I always knew I wanted to go to college, even if I wasn’t sure what degree I would pursue. Earning my bachelor’s degree debt-free was important to me, and I knew this was something I needed to consider when looking at schools. During my last year of high school, I applied to only one school- and got in. But the school was out of state and because of underlying circumstances related to prerequisites, I wouldn’t be able to attend without racking up a ton of debt. I was already in a happy, committed relationship, and I joined the ranks of military spouse before I earned my degree.
Overcoming Hurdles: Finding Free Money to Earn My Bachelor’s Degree Debt Free
After my husband and I married I briefly looked into attending one of the local community colleges. But figuring out the prices of classes and how to apply was complicated. Fill out these forms, go to this place, do this, then that, and so on. It was so overwhelming that I never went back. It wasn’t until about six years later, nearly a year after my oldest child was born, and at NAS Sigonella in Sicily, that I finally applied for college.
However, financial concerns were still present. How would we pay for me to go to school on a single income while also taking care of a baby? My husband and I didn’t want to transfer his GI Bill so that wasn’t an option. I spoke to the employees of the college who made applying simple and they gave me financial aid advice.
Six years, three different cities, and two more kids later, I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in English without accruing debt and paying very little out of pocket. (Though I do admit to taking a total of two years’ worth of a break.) Here’s how:
- Online School – While obtaining a degree at a prestigious school would be an honor, as long as you graduate from an accredited college, you are still earning a college degree. Colleges that offer online classes usually have decreased tuition for military members and their spouses plus a flexible schedule, which is always a must in the military life.
- MyCAA– a grant for military spouses, and is a lifesaver. When I applied, I received $6,000. It has since dropped to $4,000 but is still incredibly helpful. Use this financial assistance to obtain your Associate’s degree since it cannot be used for a Bachelor’s.
- Pell Grant – a federal grant for undergraduate students who have not already earned a Bachelor’s degree or above and demonstrate financial need. Most military families would fall under financial need. Fill out a FAFSA form to see eligibility.
- Patience – Using MyCAA and the Pell Grant by themselves will limit how many classes you can take if you do not want to accrue debt or pay out of pocket.
Slow and Steady is Key to Earning Your Bachelor’s Degree Debt Free
I decided to earn my degree through The University of Maryland Global Campus (previously The University of Maryland University College). They offered online courses, as well as some classes on base, and military tuition. After being accepted, I looked at grants and scholarships. MyCAA and the Pell Grant were enough for me to earn my degree. I was able to take about three classes per semester with the help of these grants; only occasionally having to pay a little out of pocket or — if I did my math wrong — pay for a full class myself. Thankfully that rarely happened. Take the number of classes the grant will cover and no more. Once you’re out of grant money, wait until the next grant disbursement comes around.
Tips to Help you Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree Debt Free
Books are a financial burden. A single undergraduate book can cost $100-$200, or sometimes more, depending on your degree and classes. If you have extra money from the Pell Grant, it can be used towards books as well. However, there are other options for cheap textbooks. Schools usually have their own online stores. Buy used, or rent the textbooks from your school store. Amazon is a great resource for buying used or renting textbooks. I’ve paid as little as $5 for a book. Thrift Books has become popular with college students too.
Scholarships to Help You Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree Debt-Free
You don’t have to limit yourself to only the MyCAA and Pell Grants. Those were just the two I needed, but I could have received my degree faster had I applied for other grants and scholarships. Applying can take quite a bit of work and time so be prepared. Valuable resources for grants and scholarships:
- Collegeboard Scholarship Search
Your own journey into higher education can begin sooner than you think! There’s no time like the present to increase your knowledge and skills, even if it’s just one class at a time. A small step forward is better than standing still.
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