How to Graduate College With Minimal Debt

By Shawn J. Mayberry, Guest Blogger, Pullman Scholar Alumnus.

In 2011, I graduated from Loyola University Chicago with my communications degree. It was the most exciting (and scariest!) time of my life. With scholarships and other money saving strategies, I graduated with less than $15,000 in student loan debt at a private university with an annual price tag of $45,000.

Unlike most Pullman Scholars, I had attended Harry S. Truman College, a two-year community college, prior to transferring to Loyola University Chicago. I was awarded the Pullman Foundation Scholarship as part of a pilot partnership program with another organization I was a part of.

Higher education is one of your biggest life investments, and like any good investor, you want to cut costs and save money wherever possible. Here are a few tips I pulled from my experience to help you minimize your student loan debt:

  • Stick to your courses: There may be a class or two that you sign up for and realize it is more difficult than you expect or that you just can’t meet the workload demand. In all four years of college, I never dropped one course. I stuck through some of the hardest courses because I didn’t want to waste my money or time – two very valuable things. Before starting a course, ask your peers if they have taken the course or know anybody that has. You can also check out sites like Rate My Professors, where students give feedback on courses and professors.


  • Study abroad, smartly. I had the pleasure of sitting with fellow Pullman Foundation Scholars at our Winter Celebration in December (you missed a great event if you weren’t able to make it!), and I was amazed at all of the alternative ways students found to study abroad. While I really wanted to study abroad, I feared all of the costs and the loans I would have to borrow, but I still wanted that valuable experience. Instead of spending three to four months abroad, I spent time in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico through a Jesuit program at my university. I met a lot of amazing people and heard incredible stories of people’s plight to better economic opportunities. It was life changing. For the whole experience, I only spent about $250, and they covered everything else, including food, room and board, and air travel. If you do decide to study overseas, try and cut costs as much as possible. Look for cheaper flights on sites like Student Universe, apply for scholarship programs, and make sure you will receive credits for your studies abroad. You would hate to take out student loans only to realize that you won’t receive credit and then have to extend your stay in school or take classes over the summer, all costs you can avoid.


  • Apply for scholarships. It can be time-consuming juggling school, work, and other extracurricular activities, but see if you can dedicate an hour or two to searching and applying for new scholarships every other week or so. You can search for scholarships on sites like Big Future,, and many others.


  • Secure a job, if possible, through work-study, which gives you the opportunity to make money on campus, usually in environments that allow you to study during your shifts. I worked in the Communications Department of my university where I not only made long-lasting connections and gained valuable experience (I was featured on the university website and in marketing collateral), but I was able to make money. If you are able to strike a good balance between classes, studying, and work, you can get great experience and earn extra money regardless of whether you work on or off campus.


  • Become an R.A. Full disclosure: the only debt I am paying off is a year of living expenses at our downtown Chicago campus. After I realized the cost, I immediately applied to be a Resident Assistant. Not only is your room and board covered, but you might also receive a meal allowance and a stipend every semester. It’s also a productive way to build connections with other students and gain great experience.


  • Cut spending on your books. Textbooks can be a huge expense in college. Exchange books with friends who have the same classes as you, and check to see if the school and public library carry any of the books. Sometimes I would go to my professor to see if the book was mandatory or if they had a loaner I could use periodically. You can also try renting books or purchase used books at lower prices.

I wish you the best of luck in 2015, throughout your college career, and beyond. Ask me questions and keep in touch with LinkedIn and @ShawnMayberry on Twitter.

Shawn_Mayberry_thumbnailShawn currently works at an advertising agency and is also pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors helping small businesses maximize their online and digital advertising dollars. He enjoys spending time with his cockapoo named Princess, staying fit at the gym, writing calligraphy, gardening, reading random articles, and volunteering on two associates boards, including the Pullman Foundation Associates Board.