How to get a college degree without the debt

Posted: Updated:
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- It is supposed to be the road to success, but for some students, college can feel like the road to financial ruin.

They graduate, drowning in debt.

But it doesn't have to work like that. Here are some key steps students can take to earn that college degree and graduate with a positive net worth.

“It is a terrible problem that is really affecting all of our economy," Steve Economides said about the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. He and wife, Annette, head up “America's Cheapest Family."

“As 'America's Cheapest Family,' we say you can still go to college and not have debt for it,” Annette Economides said.

But to do that, you need to start long before college.

“It is important to have your kids build their resume while they are in high school," Annette Economides said. "Colleges are oftentimes looking for leadership qualities and community service.”

She and her husband say that community service helps students gain entrance into the college they want, opens up scholarship opportunities, and also lets them discover what they like and what they don't -- for free.

“The average college student will change majors three times in their career," Steve Economides said. "A change of major can cost you $10,000 to $50,000.”

Also in high school, take the SAT test, and take it more than once, Annette Economides advises.

“The nice thing about the SAT is no matter how many times you take it, they always retain your highest score in whichever subject you scored high in," she said. "Our son earned $3,000 more in scholarship money because he took it a second time and raised his point average.“

Also, take advantage of AP classes and CLEP tests to earn college credit, and fill out a FAFSA application. It opens the door to Pell Grants and more.

“You can also get work study money," Annette Economides said. "There's other things at stake, so the earlier you fill it out, the better.”

Then, apply for every scholarship you can find.

"Scholarships aren't just for low income and they're not just for high academics. There are scholarships out there for everything,” Annette Economides said.

“When you count the amount of time you spend on scholarships and the fact you earn thousands of dollars, our kids have never made less than $100 an hour for filling out applications," Steve Economides added.

He also shared this advice: “When you are filling out a college application, we tell people to not check the box that says, 'We will take loans,' because if you do that, the college enrollment person is going to be less inclined to help you find other money.“

Steve and Annette Economides say if a school wants you, they'll help find the scholarship money.

Also, consider living off campus.

“Living on campus can cost $6,000 to $10,000 a year," Steve Economides said.

They say the last thing you need after graduation is a lesson in paying off debt.

“There is no reason that a student should ever pay retail price for college," Steve Economides said.

If you want more help on getting your financial house in order for the new year, Steve and Annette Economides have a seminar coming up.

Financial Hope Conference
Saturday, Jan. 24
North Hills Church
15025 N 19th Ave., Phoenix
8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Presenters include:
Steve and Annette Economides - New York Times best-selling authors
Lynda Hammond - Former news anchor and garage sale gal
Debra Caldwell - Certified financial planner
Bob Blayter - Pastor, speaker and financially free conference leader