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How I’m Graduating Debt-Free

Student Erin Sye, smiling.

A Dream to Graduate College Debt-Free Comes True

College debt is a concern for most of us but is it possible to minimize – even eliminate – what we owe? Here’s how one University of Arizona senior did just that. 

About Erin Sye

Major: General Studies: Social Behavior and Human Understanding Emphasis
Affiliations: ASUANY, Phi Theta Kappa, Tau Sigma National Honor Society
Graduating in: 2022
From: North Valley, Phoenix, Arizona

Paying for college is as unique as every student – there’s no one way to do it. Erin Sye took classes online from the fifth grade on, before attending Glendale Community College (GCC) and then transferring to the University of Arizona at North Valley – an academic journey different from many. Now, in her senior year, she is preparing to earn another distinction: graduating with zero college debt. Here’s how she did it.

Stacking Financial Aid

How did taking classes locally help minimize the cost of college?

I was able to save quite a bit of money while I attended GCC. Living at home, I didn't need to pay for housing, which also helped. I also didn't have to pay for certain things like parking or food. Plus, I really love being able to live at home and not going all the way to Tucson for classes.

What part did scholarships play in funding your education?

I received a full academic scholarship from GCC, which helped pay for my classes. I also received a tennis scholarship which I put toward books. Doing this allowed me to save the money I made at work for other things that I needed. I also received an honors scholarship near the end of my time at GCC and joined Phi Theta Kappa , which helped me get a scholarship at Arizona that pays for more than half of my tuition. 

You mentioned work. How many jobs do you presently hold?

The job I have at a tennis center is my only job. I have been working there for over three years now. Every semester, I also get a stipend for ASUANY (The Associated Students of the University of Arizona Near You, where Erin serves as the administrative assistant, is a branch of student government representing distance and online students). I pay for the rest of my classes that my academic scholarship doesn't cover with this money.

Advice for Wildcats Wanting to Minimize College Debt

Seemingly small decisions can lead to big savings.

I think books also play a huge factor in being debt-free. Books can get expensive, so I search for the cheapest ones I can find. The library is a great tool, and I use it if they have my books. If they don't, I usually rent, which is a lot better than purchasing a book that I probably won't use ever again.

Consider starting at a community college.

I think a lot of people look down on community college, but it is a great place to start. I was still able to receive the college experience without going into a lot of debt. I also think there are a lot of scholarships that people don't necessarily know are there. I was able to receive money for playing tennis, and not many people knew about the scholarship. Taking opportunities that could result in a scholarship is a great idea.

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