Is It Better to Finish College Faster
or Debt Free?
Paying for college can be a juggling act. It can be a definite challenge figuring out how to borrow the right amount, along with how much you work and how timely you can graduate from college.

If you are determined to graduate debt-free, that may extend the length of time to graduate, since you may be working full time and taking only a few classes a semester. And if you decide to attend school full-time, you may accumulate more in student loans, since you most likely won't be working full-time.

Miriam Caldwell with The Balance, helps you to consider the following as you decide whether it's better to graduate college more quickly or graduate with less debt.

Working While You Attend College

One of your options to graduate college with less debt is to work full-time and to attend school part-time. This schedule may be a good option if you are already supporting a family, though you should consider how much your earning power will increase once you get your degree.

If you are working, your employer may offer to reimburse the cost of tuition for a certain number of credit hours each semester. In exchange, you could consider arranging some form of agreement to work for them for a set number of years post-graduation. This work-for-school exchange may make attending school possible for you.

For some, working while attending school can be a good option. But 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.

Tips for Working Through College
  • Keep your current financial responsibilities in mind and how much you will need to meet your other financial obligations. 
  • Be sure that you find a higher paying job, 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 can be viable options. 
  • Be sure to take advantage of study groups at your college to help you balance both work and school. Tutors and study sessions can help if you are in juggling mode.
Attending School Full-Time and Taking out Student Loans

Another option is to attend school full-time and take out student loans to cover your tuition and expenses. You may justify this by considering the timeline—if you attend school full-time, you will graduate sooner, so the time you will spend paying for tuition, books, and other school-related expenses will be less.

If you decide to take out student loans to go to college, it is important to think about your career prospects once you graduate. For example, if you are spending tens of thousands of dollars on a technical degree that will have you earning $10/hour once you graduate, the investment may not be worth it. But if you are attending a prestigious business program that will likely have you earning six figures once you graduate, it may be worth it.
Tips for Minimizing Debt
  • 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 reduce the cost further. 
  • Consider working a few jobs during the summer and saving up money to reduce the amount you will need to borrow each year.
Finding the Right Balance

It is crucial for yourself to find that right balance. Some people have a difficult time working and attending college, so to balance things, they work multiple jobs over the summer and religiously save to help reduce the borrowing amount for school.

Other students find they can work part-time and take a lighter course load while attending some summertime classes, keeping them on track for graduation. Some students may be able to increase their hours with expectations of a lighter workload during the last few semesters of school.

There is not going to be just one right answer for everyone. A lot depends on your major, your expected earnings, and the amount that you end up borrowing. As you maneuver through your situation, it’s important to make sure you are following a strict 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 maintain a part-time job.

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