Date of Defense


Date of Graduation



Finance and Commercial Law

First Advisor

Jennifer Bott

Second Advisor

Tim Palmer


Having only $2,000 in savings for University as I started my senior year of high school, attending a higher education institution at that time seemed unlikely. This is not a particularly unique set of circumstances for students living in the U.S.; however, intent on attaining a four-year degree, I began adopting non-traditional methods that took advantage of various systems in place and helped pave the way to college affordability. In the years that followed between 2020 and 2024, I subsequently applied for and received $113,000 in scholarships and additional grant-based aid of over $40,000. The entire process took me more than 400-hours in total and required significant planning. Doing so was exhausting, but it resulted in the attainment of a debt-free bachelor’s degree - a goal I had long sought to achieve.

Especially as the lifetime income gains for bachelors owners over non-bachelors owners are so disproportionately high (SSA, 2015), the importance of a bachelor’s degree as it relates to quality of life is ever prevalent in society today. However, as the costs of higher education in the U.S. continue to make higher education unaffordable for a majority of Americans, this essay explores strategies aspiring students can implement to avoid the assumption of crippling debt. While there are various pathways U.S. citizens can employ to decrease the cost of attaining a four-year degree, such solutions come at significant cost to one’s time, energy, and personal-comfort. While the promise of affordable college is an alluring one, this essay will outline that it requires initiative, personal sacrifice, and even in some cases, risk-taking. Further compounding the situation’s difficulty is the sheer number of missteps lying in the path of the student. These obstacles often cause delays in graduation and significantly raise costs for students already on tight budgets. Still, through rigorous planning, risk-mitigation, and non-traditional methods, this essay outlines a path to graduating with a four-year degree on-time and as affordably as possible.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Restricted