Is It Better to Finish College Faster or Debt Free?

Learn if it's better to graduate faster with more debt or slower with less debt.
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Paying for college can be a juggling act. It can be difficult to balance the amount that you borrow with how much you work and how quickly you are able to graduate from college. If you are determined to graduate debt free, you may be working full time and taking only a few classes a semester. It is important to think about several factors as you determine the right course of action as you work to get your college degree.

Working More and Slowing Down School

One of the options is to work full-time and to attend school part-time. This may be a good option if you are already supporting a family instead of just yourself. However, it is also important to consider how much your earning power will increase once you get your degree. Your job may offer to reimburse the cost of tuition for a certain number of credit hours each semester. In exchange, you may need to agree to work for them for a set number of years after you graduate. This may make attending school possible for you. However, if you are not making steady progress toward your degree, you may want to cut back your work hours a bit and add a few more school hours into your schedule.

  • Consider your current financial responsibilities and how much you need to cover the expenses.
  • Be sure that you find a job that pays well, which can reduce the amount of time you need to spend working while covering your expenses. 
  • Look at alternatives to attending school during the day so you can work. Online options, night school and classes that only meet once a week may help you speed up graduating while you continue to work.
  • Be sure to take advantage of study groups and help that the university offers to help you juggle your situation. Tutors and study sessions can help if you are juggling a lot and trying to do well in school. 

    Borrowing More and Speeding Up School

    Another option is to attend school full-time and to borrow money to cover all of the expenses. You may justify this by carrying a higher than average class load and really focus in on your studies. Many people who are in this situation may be tempted by the programs that offer quick certification but also charge a lot more than you would be pay for it at a traditional university or community college. As you borrow money for school, it is important to think about the return that you will make once you graduate. If you are spending tens of thousands of dollars on a technical program that will have you starting at just $10.00 an hour (a medical assistant for example), you may want to rethink the program and choose a school that is more affordable.

    • If you cannot work and go to school, try increasing your course load to speed up how long it will take you to graduate.
    • Take the time to apply for scholarships and grants to help cover your college costs.
    • Work on reducing your expenses. Be sure to live as cheaply as possible while in school. You may consider living at home to further reduce the costs.
    • Consider working multiple jobs during the summer and saving up money to reduce the amount that you have to borrow each year. 

      Finding the Right Balance

      It is important to find the right balance for you. Some people have a difficult time working and attending class. In order to balance that out they work multiple jobs over the summer and save aggressively to help lower the amount they need to borrow for school. Other students find that they can work part-time and take a slightly lighter load, while attending a few classes over the summer to keep them on track for a timely graduation. Some semesters they may be able to increase their hours while planning on a lower workload during the last few semesters of school.

      There is not going to be a single right answer for everyone. A lot depends on your major, your expected earnings and the amount that you end up borrowing. As you make the decision for your individual situation, you need to make sure you are following a tight college budget, and that you are working on keeping your tuition costs down.

      It does not make sense to lose your full tuition scholarship in order to keep a minimum wage job.

      Speaking from personal experience, I know it is possible to juggle college and work. I was able to graduate with my bachelor’s degree debt free. I had scholarships many semesters, and I worked the entire time I was in school. It worked because of the college budget that I had, and I was able to attend a school with affordable tuition. I finished a five-year program in four years. Take the time to plan out your college experience. Look at when you need to do your internship and plan and save for it now. Considering working at least part-time to help reduce the amount you borrow for school. You should work to get through quickly, but it is important to find the right balance for your situation.