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How to Get a Bachelors Degree by Age 20 With Zero Debt

How to Get a Bachelors Degree by Age 20 With Zero Debt

To secure a successful future, education is vital. Yet, degrees take an average of five years and thousands of dollars to attain.

I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree from a highly-ranked University at 20 years old. My parents wanted us to work for and value our education; thus we were responsible for paying for ALL of it. Even paying for it myself, I had zero debt when I graduated.

Here are 7 steps on how to graduate by age 20 (or even before) with a Bachelors Degree and zero debt…

1-      Aim to complete your associate’s degree while in high school. It is possible. I did it (shy of one credit) and many others I know have done it too.

2-      Meet with counselors on both the high school and college level and make a plan. Triple check all credit requirements and make sure classes (if taken at different schools) transfer correctly.

3-      Enlist in as many pertinent concurrent enrollment classes that your high school offers. Concurrent enrollment classes are college accredited classes that are offered on the high school level. They typically count as both high school and college credits. For example, I took Math 1010 and Math 1050 in high school. They counted for my high school math credits as well as the math requirements for my associate’s degree. Further, concurrent enrollment courses are typically very inexpensive and are taken during regular school hours during high school.

4-      Take AP courses that you know you will pass. It’s devastating to study for a complete year and then fail the test. Courses like AP Photography that are based on a portfolio and cannot be failed due to one test are great as well.

5-      Attend on-campus classes while you are in high school. I was on the high school tennis team so I enrolled in a college tennis class. It was awesome earning credits for the practice that I needed to do anyway. I also took a biology class on the campus and learned a lot. If you do not live close to a university look for online courses. I completed 4 online courses while in high school. Some were offered at the high school and we could go into the class and watch our professor miles away on a screen, others I paid for an took on my own. The internet has made going to college and completing college courses younger much easier.

Don’t be intimidated to go to school on campus. I got great grades by studying well despite testing against older class mates. I also took courses during my last summer semester. I found that summer courses were easier and shorter than other semesters. I wished I had taken more summer courses when I realized this.

6-      Find and apply for multiple scholarships. I was on track to earn a very high value scholarship. Had I not been one credit short of my associate’s (due to a unfortunate misunderstanding), I would have received it. Yet, despite NOT getting this high value scholarship, I was STILL able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree with zero debt. But it would have been a lot easier to do with a scholarship. Spend hours researching and applying for scholarships. And as my mother would say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Apply to many scholarships just in case the one you are counting on falls through.

7-      Earn your way through school. I paid tuition on a monthly payment plan so I could use my weekly paychecks. Also, save up your money during the times you aren’t at school. Between high school and moving away for college I worked very hard and saved up enough to pay for the next year of school. During the next two years, I worked during school and was able to pay for my schooling before the end of my final semester. Here are 9 additional Ways to get a degree without going into debt.

Despite losing out on a high value scholarship and having to pay for every penny of the degree, I was proud to have been able to get my Bachelors Degree without going into debt. I valued my education much more than I would have had my parents paid for it. I also took my grades very seriously because I didn’t want to pay another couple hundred dollars to re-take  a course or be forced to go to school an extra semester. Because of the valuable lessons I learned, my own children will be responsible to pay for the majority of their education.

Just to show that anyone can do this, at age 19 I took a 5 month break from college to travel to Taiwan (to teach English) and to New Zealand (to snowboard). I financed these trips as well as made money while abroad but when I came back I was broke. I had to work a few low key jobs (that allowed me to study) to get through my last couple semesters. If you (or your kids) don’t take a 5 month travel abroad trip they may be able to graduate even sooner than I did.

Following the aforementioned tips, I was able to graduate from a University with a four year degree at age 20 with zero debt. By using these 7 tips your children can too.

Check out these related posts: 9 Ways to Get a Degree Without Going into Debt, How to Avoid Debt,  How to Get Out of Debt, and The Difference Between Good and Bad Debt.


