How to get a degree and stay out of debt? (Part 2)

Continued from Say YES to Education but say NO to large debt (part1)

Pay as you go. Get a company to reimburse your for education. This is easier said than done. It takes work, but it is doable. I know because I did it for certifications and for my Bachelors degree, and I am doing it now for my Masters.

Step 1 – Choose your career field

In what field do you want to work in:

  • IT
  • Software Developement
  • Business Intelligence Analysis
  • Sales
  • Dental
  • Medical or Health
  • Home Improvement (plumbing, electrical, etc…)
  • Mechanic
  • Other…

Step 2 – Research entry-level proofs of education in the field

Take any field of employment and search the internet for it along with basic words such as “certification” or “certificate” or “apprenticeship”. For example: Developer Certification, Medical Career Certification, Dental Apprenticeship. You will probably find some nice and cheap ways into your field.

Step 3 – Start on the quickest proof of education to obtain

There are a lot of certifications that come after a one week course. There are a lot of jobs where you can be an apprentice and learn while your work.

Example: Sometimes, there are no solutions to be faster, only solutions to be cheaper. Think of becoming a General Contractor for example. You can work framing houses for four years and study to be a general contractor on the side. Four years experience is a requirement. Sure you don’t make much money your first four years, but you won’t gather 150K of college debt and at the end of four years, you will have experience and a General Contractor’s license, which is proof of education.

Step 4 – Get an entry-level job with a company that has education reimbursement

Find all the companies in your field you can work at. Apply at all of them for entry-level positions. Make sure to let them know about your “proof of experience”. Volunteer at them if you have to until you get hired. Try to choose one that has tuition reimbursement in your field.

Note: Be smart. If a company will pay you $15 an hour with tuition reimbursement, that is not as good as a company paying $25 and hour without tuition reimbursement. Who cares if you pay for the tuition or the company if you aren’t going into debt and you are getting good experience.

Personal Experience: You may have to start with any job, even one outside your field. I needed to get a $4K loan to get my first certifications. In 1999, I needed to make $9 and hour in order to get a 4K loan to get some computer training and a computer certification. I got a job as a grunt on a crew that framed houses even though I wanted to be either in IT or in Software Development. I got up to $9 an hour framing houses, got the loan, and took a 12 week course evening course for a certification called an MCSE. I came out of the course with only one of the five exams past: a single certification, which started me out as an MCP. With that one certification, I got a job making $14.42 an hour at a company called Convergys that pays tuition reimbursement.

Step 5 – Take two classes a semester while working

Working full-time is tough. Going to school full-time while working full-time is even tougher. I recommend part-time. Let your career and your degree grow together.  Create a spreadsheet of every class you need to graduate.

Important Personal Experience! Get accepted for your major. Get commitment from the college about graduation requirements. Too many people fail to take time to get accepted in their major and then the requirements change and they feel like they have to additional requirements. Usually, if you get accepted and work with a counselor, you can graduate without taking extra credit hours because of a change in curriculum.

Personal Experience: Your company may have limits to education reimbursement. Mine did. I could only reimburse $3500 a year, so I could only take about 15-18 credits a year. I found this was beneficial anyway. I took two calls in fall, two class in the winter, and one in the spring/summer. Night classes catered to working adults. They seemed easier because I already had knowledge from work. I was able to get work credit. Sometimes when taking a class in my field, I was able to do projects for my classes that coincided with work projects. It took me six years to get my degree but when it was done, I was completely out of debt and had years of work experience behind me so I wasn’t ever just a new college grad. I graduated at age 27. I started work and college at age 21 because I spent two years on a religious mission to the Dominican Republic from age 19-21. (Oh yeah, I speak fluent spanish. My proof of experience, living two years in the Dominican Republic.)


If you start this process when turn eighteen, you will have a college degree and, assuming it took you the first year or two to get in your field, four or five years of experience.

Look at this comparison chart:

4 years of college 2 years Job 6 years working and Degree
Education Debt $80k to $150K $0-$5k
Montly debt payment $400 to $1500 $0-$50
Years to pay off 10 to 20 (already two years in) 1 year
Experience/Salary level 1-2 years 4-6 years
Degree Yes Yes
Certifications No (but they could) Yes
Partying time at school Plenty A little

I think you can see why UnCollege exists. However, I think the focus should neither be “College” or “UnCollege” the focus should be to get Proof of Education without going into debt.

Leave a Reply

How to post code in comments?