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Creative Ways to Go to College for FREE - A Debt Free Strategy to Graduate from College

As of 2020, more than 42 million borrowers owed more than $1.7 TRILLION in federal student loans. Yes, TRILLION!!! That’s why I have it in caps - more than a trillion dollars in student loans just astounds me!

Partly because I can’t even fathom what a trillion dollars would even look like (or what better things it could be spent on than student loans), but also because student loans are pretty much just out of control! But, the good news is that they don’t have to be.

So, I’m going to address a topic that could potentially change your life if you’re planning to seek higher education. That’s right, I’m going to explain how you can go to college for free, or with significantly reduced student debts.

After all, repaying student loan debt is one of the most crippling expenses in the American household. Many grapple with it for decades. Why not take any opportunity to lower or eliminate these costs? Now, you’re probably already familiar with the standard tactics like AP classes and standard scholarships. I’m not going to go over these here. Instead, I’m going to introduce eight unconventional ways to go to college for free (or at reduced rates)!

Apply For Ivy League Schools

Many people don’t know this, but some ivy league schools pay full tuition, plus room and board, if your family earns beneath a certain threshold.

Take Stanford, for example. Quick side note, for those of you that want to point out that Stanford is not an ivy league school, I already know that! But, as they say, Stanford is the “Harvard of the West,” so I’m putting it under this category!

Back to my point: Stanford University offers free tuition for students whose parents earn less than $150,000 a year! If this includes you, it’s worth applying. Stanford may generally come with a hefty price tag, but not if your parents make less than $150K! So, don’t be deterred from applying just because of the initial sticker shock!

And, it’s not just Stanford - many ivy league schools offer similar packages: Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard . . . the list goes on. They may not have the same $150K yearly income threshold, but they do offer free tuition (and, in some cases, more than just free tuition) for students of parents that make below a certain threshold in yearly income. It’s worth checking out!

Tuition-Free Outside The Ivy League

Many Americans also don’t realize that there are schools in America that are 100% tuition-free, for anyone who chooses to apply (and, of course, gets accepted)! It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. It is extremely rare, however.

Through my research, I found three schools that offer free tuition. These include:

College Of The Ozarks: A liberal arts school in Missouri, founded in 1906. To get free tuition here, students are only required to work 15 hours a week in hands-on vocational work experience.

Brea College: Founded in 1855, this college is 35 miles south of Lexington, Kentucky. Each student is required to work 10-15 hours a week while carrying a full academic workload.

Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York: Not only does this school offer free tuition, but it also provides a free laptop and a “cultural passport” which gives students free access to cultural institutions throughout the city.

Now the catch with these schools is that you do need to work at some point throughout the academic year. Personally, I think it’s a great trade-off, allowing you to invest in both a better career and a debt-free future.

Golf Caddie Scholarships

This is one of those niche scholarships that have tremendous payoffs but that isn’t really being talked about. With a golf caddie scholarship, everything is paid for - room, board, and tuition!

In exchange for four years of full tuition and free housing, to be eligible for the scholarship, students must have worked as golf caddies in high school and must continue to work as caddies during college. What’s more, in previous academic years over 25% of applicants were accepted for the scholarship. With an acceptance rate that high, there’s no reason not to apply!

But no doubt, there are many high school kids earning some side cash on the golfing green, and they don’t even know about this scholarship! Here’s some details:

Applicants: 1) need to have caddied successfully and regularly for a minimum of two years in high school, 2) are required to caddy during the summer they apply for the scholarship; 3) must complete their junior year of high school with a B average, 4) are required to take the ACT or SAT, and 5) must demonstrate a need for financial assistance.

To learn more, just google “the Evans Caddie Scholarship.”

Take A CLEP Exam

A CLEP exam is a great way to reduce your tuition fees, as it means (by passing the exam for a particular topic) you don’t have to take the college equivalent and pay college prices for that course. There are more than 30 CLEP exams that cover entry-level college courses.

The only catch with the CLEP is that it isn't accepted at all schools in the US. Currently, about 2,900 colleges and universities accept CLEP exam pass rates in exchange for college credits. Thankfully, due to its increasing popularity, acceptance of the CLEP is growing.

One final thing to keep in mind: CLEP exams cost $87 to take, but there is also a non-profit organization called the Modern States that offers to pay the CLEP fee for some students. So, if you’re interested in taking a CLEP exam, also check out Modern States to see if you can also get that $87 fee covered!

Tuition Reciprocity Agreements

Tuition reciprocity agreements are agreements between states and colleges where students can attend college out-of-state but still pay in-state prices. This is an agreement administered by different regional organizations.

Here’s how it typically works: Let’s say you want to study a subject or degree that isn’t available in your state, but it is available in the state next door. The college of your choice may be able to defer or arrange the tuition reciprocity agreement so you don’t have to pay extra out-of-state fees. Granted, it’s not exactly free tuition . . . BUT, it certainly beats having to pay those enormous out-of-state costs!

The Income Share Agreement

This type of agreement may be new to you. It’s pretty unconventional, but it’s an interesting approach that combines school tuition with prospective income upon graduating.

With this unconventional agreement, students receive funds to pay for their college tuition. In return, the student pays that tuition back in the form of a percentage of their future income on a fixed-term basis. This happens after graduation, and only in the situation that they land a job. Until they are gainfully employed, they have no obligations to repay their tuition.

These income share agreements usually have a cap at 10 to 15% of your income over a specified period of time. These agreements can be found either through the schools or through private organizations.

But, I’m going to throw my lawyer-cap on for this one: Always read the fine print! If you decide to go with an income share agreement, make sure that you read the fine print, that you are fully aware of all of your obligations, and that you have fully analyzed whether this unique type of agreement is best for you.

Employer-Paid Tuition

This is my favorite tip on this list! Amon actually got his tuition for graduate school paid for by the federal government when he worked as a civilian for the Department of the Navy.

So, YES! Some employers will pay your college fees, but you have to do some thorough research if you want to pursue this option. And, of course, this option will depend entirely on the company that you work for. Some of the companies that offer tuition assistance include: UPS, Intel, AT&T, Procter & Gamble, Starbuck, Walmart, and (like I mentioned) the federal government.

Become A Resident Advisor

You may already know this, but while I was at UCLA Law School, Amon and I were also resident advisors. Because of this, we were given free UCLA graduate family housing and a monthly stipend. This was incredible for us because in West L.A., rent costs at the time were easily as high as $4,000 a month.

Living as a resident advisor in L.A. was a huge bonus for us, cutting our costs down in ways that few other options could. This tip is definitely a must-do if you get the chance!

So, these are our favorite ways to get through school debt-free, or significantly reduce your tuition and living costs. Even if you aren’t planning to go to college or a university in the future, these tips are valuable to know if you're a parent with a child approaching college-age, or have a loved one who wants to pursue higher education. Because, at least in my mind, you shouldn’t have to go into debt to get a good education!

10 Mistakes We Avoided to Retire Before 40 - (Cautionary Warning For Those Pursuing F.I.R.E.)


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Hello, We’re Amon & Christina

We’re former federal government employees that focused on saving, making, and investing money so that we could grow enough wealth in our investments to never have to work again.

And, guess what? We did it! At the age of 39, we reached financial independence, quit our jobs, and . . . we retired!

So, if you’re interested in learning how to save, make and invest money on the road to financial independence and retiring early (i.e., F.I.R.E.) - this site is for you!

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