Create A “No Debt” Graduation Plan


While education is one of the most valuable things you can invest in, it’s almost one of the most costly. And there is a line that makes it not worth it. So how did I manage to pay off my student debt before I graduate? A lot of work.

There’s no glamorous way to say it, but it’s possible and the sooner you start, the better. To start here is how much paid for my degree:

My Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Minor in Psychology with Co-op Option
School: The University of British Columbia, Canada
Living Situation: Lived at Home; Canadian/Local Student
Time frame: 5.5 Years (for a 4-year degree – so worth it)
Tuition (with student fees but excluding books and supplies): $26, 388.66
Scholarships and Bursaries: $14,050

Total paid: $12,388.66

Please remember this is 100% my experience. Everyone is in different financial and personal situations. I understand that some options, like living at home, and not everyone has the family or financial circumstances to act upon all of these tips but they are still helpful to keep in mind. The reason I wanted to start with how much my degree cost is my goal for this blog is to be as specific as possible. This was everything I learned from my experience but it applies to whatever you’re looking to study!


1. Do Your Research

If you aren’t sure about what to choose – don’t get yourself into more than you can handle.  If you’ve wanted to be a doctor since you were 5 and love science and all that jazz, by all means, go for what you’re passionate about. But if you’re unsure, even a little, give yourself the breathing room to grow and take general courses or work experience if you need to before doing 3 years of an undergrad in Sciences just to realize Med school just isn’t for you.

Before choosing a career/study direction, as yourself  What is a realistic salary? How long will it take for you to pay it back? What does the job market look like for that position? Does this fit your lifestyle needs?

For more questions check out the post on All The Questions You Need To Ask Before Choosing A College.

I did a relatively cheap degree. I know the prices of American schools are a lot higher and European schools are free so Canada is somewhere in the middle (excluding Quebec). There was definitely pressure to choose an opportunity elsewhere and at a young age, the prestige tempted me. But I really didn’t want to go into debt for my degree because I didn’t really know what I was doing. A 6 figure debt might be worth it if I was to become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer, but I knew that wasn’t me. I knew the starting salary for an entry-level position was going to be around 40-50k (it actually started more at 36k) so I really didn’t want to go to a fancy school across the country or internationally for that.


2. Take Your Time Time & Continue To Look At All The Options 

You do not have to decide what to do for the next 40 years when you’re 18. It’s okay to change your mind, even after all that research. I did 5.5 years on a 4-year degree because I took time to do co-ops and travel while studying in between. And I didn’t regret a second of it.

I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, and I hated being asked that question. Here’s a secret of adulthood: No one knows what they are really doing. We all just fake it until we’ve got some resemblance of a career. I’m especially a huge advocate of co-op and internships to help you decide. But make sure you make the most of them!

I’ve worked in every industry you can imagine, things I didn’t even realize exist. Unless you’re 100% sure of what you want (and even if you are), make sure you’re not putting all your eggs into one basket when choosing your specialization. It’s okay to change your mind, it’s actually very normal. What makes it difficult is if you dedicated 4 years to nothing but one topic and learned no other skills. Look at all the options and continually keep that in mind. Remember, if you go through a year or two of a degree and realize you hate it and it’s not for you, it’s easier to change your mind at 21, than 41. Boom, 20 years saved.


3. No Matter What The Job, Work During Your Degree

There is no reason not to work a part-time job when you are also studying.

No excuses.

Not only does it help you pay your debt down quicker (like years quicker because your loan is at no interest during school) but it also gives you work experience. Unless you’re going into academia, school is not enough. Most employers want to see some kind of work experience on your resume as a new graduate. I never had difficulty finding work after graduation, even though my grades were average.

Not one employer (other than one from co-op) has ever asked me for my transcript or grades. I’m sure it’s different for other fields, but every employer has been much more interested in my work experience.

I got a job during university as a weekend/holiday receptionist for a travel agency. I started at one day a week, and gradually learned enough to work full-time in the summer in the  Customer Care department and assisted with other special projects along the way with Marketing. I know it’s easy to feel like you don’t have enough time to do everything and time management is hard. But just because you’re not a complete adult yet, doesn’t mean you need to shy away from responsibility. It makes it a lot easier down the road.  This is how you pay down debt before it really becomes debt.

Psstt…. this is also the secret to graduating with job experience!


4. Apply for Scholarships and Bursaries 

I know, I hate doing scholarship applications. They are a lot of work and can be very disappointing. Writing essays and getting references on top of your already hectic schedule is a lot. I completely understand it. But they can pay off.

Also, look into government bursaries and subsidies depending on your family’s financial situation. Especially if you’re struggling to pay for school, look into your local options.

I got good grades in high school, but a genius I was not. I took out student loans purely for the fact that I would be eligible for bursaries. When you say you’re on student loans, your financial situation has already been assessed and sometimes there are scholarships designed specifically for financial need. Some great resources are Scholarships Canada or Scholarship Portal.

Pro tip: It’s tempting to only apply to big scholarships but DO NOT overlook smaller scholarships. They really do add up. Check your local community awards that are not highly advertised online. And especially when you get a template going it’s really just about tailoring it to the application.

Throughout my 5 years, I ended up with over $10,000 in scholarships and bursaries and trust me, I’m not a genius. A lot of them were just comprised of smaller ones that added up.


5. Prioritize What You Want 

Very few people can “have it all.” If you want to pay off student debt, you’ll have to make sacrifices. If you want to go to the most expensive school and live on campus with lots of social activities, that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with wanting that if you have the financial means or are willing to pay them down the road. But most of us don’t.

I didn’t live on campus. I sat on transit (bus/train/bus) 3 hours (there and back) every day to go to the school I wanted and lived at home to save money. I considered living on campus but the housing costs were higher than my tuition and I simply could not afford it. So I sucked it up and learned how to study on the bus.

Instead, I used my time and money to go traveling, study abroad (not pay to live so close to attend a local university), and save up to buy an apartment when I was older, not rent one when I was young.

Know yourself. To some, it may seem like a lot and that they want the “full university experience.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it comes at a huge cost – in the number of student loans that you can spend a decade paying off.

The feeling of no debt at the end of the degree far outweighed the cost of a long commute for me. And frankly, I completely disagree with the idea that you have payout so much for the “best four years of your life” when you’re only 22.

Lastly, remember that it’s not for everyone. Check out the post on Why College Is Not for Everyone if you want to look at other options.

While choosing a post-secondary school is can seem like the most important investment you can make, trust me, it won’t necessarily be and the best is yet to come.

Author: Kimberly

Hi there! My name is Kimberly and I created MLA as a personal development, career, and finance resource for millennials. MLA focuses on helping career-driven millennials create the personal development habits to achieve work-life balance and manage their money. Throughout this blog, you’ll find articles that give specific and detailed advice because I’m not into the fluffy advice. There’s plenty of that on the internet. Here you will find tangible advice on how to find a rewarding career (that you love!), where you can help others, and learn how to save and invest your money for the future. I hope you’ll follow along!

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