You can go to College Debt Free

Just a few days ago we celebrated my daughter’s graduation from college (Roll Tide!). The path she chose was a little different and certainly a bit off the beaten path, but nevertheless she just finished with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and she did it without taking out any loans or borrowing anything at all. Here’s a quick summary of her story and how you could do it as well.

Our daughter Shelby went to a private Christian School from K3 to 12th grade. She was “Miss Academy” and president of the SGA. She excelled in leadership and has always been a take charge kind of young woman. She is also a woman of faith and has a Trust in God that is contagious.

Maneuvering the College Financial Maze

When we started helping her prepare for her post high school academic career, we visited seven different schools. She was admitted to everyone she applied, but the financial process was a bit of an undertaking. To say that the academic system is tough to maneuver and confusing is an understatement – and we don’t have time to get into all the details; but suffice it to say we did everything we could to get her into some pretty nice (expensive) colleges. But they just didn’t see eye to eye with us on how we were going to pay for it. Their main answer was always debt – and we don’t do that around our house. I recall sitting across the desk from one admissions representative and negotiating finances like we were buying a used car. It is a racket and is stacked against those that don’t want to pursue debt for their education. That representative kept looking at Shelby and talking to her and completely ignoring me until I finally told her “I don’t know why you keep talking to her… she doesn’t have any money”.

Standardized testing

Another problem with the process is that it is heavily weighted with the results of standardized exams and our daughter is not a good test taker. She could not break through to get a high enough score on those exams to allow her to get any financial assistance from the schools. Keep in mind that she had a very high GPA… was involved in everything in the leadership of the school, and was very well respected and extremely intelligent. But just because she had test phobia she was excluded from getting any assistance and that one test stood in her way.

After going through the motions with several schools and for the most part running into roadblock after roadblock, we got some advice from professionals in her chosen profession (Nursing) and began looking at the local Community College for answers. We spoke with nurses and nurse administrators we knew as well as had her shadow some of them to see if it was what she wanted to do. We also went to the community college and spoke with the counselors there to get a better understanding of how the process works. One of the confusing things we didn’t know is that in order to be a Registered Nurse (RN), you did NOT need to have a four year degree. We had spoken to several universities and they made it seem that the only way to become an RN was to take a four year path. However that was not the case.

Community College Rocks

As we moved forward toward community college we found out some positive news in that because Shelby was the SGA President of her school she could receive a presidential scholarship at the school that would pay for her tuition. So needless to say, that is the route we took. She actually started college the Wednesday before she graduated from high school on a Friday. She had to get a Biology class in order to get things started properly in the fall and she took that one class the summer before she started full time. With the scholarship, her first year tuition was taken care of and we paid out of pocket for her room and board for her to stay on campus.

She did amazing in her basic college classwork and then applied and was accepted into the nursing school at the community college. As we look back, the college’s nursing school was a tremendous blessing and is a wonderful academic challenge that prepared her for her boards where she excelled and became an RN. The nursing school process was 5 semesters of extremely challenging and tough academic and practical nursing instruction by some very dedicated leaders that really push students to become great nurse candidates and prepare them very well for their state license exams. I would highly recommend to anyone to research that path and see how it works. She finished her time at the community college and graduated there with her Associates Degree in Nursing and received her nursing “pin”. She took her state boards a month or so after graduation and got her RN license.

Getting to work

She wanted to work at a different hospital than where she did most of her clinical studies so she applied at the only local Level 1 Trauma Hospital in our area. She has now been a Registered Nurse working in a Critical Care department for two years. She has seen a lot and learned a lot and the experience has been tremendous. Oh yeah… she has also been studying online for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her dedication to her craft is evident and her desire to continually learn and grow in knowledge is one of the reasons she has been able to move forward and get her degree.


The process for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is also confusing and we both had to read and understand the process. There is an accelerated online program they refer to as RN to BSN (there is also an RN 2 MSN – Master of Science in Nursing). As we got more information and understood how it worked, we found out that all the classes were completed online and for the most part all were the same (well similar) at the different universities we contacted. Taking a fulltime load of classes, she completed the required classes in three semesters and received her degree walking across the stage with all the other BSN recipients at the University’s graduation commencement.

paying for the bsn

So how did the BSN get paid for? Well she did work as an RN full time – and she paid for it with cash. I know that is crazy, but it can be done and she did it! Also, as a part of her employment she has taken full advantage of her company’s retirement plan and also contributes fully to a ROTH IRA. So not only did she just graduate with her BSN, she also has a positive net worth… oh yeah, she is also just 22 years old.

We as a family did prepare for Shelby’s college as our budget allowed and we saved up some money to pay for books, room and board and other things to get her through. But we didn’t have enough to put her through a four year program and pay for it all. That said, we were faithful with the amounts we saved every year since she was in elementary school and the rest came from being diligent and asking a lot of questions and reading a lot and also from a lot of trust and prayer.

another way to get there debt free

Hopefully in two years I will write another blog post about our son and his college career. You see he is on a similar financial path – and Lord willing – he will graduate debt free and pursue his dream of being a teacher. His story is different in that he is at a four year university, but being faithful and prayerful and willing to always ask questions and see how you can get help financially can help get you through with no debt. He is a rising Junior and will work this summer to pay for his meal plan – while we will pay for his tuition and books. He also applied and was accepted as a Resident Assistant so his room is covered by the university and he gets a small stipend each month for being on duty and keeping his hall together. He also works after school care at a day school about 35 minutes from his school because he wants to be around kids and learn how to be a better teacher. On top of that he is also a Division II distance runner – so he is up most mornings before 6am running with his team and competing for the university in Cross Country and Indoor/Outdoor Track and Field.

Always ask questions… don’t accept the status quo!

Perseverance, questioning, not accepting the status quo, pushing for answers, being willing to change paths and work harder… all these things along with trust and prayer can get you moving forward. I didn’t have a Financial Coach to help me and we were thought to be pretty weird by our kids and friends and family (still are). But just because everyone does it doesn’t mean you have to – and you don’t have to do it alone. Let us know how we can help you get things in order and get on track to help your family retire with dignity and help your kids pursue their passions without debt.

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