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66 Responses to How to Get a Bachelors Degree by Age 20 With Zero Debt

  1. Kris says:

    This is a great article. I was just telling my husband that the children should obtain their associates prior to age 18. Thank you for these tips, we will definitely use them!

  2. Christal says:

    This is a great list, I wish it had of been around when I was in high school

  3. Jennifer says:

    Love the suggestions. I wish my daughter’s school offered more AP classes. I have been telling her to get every college credit she can while in high school while it is cheaper.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Jennifer- Yes it is something that all high school students should be doing. The amount of debt most graduates have for a 4 year degree is staggering. Any help to get done faster and save money is really going to help. Great advice, I hope she follows it 😉

  4. Em Prata says:

    I knew about AP classes for college credit, but I had no idea you could get an assoc. degree while still in high school! The things you wish you knew!

  5. Claire says:

    Depending on your parent’s income, you might qualify for a government grant as well. When my husband and I got married, he still had two years left to get his degree and I had one. We asked our parents not to claim us as dependents so we could file our own taxes and with our low income and student status, we both qualified for grants.

    With $2500 worth of tuition covered for each of us, it was easy to pay the difference. If the government wants to help you get through school, let them!

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Great advice thanks! I love that you asked your parents not to claim you as a dependent… Smart move! Great advice to any other students reading this. I’m not a tax expert but I think there are rules on this. Consult a professional if this may an option for you. It’s a great tip to qualify for grants!

    • Nikita says:

      I’m a little confused by this. In California, at least, but I thought it was nation-wide, even if you are completely independent and file your taxes separate from your parents, you still have to include their tax information on the FAFSA until you are 24. I tried every year and was never once offered a grant of any kind until I turned 24. Strange.

      • Anita Fowler says:

        I am not qualified to answer this. All I know is that I wasn’t able to get any assistance because of my parent’s income. I would recommend everyone look into their own state laws and consult a tax expert. Thanks for bringing this up. Since I graduated at 20 I didn’t really have a reason to check on it later. Thanks for the info it may be correct!

      • Jen says:

        Nikita, In Illinois the FAFSA also asks you to include at the parents income as well. If they are divorced it is the parent that holds custody. It is unfair for sure.

      • sarah says:

        I think the thing that made the difference for Claire was that she was married.

      • Lynda says:

        It is most likely because your parents were claiming you on their taxes. This is why they ask for your parents tax returns. We are going through this in our household right now and as of next year we are not going to claim our son so he can be considered for more money for school. Our income hurts his chances for that. He has a job and files his own taxes as well, but as long as we continue to claim him as a dependent he cannot get any money for school, even though he works and pays for his own schooling too.

  6. Kassy says:

    What did you get for your bachelors degree in?

    • Anita Fowler says:

      I received a Bachelors of Science in International Studies. I was once planning/preparing to become an international lawyer hence the reason I graduated with a fairly useless degree. I learned a lot and I loved what I studied. Despite realizing I didn’t want to become a lawyer I found some great jobs to work out after graduating, so it worked out well for me.

  7. Aubrey says:

    This is assuming that jobs are easy to get. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Math and STILL can’t even get a low-paying job outside of the work-study jobs that I had while in school. I would spend every spring break applying to everything in my hometown (banks, retail stores, ice cream shops, restaurants, you name it!) and the only summer job I could get required me to live on-campus through the summers. I don’t know where you live or who you know that allowed you to get jobs so easily, but consider yourself lucky; it’s not as easy as you make it sound.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Aubrey- I am referring to the lowest paying jobs. I live in Utah and I am always seeing help wanted and we are hiring at restaurants, fast food chains, retail, etc. while going to school I worked in retail, restuarants, ski resorts (seasonal job), and even at Block buster stocking shelves. It was nothing special, just enough to pay my tuition. After I graduated you are right, finding a professional job was very difficult but eventually I did. I actually became a hiring manager (nothing to do with my rather useless degree of International Studies)… I wrote a post you may find helpful. Top 7 Proven Ways to Get Hired. I hope you find it helpful!

