These student debt numbers go hand in hand with reports from the College Board that four-year public colleges and universities now charge, on average, about $7,600 in annual tuition and fees to in-state undergraduate students and nearly $12,000 a year to out-of-state students. Private non-profit four-year colleges and universities average more than twice that, costing students about $27,300 a year in tuition and fees.

With the average tuition cost of a four-year degree running between $36,000 and $108,000 — and that’s without counting non-tuition college costs like room and board, textbooks, transportation, and living expenses — it’s easy to understand why student loans have become such a common piece of a student’s financial aid package.

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An increasing number of students who graduate with college loans, however, are finding it difficult to repay their student loan debt. Department of Education statistics show that nationally, about 7 percent of borrowers who entered repayment on their federal education loans in 2008 defaulted within the first year of repayment, and nearly 14 percent have defaulted within three years. (2008 is the last full year for which student loan default statistics are available.)

As consumer and student advocacy groups like The Project on Student Debt and the Institute for College Access & Success call attention to the spreading problem of ballooning student loan debt, spiking default rates, and the growing number of recent graduates who find themselves in need of debt help, some students are looking for ways to pay for college without taking on debt from school loans.

Graduating from college debt-free is certainly possible, but it can require some careful planning, creative financing, and potentially some adjustments in your college plans.

1) Pay as You Go

If your school offers tuition payment plans, consider eschewing student loans in favor of a “pay-as-you-go” model. By taking advantage of a school payment plan, you can pay for college in smaller installments, rather than as one big chunk all at once.

Many colleges and universities now offer monthly payment plans that allow you to spread out the cost of your tuition and fees over the course of the semester and pay for your college costs in monthly installments. You may be charged a small one-time or monthly fee when you opt for a tuition payment plan, but once you’ve earned your degree, you’ll be able to leave school with no student loan debt.

2) Scholarships & Grants

Spend some time each month searching for scholarships/” title=”Search for college scholarships and grants”>college scholarships and grants. There are several online scholarship search engines that allow you to search databases of awards for free. Scholarships and grants provide “free money” for college that, unlike student loans, you won’t need to pay back.

With the millions of private and public scholarship programs available, application deadlines fall year-round. To maximize the number of awards you can apply for, make sure to search continually throughout the year and not just during the summer, right before tuition bills come due and when your competition will be steepest.

By Haadi