5 Great Ways to Graduate College with Less Student Loan Debt

FAFSA getting you down? You may not be able to avoid student loan debt completely, but by following these five steps you can graduate with less of it.


1. Test out of as many general education requirements as possible.

Over 2/3 of the colleges and universities in the U.S. allow you to take AP and CLEP exams to test out of general education requirements and introductory classes. Take advantage of this opportunity! Gen eds can take up to two full-time semesters to complete, which means four extra semesters worth of loan payments. Before you choose a school, find out whether you're allowed to test out, what tests are accepted and what score you need to earn. Prepare for the test by using resources like or OpenCourseWare.

Some schools don't allow students to test out of requirements, but you still might be able to test out of introductory classes, which will allow you to take more courses in your field. More courses in your field means more preparation for your chosen career.

2. Use your community college.

Testing out of courses is the more affordable and efficient way to reduce your student loan debt, but some courses aren't available on tests, and some schools don't accept the credits. Instead of taking the course at your expensive 4-year college, try taking it over the summer at your local community college, which is significantly less expensive. For example, community college credit in California costs just $26 per credit, compared to approximately $460 per credit at UC - Berkeley.

3. Make a 4-year plan.

Plot out your curriculum in your first year of school and talk to upperclassmen to find out if any courses are difficult to get into. Plan to take the difficult courses first - that way, if you don't get in one semester, you can try again the next. Missing out on all your required courses can keep you in school for more than four years, and every semester in school is another semester of required fees and tuition.

4. Skip the bookstore.

Depending on your major, you could spend $1,000 or more for a single semester's worth of books. While this may be a small fraction of your overall student loan debt, every penny counts. Wouldn't you rather spend that $1,000 sunning yourself on the beach or putting a down payment on a car? Fortunately, there are many alternatives to the traditional campus bookstore. Book rental companies typically offer more affordable prices, and e-textbooks can be cheaper than their digital counterparts. Even better, check with your campus library to see if there are copies of the textbook on reserve. Many libraries keep a copy of the textbook in the reference section, which means you can do all of the assignments without spending a penny. And if your professor simply uses the textbook as a means of conveying information, try searching for that information on the Internet and through other library books.

5. Stick to your budget.

While this may sound obvious, sticking to your budget can help you keep your debt load manageable. Sometimes when that loan check arrives, it can seem like free money - but it's not! Plan your living expenses carefully at the beginning of the semester, and stick to them. This doesn't have to mean living on ramen for months at a time, but keep track of what you're spending so you don't run out of money and have to take out even more loans.

What are some of the financial concerns students have when it comes to attending college?

Next: View Schools

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?