  8. Robert says:

    Although I do not think you necessarily need to expedite the process of getting a degree, I think your point about getting an associates degree would definitely help. I attended a private university paying $3,200 a class (3-units) per semester, compared to the local community college classes I took during the summer in which I paid $60 a class ($20 per unit). Had I taken the community college route those first 2 years I would have saved around $30-40k in student loan debt (don’t ask me how much I have with my bachelors and master degrees!). Add on interest over the life of the loan and that savings would have really added up!

    I think there needs to be more education for incoming first-year students and high school juniors & seniors about the options available to them with regards to financial aid, but more importantly scholarships. This is why I would recommend your point #2 about talking to a counselor be on every student and even parents priority list.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Robert- thanks for leaving the real figures of your education. I believe it will be helpful for other readers. Yes high school students do need to be educated about these options. My teacher mentioned it in passing one day and I pressed her for more information. After speaking with counselors and doing a lot of research I was surprised to realize as a junior that I could graduate with an associates! If she had never mentioned anything I would have never even known about this option. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Beth says:

    Great tips! I did the same, though I graduated high school at 15, then did my 4 years of college debt-free. 🙂

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Beth- That’s awesome! How did you go about graduating from high school by age 15? I would love to know! If I don’t hear back via this comment thread I may be reaching out to find out! 😉

  10. mjones says:

    Great article. I also graduated at 20 and would have been debt free if I hadn’t gotten married first. But it was minimal. It’s so possible if you aren’t afraid to work for it!

  11. Caitlin says:

    While I agree on most levels, I see a few things to add…

    1) Not all high schools provide AP classes, and not all high schoolers are close enough to a university or community college to take classes while in school. I grew up in a rural town in Colorado. We didn’t have many options. I took as many AP classes as possible (2) and only got 8 college credits to show for them.

    2) The choice of school has the biggest effect on whether or not a student will go into debt. I went to a private university on a huge scholarship, and so did my husband* $30K/year or more. My brother will probably go to an in-state, public college. $5K/year. My cousin is going to community college. $3K/year.
    While I greatly valued my education and worked my butt off for my $15K scholarship, I’ll be pushing my kids to go to tech schools to get their associates, to get a trade that guarantees a job, and then if they want to get the bachelor’s, they can decide how best to do that.

    3) The GI bill will pay tuition. Serve in the military, go to school for free.

    *My husband and I paid off our college loans within 3 years because we saved and spent responsibly. He went ahead and got another degree after serving in the military, and that second degree was paid for by the GI Bill.

    4) It’s pretty easy to get a bachelor’s degree and come out debt-free. But for people going into certain fields, like ones getting their doctorate, going into debt is pretty much unavoidable. Is it ridiculous how much they pay for tuition? Yes, but they can’t help it.

    Bottom Line: Choose the school you want to go to based on how much work you want to do to get you through it.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Caitlin thanks for your thoughtful comment. I appreciate it. I just want to add that there are many ways to take concurrent enrollment courses online now. High school students can enroll via the internet and pass off classes that way as well. I had 4 classes that were done online. I will add that to the body of the article, thanks for reminding me of this!

      Yes, if you want to join the military (which although I greatly respect all our men and women in arms) was not in my path or future, it is a great way to pay for schooling.

      Thanks again.

