going to a community college is not necessarily a way to avoid student loan debt and you'd be right.

You can definitely rack up debt this way as well. the reason I bring it up, is that particularly for those first two years of college where you're getting your more general coursework under your belt, this is likely your most economical option. 

You may also have the added benefit of being able to "live at home", which is to say continue living with your parents.

While this may be antithetical to you in some ways, it's a fantastic consideration because you won't have to be forking out rent money every month.

Considerations like this are what are going to keep you out of debt and solvent for your college career and beyond.

Here's a great article on some of the reasons you might want to consider community college for your first two years.


2. Feverishly research and apply for every grant and scholarship known to mankind:

This is one activity I didn't have the tools, resources or even awareness of when I was going to this process in the early 90s.

Now, there are innumerable resources available on the internet to help you exhaust yourself trying to find the funds to keep you "weird" and out of debt.

Here are some resources that will help get you started.

Don't stop there, though. Keep going.

And please do share your findings in the comments below as you uncover them.

There are TONS of other people looking for this content.

As a great example, here are 6 tips I got from The Princeton Reviews website on this very thing:

You can find the more in-depth version of these bullet points at: Princeton Review - Finding College Scholarships, but here they are in brief summary:


6 Tips for Finding College Scholarships

  1. Check with your prospective schools.
  2. Ask your academic advisor.
  3. Dig into your network
  4. Try online.
  5. Be keenly aware of scholarship deadlines.
  6. Take both the SAT and the ACT.


3. Consider military enlistment:

Like many of you guys, I didn't have the luxury of having parents with 1) the means to help me pay for college or 2) the willingness to go into debt to fund it.

I'm not lamenting it, nor am I hating on anyone who comes from a family with the means to do so.

That option was always off the table and I knew it, so I never cried myself to sleep about it. Well, maybe never more than a half-dozen times that is. :)

Rather than dwelling on the challenge negatively, the reality forced me to consider other options from the very start. One option I considered was student loans.

Mercifully, I didn't qualify for those because my parents wouldn't remove me from their tax filings as long as I lived in their house.

I remember being angry about this at the time, but in hindsight I see it as an enormous blessing as I exited my college career without any of those shackles.

So, student loans were out.


Enter My Own Army  Enlistment:

Military enlistment can be a great way to acquire some great life-skill AND get your education funded.


Right about the time that the student loan thing passed into the abyss, a couple of my close buddies were telling me how they just enlisted in the army.

"Whoah!", I thought, "THAT IS dramatic!. I don't think I could EVER do that!"

Then of course, they introduced me to their recruiter who was nothing like many of the recruiters that I'd heard about from others.

You know the slimy snake oil salesman that promises that you'll enlist in the type of job that exempts you from being in the "real" army.

This guy was exceedingly credible and honest and painted a very realistic picture of what an enlistment would look like.

He said, "the reality is that, for the most part, once you're finished with all your basic and advanced training and are at your permanent duty station, it will be much more like a regular job.

Sure, you'll have some extra time you'll have to spend on things like: field training, physical training and weapons training but, those activities will not be every day.

So, being very open to the option, I dove in and enlisted for 3 years to become a combat medic.

The next three years were actually some of the best of my life. I enlisted, did my basic and advanced training (in Columbia, SC and San Antonio, TX, respectively) and then received my orders to head to Germany for two years.

Without going into detail about how awesome the next few years were (I'll do that in a subsequent post if you want to hear more), I will briefly say that I came out of the army with both the GI Bill and the Army College Fund.

What that means is that these programs basically funded my tuition, books and other fees as well as gave me a little bit extra for living expenses, so that I came out of university without a single penny of debt.

If you're inclined to research this route, I highly recommend it.

It has greatly influenced the trajectory of both my life and my career in exceedingly positive ways, the most important of which being that I exited college debt free!

Here's a great site that can help you explore and define what some of your options for types of military service.


4. Work Your Way Through School:

Why not work while simultaneously pursuing your degree (and maybe even getting your employer's financial help)?

So many do it and I think it's a great idea.

I highly recommend Nick Loper's website and podcast content for helping you figure out a side hustle. Excellent content!


I did it as well. Sure, I had money coming in from the army while I was in school full time, but I also made sure I held down at least a part-time job while I was studying.

I found that it helped keep me focused and disciplined with my time as I only had so many hours in a day to: attend class, study, work, eat and sleep.

Here are some work-your-way-through-school options: Military Reserves, or National Guard, work-study programs related to your major, paid internships, side-hustles like starting a blog, baby-sitting, pet-walking, just to name a few.

I highly recommend Nick Loper's website and podcast, "Side Hustle Nation" for research. He has incredible guests with incredible stories of starting side hustles that wound up becoming full-time gigs in many cases.

I actually studied his content for a couple of years and it ultimately lead me to starting this blog as a result.

Fantastic content, indeed!


In Hindsight, Our Student Loan-Ridden Clients All Say The Same Thing:


I'm urging you to stop and consider the hundreds of folks we've counseled that have student loans and how they ALL regret them. Don't let it happen to you.


I can easily recount the quantity of graduated (and non-graduated) college students for which I've done financial coaching that regret their student loans.... all of them!

Put more simply, I've yet to meet the first person or couple that I've coached that gazes fondly upon the mountain (however big or small) of debt their education has set in front of them.

I'm here to call you to avoid that climb at all costs.

So again, if you’re in the throes of “where are you going to school?” peer pressure, I encourage you to stop, take a deep breath, slow down and study Jessie's story.

I may have just saved you tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of suffering.

I implore you to consider it now, while you're young and (hopefully) unencumbered by debt.

Obviously, there may be some questions you have or ideas you may feel like you’d like to explore with a coach.

Our doors always open.

Don’t hesitate to reach out. You could be saving yourself years of heartache down the road.


The 8 Steps To Obliterate Your Debt:

This is the blog post that outlines the 8 steps I followed to eliminated $43,000 in debt in 2.5 years.
And whether this is your first or thousandth time on the blog, I want to make sure you have this “8 Steps” framework that ALL of our content is centered around. 
These are the steps I personally followed to obliterate $43,000+ of debt in 2.5 years
Maybe your number is bigger, maybe it’s smaller. Either way the principles are the same and I want you to have them.
0. Stop All Retirement Investing (Until Step 4)
2. Starter Emergency Fund of $1000
3. Eliminate Debts Smallest To Largest (a.k.a The Debt Snowball)
4. Full Emergency Fund of 3-6+ Months’ Expenses
5. Invest A Minimum of 15% Income Into Retirement Accounts (and increase savings rate to 50%+ if possible)
6. College Funding (if applicable)
7. Pay Off The Home Mortgage
8. Build Wealth, Serve, Be Ridiculously Generous And Go FI (Financial Independence)!
I’ve created a simple, easy to follow guide that you can use as your foundation as you navigate the absolute annihilation of your debt forever.



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When You Need More Help

And again, if you’re looking for some resources to get started, you can download our free budgeting forms. Also, if you’re in a place where you’re ready to kick your debt in the teeth, here's the link to our free “8 Steps To Erase Debt” guide for you to use as your foundation.
To your freedom,
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click & make a purchase, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that helps keep Zero Debt Coach up and running. Read my full disclosure policy.

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