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Why are we in a student loan crisis?

Student loans are normal. But normal is not setting college graduates up for success. Instead, it has put us in a student loan crisis. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average college student graduates with $35,000 in student loans, and it’s taking on average 20 years for people to pay off student loans.

Young adults are starting off life in the red and that’s not OK. Parents and teens are overwhelmed and feel like student loans are the only way, but that’s not true. With the right information and proper planning, you can pay for college without student loans. That’s why I wrote my new book, “Debt Free Degree.”  It gives readers a step-by-step plan of how to pay cash for college.

 You say that you can go to school debt free. How can you do it?

There are three main ways to pay cash for college:

  1. Save money: Go to an in-state college you can afford. Ignore the stigma of community colleges. There are some that have great programs, so find the one that’s right for you. The savings are worth it! Some states even offer free or reduced programs, like free community college or grants. Work-study programs are also a great way to save money.
  2. Find money: Teens are spending anywhere from 2-6 hours a day on social media. Use at least an hour of that each day to find scholarships and grants. In fact, on my website, I have a scholarship search tool that has more than 10,000 scholarships. Each year, more than $1 billion in scholarships and grants go left unused. Don’t let that money slip through your fingers! and work.
  3. Work: Did you know studies show that students who work ten to nineteen hours a week hold higher GPAs than students who don’t work? So get to work! Get a part-time job and cash flow your way through college.

It’s never too early to plan. What should parents do each year to start planning for life after high school?

Believe it or not, I want parents to start this process as early as middle school. Have the money talk early. Teach your kids why debt is not a part of the plan. If you have a fully funded emergency fund and you’re investing 15 percent of your income into retirement, consider investing in a 529 or Education Savings Account.



Freshman year, they should start the process of finding scholarships. Spend one-hour per day applying for scholarships until they graduate. Consider enrolling in AP classes. They could help with college credit down the road.

Start prepping for the ACT and SAT by taking prep courses during sophomore year. Junior year, they should start taking and re-taking those tests. Also, take your student to visit schools and narrow down their choices. This will help give you and them a clear understanding of what exactly it’s going to cost.

Senioritis is real. So during senior year make sure to stay on top of that GPA and deadlines for scholarships, grants, FAFSA and college applications. Make a decision based on what you can afford and where you’ve been accepted.

So you have a junior or senior in high school and no money saved for college. What do you say to that parent?

I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed by the cost of college. My parents and I looked up my junior year of high school and realized we had no plan. Luckily, I was able to get my dad’s GI bill and college was paid for. But once I was out on my own, I took things into my own hands. I took out student loans. I signed up for a credit card. And I wound up homeless and deep in debt at 19. I want to help teens to avoid those mistakes.

Parents feel guilty for not being able to send their kid to their dream school. The only dream school is the one that you can graduate from debt-free. College does not determine your kid’s success, and it’s not the only way. There are other options if you have no money saved. Explore directional schools and trade schools. Consider taking a gap year.

Or even work your way through community college.

What advice can you give parents for their kids so that they can be successful once they’re in college?

Don’t do debt of any kind. You’ll be tempted to get student loans and credit cards to fund your lifestyle. Don’t do it! It’ll only make life harder later. Keep it clean on social media. Think about your future employer. I’ve heard so many times about how college graduates lose out on a dream job because they have embarrassing posts on social.

Get to know your professors. They can be your biggest allies. Find the library and visit often. College is an opportunity not an obligation. Don’t get it twisted and waste your money. Remember your why. Remember what your goals are. Only you can achieve those goals – no one is going to do it for you.

At age 19, Anthony OI’Neal was deep in debt, short of hope, and had no direction of where his life was headed. But after a life-changing encounter, he turned his life around and committed to helping students find and pursue their passions. Since 2003, O’Neal has helped hundreds of thousands of students make smart decisions with their money, relationships, and education. He’s a national best-selling author and travels the country spreading his encouraging message to help teens and young adults start their lives off right. His latest book, “Debt Free Degree,” is available now.

Instagram @AnthonyONeal and Twitter @AnthonyONeal and online at