  12. Bridgette Villamil says:

    Great article! I graduated with a BA in natural science and mathematics shortly after my 20th birthday using a wonderful organization called CollegePlus. They outlined my entire degree from start to finish using a mixture of CLEP exams and online classes. My entire degree only cost $14,500!! I highly recommend earning your degree this way, I was able to go straight into a job at a small private school for a year and a half. By the time everyone else my age graduated, I already had experience that they didn’t ~ gave me a leg up on my competition 😉

    However, instead of pursuing a teaching career, I married my best friend and now have a beautiful baby boy 🙂

  13. Shawna says:

    Despite my high school being within walking distance of the community college and me taking honors courses throughout most of my schooling, I never even knew college courses were available of me until I was almost graduated and it was too late. I was so upset at this discovery! So much time was wasted. It was definitely a gross oversight by the school’s counselors that such a possibility was never even mentioned to us. When my daughters are at that point in their lives, it is something I mean to pursue for them.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Shawna- Thanks for this comment. Yes it is disheartening that it is not more widely known or taught. I mentioned in a comment before that I would have had no idea about this until one of my teachers mentioned it in passing. So glad she did!

  14. Leah says:

    I have been teaching high school in NY for almost ten years. It is ENORMOUSLY difficult to earn an associate’s degree while in high school. There is an incredible amount of state requirements and tests these days that make it very difficult for someone to go to a local community college (which where some people live, can be an hour’s drive away). For state-subsidized universities here, per SEMESTER tuition costs $6,000.

    Getting a bachelor’s at age 20 with no debt in NY is pretty much impossible.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Interesting. Does NY provide AP or concurrent enrollment classes? Are their distance education classes? Internet classes? I made use of all of these. I only took 3 on campus classes in my entire associates degree. So if NY does offer the other options perhaps a high school student could get close to attaining an associates degree without attending an on campus class. I don’t know each states situation but I thought most state high school programs offer concurrent enrollment and AP courses. Further, anyone can apply and take online college courses as well. It may be slightly more difficult in New York but if someone really wanted to do this I bet they could. When I did it I was the only one in my high school who did it. There was no ‘set program’ I had to get very creative. I also had to pay for it all so I worked as well. While I really appreciate your comment I do have to add that where there is a will there is a way… Especially now with the wide availability of distance and online courses.

    • Becky says:

      I am in New York also and I agree with you completely. I grew up and went to High school outside of Albany and with budget cuts most classes for college credit were cut the year after I graduated high school (2010- with the cuts starting for 2011 students)

  15. Christine says:

    I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 3 years. Like you, I took all the college classes my high school offered. I also took one extra class every semester. At my private school, credits cost around $800 each, but if you “overloaded” and took extra credits, they were only $300 each. Summer classes were only $600 per credit.

  16. harmony says:


    Congrats on pushing hard & completing such a monumental task! This is inspiring and something I will put a lot of thought into. The question I have is, do you think if you waited to pursue your bachelor’s degree, you may have obtained a more “useful” degree? I can’t help but wonder if by pushing to move through the college process so quickly as a teenager, you aren’t allowing yourself the time to discover what path you are best suited to take in your adult life.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Harmony- Well yes and no. I knew that I wanted to be an international lawyer for a few years before graduating high school and so that is why I got a degree in international studies. It was fascinating and I really enjoyed my classes. That said, It wasn’t until I had a fairly inspirational couple of years serving an LDS mission overseas that I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I loved to travel, snowboard, and be independent so having graduated early with no debt it allowed me to do what I loved and ‘regroup’ and think about what I really wanted to do. At age 24 I went back for one semester to get some pre-reqs done for a Master’s Degree in counseling psychology but that was short lived too. At age 25 I got married and realized that I wanted to be a mother. At 27 I became a mom and at age 28 I realized I wanted to be a blogger. At age 29 I wanted/and am becoming an author. So as you can see, I’m really really all over the board and my interests and passions change through the years. So I can’t answer that question all that well.

      All I know is that I was able (after attaining a four year degree without debt) to either pursue my passions and dreams (non educational) and go back to further schooling for a masters or PhD. This is why I recommend just getting school done. Most education-based professions require more than a 4 year degree and if you change your mind on what that is, all you need to do is get the pre-reqs which can be attained in a semester or two. Anyway, this is a long-winded answer I know. Just wanting to illustrate that some people don’t ‘know’ what they want to do for life when they are any certain age. All I know is being done with school without debt opened up a HUGE range of possibilities.

  17. Julie says:

    This is a great concept however I would really have to think long and hard if my kids wanted to do this only because at such a young age you haven’t had enough real life experiences to know what you really want to do long term. Of all my class I know of 2 who are actually doing what they studied in college.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Julie, as mentioned in the comment before. Most adolescents don’t know what they want to do for years. This is why I recommend just getting your degree done in something you like and is useful… Then go back for the few classes (pre-requisites) if what you want to do requires more education. I think the alternative to being in a whole lot of debt and being out of the work force for 4-6 years is worse than graduating early without debt and having the freedom to go back to school or find a job you love. I know people who were in collage for 10 years trying to ‘figure out’ what they wanted to do. Often times they still didn’t know when they graduated with 4 different majors but thousands- even hundreds of thousands in debt. You can of course encourage your children to do what you deem appropriate. I just found the freedom and ability to pick and choose, to work without a college loan etc. was very enjoyable at age 21 and up.

  18. Karen Moran says:

    AP courses are a wonderful way to earn those all important core credits for your degree, but I wonder if this young lady will come to regret missing her youthful high school times. Balance in life is very important and frankly I don’t see the purpose in trying to cram 4 years into 3 unless your plan is to go directly on to graduate work. Life experiences and forming lasting relationships are crucial to developing interpersonal and work relationships in all aspects of life. I admire her diligence, and applaud her success. All the best to her.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Karen- I am now 11 years older and STILL REALLY appreciate the fact that I got my schooling done so fast. I don’t feel like I missed out on socialization. I made great friends, hung out, socialized, and was on sports teams. I also traveled to different countries at age 19 (because I took a break from school for fun) and made some of the best friends ever- (who I’m still very close too).

      I simply choose to be efficient with my time. I accomplished this without too much of an unbalanced lifestyle. I appreciate your concern but having no debt and a degree at age 20 was AWESOME!

      Further, I got to work jobs that I wanted, snowboard, and socialize with friends a whole lot more than those who were still in school or working two jobs to pay off school debt. I have not come to regret, only APPRECIATE the decision I made to be efficient with my time, money, and schooling.

  19. megan says:

    College was an experience for me. The social part was just as important as the classes. I finished my bachelors in four years and that was perfect for me.
    Spending high school taking college AND high school classes? 60 hours a week during the summer? Two jobs? No thank you.
    Instead, I became a therapist and worked for a company that paid off my considerable loans (90k+) in three years. I’m now 29 and have a Master’s degree and no debt. I never spent a dime paying it back and I now make more than 75% of people in my area because I work for myself.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      That’s great! So happy for you :). I always say, ‘different strokes for different folks’. That’s amazing that you got your loans paid off by your employer! It’s a great idea for others to look into! I loved what I did and did have tons of socializing during and after graduating, but I’m happy you loved what you did too!

  20. Cassidy says:

    I am a sophomore in college and I took as much dual credit in high school as I could (26 hours), but it did not allow for me to be in school much less. Also, the tuition for my dual credit classes was much more expensive than it was my first year of college (and I took my dual credit classes at the same junior college where I went my first year). The only thing that saves you money when attempting to earn your associate’s in high school is still living with your parents. Also, I have saved almost every penny I have earned since I got a job at 16 (I’m 19 now), and it isn’t enough to cover a year of school even with my loans and scholarships.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Cassidy- where do you live? When you say dual credit classes are you referring to AP courses and concurrent enrollment? I happen to know that both of these types of courses are cheaper than on campus or regular tuition. Are you going to school in state or out? Which pricing are you using as a comparable? I’m sorry that some of this information is not applicable to you in your circumstance. Did you read the article through carefully because I talk about how to get cheaper courses through community colleges, distant education, online courses, etc. as well. After 3 years of savings, scholarships and loans it is VERY surprising that it does not even cover a local community college year as I suggest to get core requirements done cheaply? you may be living in an area with extremely high and inflated educational course costs. I’m not sure how you took every available dual course and still aren’t close to a associates. Maybe your school is really lacking in options, I didn’t take all that were offered over 10 years ago and still had my associates degree when I went to graduate high school, it is surprising your school offers so few! Either way if what you say is indeed accurate, I’m sorry. Best of luck in pursing an education.

  21. Kimberly says:

    Great information. My son is a Junior at a highly ranked engineering school. He is only 19 and because of the AP classes and going in the summer this last year he is already 2 semesters ahead of the other kids in the class. Doing this is allowing him to attend class in France next summer. With all the options of classes abroad now, students need to look into those options. Because we live in GA they have the Hope scholarship that ever kid in the state is entitled to. He graduated with a 3.8 and now they pay his tuition at 100%. If you graduate with a 3.0, you get 80%. This is saving about 6K a semester for us. As his mom, paying on the deferred plan will allow him to graduate without debt. I do disagree that kids still appreciate the degree if their parents are paying for it. I know he is grateful and he is working very hard to keep the 3.3 required for the scholarship. Also, I do not want him to work since he has a research project he is working on that he gets credit for and that is more important than the couple of hundred dollars he would earn a week. It really depends on the degree program they are in if they can hold down a job.

    Great advice on getting the credits while in HS and going in the summer. He lost one summer between HS and College because he wanted to have fun. Now he sees how easy it was to knock out three classes in the summer.

  22. […] unmotivated, immature, entitled, unrealistic, too willing to mooch off our parents.  We should graduate high school with an associate’s degree, go to community college for 2 more years at the very most and pay it off by working full-time, and […]

  23. msermershei says:

    I love this article, and I think it will definitely help me out in two years- the only thing is, didn’t you get really stressed with all of those extra classes and work? How did you manage it? I’m a freshman, and I’d love to got as much school out of the way with as little debt as possible for sure, but I also don’t wasn’t to achieve that only to remember junior and senior years as being stressful and overwhelming…
    Thanks so much!

  24. Michelle says:

    I appreciate your initiative and diligence to pursue your Bachelor’s degree debt free. I also agree that students are capable of completing more advanced work at younger ages. Without minimizing your level of achievement or quality work, there is a perspective that seems to be getting lost in the name of saving money. Two of my daughters graduated from a classical school that requires a rigorous academic program comparable to that of a colonial education in this country, yet the classes are not acknowledged as AP or dual credit. The school at one point offered AP classes, but dropped them because they found that the focus was more on teaching to the test than on actually learning the discipline and content of the subject. Both of those young ladies were accepted to well respected universities and given substantial scholarships, but still did not cover the entire tuition. Both have been complimented numerous times for the quality of their writing compared to many of their peers, even those who have taken advanced level classes in high school. My oldest daughter has taken courses at both university and the community college in order to complete her double major in four years. Her experience has been that the online courses through the community college do not compare in rigor and knowledge and experience gained compared to her classes at the four year university. I interact with many families who have students in public school taking AP courses and dual credit courses who comment regularly that their classes are not as challenging at those offered by the high school my children attend. Many colleges and universities are increasing the scores required on AP tests to qualify for credit or they are accepting the credit, but not eliminating the requirement for the class because the students are not learning in a high school dual credit course what they would learn in a semester class on campus at the four year university. Even the same course taken at the local community college and at a four year university is vastly different. While those options may allow one to earn a degree for less money, they do not necessarily offer the same quality of education.

    On a different note, if high schools continue to provide “college” level course work paid for by people’s tax dollars, then you are in effect undermining the univerisities’ ability to offer higher education at an affordable cost. Additionally, what does that say about entire scope and sequence of education. Are regular high school courses unnecessary? Can high school teachers offer students the same level of education as college professors? Do students really only need two years of high school and then they are ready for college level work? Should we then eliminate the entities of high school and community college and morph them into one system, and then reduce the university to the two year program? Do employers consider the difference between a degree obtained going concurrently in high school versus a degree obtained at a four year university after completing four years of high school?

    My encouragement is that we think a little more deeply and critically about the nature and quality of education as we consider options for making a higher education more affordable. I would encourage people to interview professors of 300 and 400 level classes at universities and invite their perspective on how to prepare for completing a bachelor’s degree. I would challenge the federal government to stop subsidizing higher education so that the cost of education would come down instead of putting private educational institutions out of business. Let us not accept a decline in the quality of education offered or received simply because it will cost us less.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Great insight. Thanks so much! It is important to really think in-depth about educational goals and do proper research. I don’t have the answers to your thought-provoking questions. But I do agree that there are major flaws in the educational system. I just worked with it as best as I could to get my own personal goals (learn as much as I can yet graduate quickly and debt-free) accomplished. I can’t account for other peoples individual goals or say this or that about the entire educational system altogether. I simply share this information for those out there that have similar goals as I had.

  25. Becky says:

    Very interesting articles but I have a few points to make:

    When did you graduate college because with budget cuts MANY high schools near me do not offer many classes you can take for college credit?

    I am 22. I graduated HS in 2010 with about 10 college credits. The following year half of the classes that I took for college credit (mostly business classes) had been cut because of budget cuts. I was 19 when I got my associates. I went to a community college for 1.5 years while working 3 jobs that took about 60 hours a week. I bad for community college myself. This is doable and realistic. I then transferred to get my bachelors. I completed my bachelors at age 21 which is VERY young compared to lots of my classmates. I paid for 3 out of 4 semester myself. The last semester I had to take out $8000 in loans to finish. Still under the average!

    Currently in my area with my local high schools it is impossible to finish an associates by the time you are 18. Even with online classes (that you still have to pay for), it just seems impossible to me. I commend you for your debt free education but many people don’t have that option. It is also important to remember that college is a huge financial decision no matter which way you go. At 18, kids are still treated as children in high school and I think it is ridiculous how we expect kids who had to ask to use the bathroom in May of their senior year and now expected to understand the ramifications of taking out 30K loans for college in August. I think that there needs to be more mutual understanding of what college means between parents, high school teachers/ counselors, and the students.

    Good read- I look forward to reading other people’s comments.

  26. Megan says:

    I think these are great suggestions. I have worked since I was 15, but since my family couldn’t afford to pay for a car, gas, or even transport me to work and back, the majority of my money made from low-paying jobs ended up paying for my transportation and meal cost. So, I really didn’t save much for college but the work experience was useful. Since I wasn’t able to earn much after accounting for the cost of transportation, I chose to attend Berea College. Berea College is a great option for low-income students because it is absolutely tuition free and all other expenses are based on your FAFSA (income based). It was a miracle for me and I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to attend there. If anyone is reading this and thinking it is impossible to earn enough money, obtain that scholarship, or get AP classes (because of your state circumstances, like NY, for example), check out Berea College! Now I only wish my Master’s degree had been cheaper!

  27. What an inspirational young lady you are! Thanks for the wonderful article with great information!

    I will pass it on!
    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

  28. Marilyn says:

    This is a great post! I just graduated with my Bachelor’s at 20 as well without any debt thanks to dual enrollment during highschool. However, even with a scholarship classes were incredibly expensive and it isn’t easy to come up with $6,000-$7,000 every semester. I worked 3 jobs and night shifts to pay for it, and though I’m immensely proud, unless your tuition is closer to a community college’s I wouldn’t exactly recommend this route. It was stressful and not for the faint of heart. Don’t try to push your kids towards this unless it’s something they’re passionate about.

  29. Grace says:

    Hi! Congrats on your accomplishments! I wish I had had more opportunities to reduce my own student debt, which I will be paying off for the next 20 years 🙁 Your story is still inspiring to me, as I have two, soon to be three children who will most likely pursue higher education some day. My oldest is homes chooled and I would be so so interested to know more specifics about your high school coursework. I don’t know if you still remember or have records about which AP classes and dual enrollment courses you took during high school, but I would be fascinated to hear how you did it in more detail. I wouldn’t want my child to plan so carefully and then miss out on a scholarship opportunity like what happened to you (that stinks, btw). Even if you just remember generally what you took I would love to know! Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Anita Fowler says:

      I took AP photography, math 1010 1050 and I think 1060 or something like that. I took American sign language 1 and tested out of it and got credits for it. I took science and English concurrent enrollment. I took tennis and a biology class at the local Community college. I also took statistics as an online course at the university. I was in the astronomy concurrent enrollment course. That’s all that I remember at this point 13 years later 🙂 best of luck for you and your children! Normally most don’t end up a credit shy but I didn’t know about the ASL 2 test that I had to take until 4 months after I ended the course and since I was so rusty in sign language and only had a week to practice I didn’t pass. That’s why I ended up a credit short.

  30. […] How to Get a Bachelor’s Degree by Age 20 With Zero Debt {Live Like You Are Rich} […]

  31. Amy says:

    I have a couple questions, first are students allowed to be enrolled in high school and community college/online college at the same time? Or do you need to do college and online courses over summer months? Secondly not everyone is allowed to take AP or college credit courses at our high school. You have to be approved by teachers and accepted and actually they only allow the top 10% of students to participate. Is this not the norm around the country?

  32. TP says:

    Good advice, but don’t assume ALL of it will work for everyone.

    Yes, many students can earn an associate’s degree while they’re still in high school — but it requires that you’re at least a strong-average student, and it generally requires that you have your own transportation to the community college.

    Working on an associate’s degree in high school also takes away your opportunity to take some really great electives in high school: J-ROTC classes, for example. Or the classes that lead to a certificate in cosmetology or a CNA license. Before you decide to fast-track to the associate’s degree, be sure you understand what you’re giving up.

    Keep in mind, too, that your high school only has X number of spots for students to take these dual enrollment high school /community college classes that lead to an associate’s degree. So not everyone can get in!

    Once you have the associate’s degree, do not assume that EVERY major can be completed in two more years. This especially true for people majoring in nursing and teaching because they’re required to spend so much time in clinicals and student teaching. It’s also true of engineers and people in techy-majors because they often take on internships.

    Of course, the biggest reason most people won’t do this is that they don’t plan. Or, they don’t plan that far in advance. If you decide at the end of junior year that you want to do this … it’s probably too late to get everything in. It’s a rare person who’s going to see these options as a freshman or sophomore — and really, that’s when you’d have to start this process.

    The bottom line: Earn some credits towards college while you’re still in high school, but don’t do it at the expenses of the great classes you can ONLY take while you’re in high school, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage this feat. Graduating at 22 is pretty typical (most people are 18 at high school graduation), so don’t feel that you’re a loser if you don’t meet this standard!

  33. Lexa Werner says:

    Anita- I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this yet but in the state of Minnesota the state will pay for you to take up to 18 credits a semester at any college in the state your junior and senior year of high school. I am currently a junior and I will be graduating with my Associate’s degree in the Arts from the local tech school when I graduate high school. This can also be used as a “transfer degree” to go to a 4 year school once you graduate. I am SO happy I chose to go this route, and even more so after reading your post. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lexa Werner says:

      And also I got my CNA license as soon as I turned 16. A local nursing home hired me and paid FOR my training and CNA test, and paid me TO go through the training. I am currently making about double what other teens are making at fast food restaurants and other minimum wage jobs, and it’s something that any nursing home in the country would hire me. I highly recommend teens who can handle the work that it is (aka wiping butts) to get their CNA licensing as it will pay MUCH better than lots of jobs you could get to help put you through college.

    • Anita Fowler says:

      Thank you for this information. Many will find it helpful!

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