How to Prepare for Life Without College Debt

Preparing for life can be downright expensive. The degrees and education that society expects you need are priced in the six figures! What if preparing for life and thriving relationally, professionally, and financially, actually didn’t require massive loans and debt?

In this article, we’ll dive into the reasons why college is so expensive and what you can do about the rising costs of post-high school training.

Luxury Prices

First, we have to tackle the discrepancy between what colleges charge and what the final result: the degree, is actually worth.

According to Education Data Initiative, the overall cost of a college education can exceed half a million dollars. This figure includes the actual tuition as well as student loan interest and the loss of income by attending a four-year degree program.

If something costs half a million dollars I think it’s safe to say that it’s a luxury item. Few families or individuals have a spare half-million dollars lying around, ready to spend. And yet, the widespread societal expectation is that just about everyone needs to go to college and get a degree.

While there are financial aid programs available to help with the costs of college, it’s still a massive expenditure with long-term implications for a student’s financial foundations for years to come.

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Perhaps these luxury prices would be understandable if the college degree itself were a luxury item. But that’s just not the case. According to data from the US Census Bureau, over one third of American adults over the age of 25 have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. Considering that most students gaining a degree are below the age of 25, the number of Americans who are gaining or have gained a degree is even higher than the 37% that the Census Bureau reports.

Beyond the statistics, the qualitative evidence is clear. Society expects college to be part of the standard life path of students. Graduating from high school naturally leads to college, we are told. 

The benefit of a college degree: advancement in the job market, is also on shaky ground. Forbes reports that over 53% of the working population holds a degree. A college degree doesn’t make you stand out anymore. Furthermore, Gallup reported that “the percentage of U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 who view college education as “very important” dropped from 74% to 41% in just six years.” That’s a drop of 33 percentage points, about five and a half points per year on average!

More and more, an advanced graduate degree is needed to set oneself apart in the job market. But even then, the target will only get higher and higher. As graduate degrees become necessary for job differentiation, more people will get graduate degrees and after a saturation point is reached, even that won’t be enough. We’ll constantly be chasing higher education to differentiate ourselves in the job market.

So, let’s recap. College is expensive, priced at luxury levels. It’s not unreasonable to expect that a college degree could run you over half a million dollars in tuition, interest, and opportunity cost. At the same time, a college degree is not a luxury item. It’s a “mass market” product with over a third of the American adult population in possession of one and over half of Americans of working age holding one. Furthermore, the actual value of a degree in getting a job is decreasing.

So the obvious question is: why are we paying luxury prices for a non-luxury item that is actually losing value? Put another way: why are we paying Maserati prices for a minivan?

Perhaps a number of reasons could be given but a clear answer to the above question is this: we should stop! What alternatives exist for college that actually move students forward financially instead of saddling them with debt?

A Better Way

The good news is that there is a better way to prepare for life and it doesn’t cost half a million dollars. Not only does it cost less, it’s actually better at setting students apart in the job market. This high-value alternative is called Ascend.

Ascend is a better option for life preparation for a number of reasons. We’ll only look at a few in this article.

1. Better Opportunity For Synchronous Earnings

College students need to anticipate the opportunity cost of their traditional degree. Every year they spend on campus studying full-time is another year that they won’t be making considerable money. This consideration is an element of Education Data Initiative’s claim that the cost of a degree can exceed half a million dollars (see above).

On the other hand, Ascend students get the positive end of this reality. They not only have to pay far less than half a million dollars to participate in Ascend, but they can actually start earning that investment back immediately through local employment opportunities. Many Ascend students work full-time or part-time jobs while they participate in the program and this helps offset the cost of their participation.

Furthermore, there are employment opportunities that are exclusively available to Ascend students. A number of companies actually want to hire Ascend students specifically because of the strong reputation the program has for training high-performing leaders.

2. Better Financial Literacy Resources & Training

Ascend students have access to practical financial training resources and life coaching to help them get ahead in their financial planning. We acknowledge that it takes financial literacy and competency to be able to live a thriving adult life. That’s why financial training is an element in the Ascend program.

Not only can your student earn money on their way through the program, they can learn how to effectively handle that money.

3. Job Differentiation 

Finally, Ascend sets students up for success in the job market far better than a generic college degree.

You’ve probably heard this before: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” It’s true. The days when a college degree was sufficient to get you a job or interview because of your knowledge and academic qualifications is coming to an end. It’s far more important to be able to demonstrate competency and skill in successful project completion and to connect to new opportunities through mutually-serving communities that look out for each other.

Ascend equips students with both of these things. 

On one hand, Ascend challenges students to do work in the real world and complete real projects. While their peers are sitting in classrooms, Ascend students are already building their resumes. Through project-based learning, Ascend students build core skills and competencies in the fields that interest them. This translates into real progress and experience that they can lead with in conversations with potential employers. Given the choice, most smart employers would take three to four years of practical experience over a degree any day.

On the other hand, Ascend is, at its heart, a community. And as a community, Ascend students look forward to helping each other gain a leg up in life. Not only that, but the Unbound staff utilize numerous professional connections to provide opportunities for Ascend students who take ownership and grow. This network of supportive peers and mentors is an invaluable asset to a young job-seeker.

College degrees don’t differentiate students in the job market anymore. Skills, real experience, and relational connections do. And those are exactly the things that students gain through their involvement in Ascend.


While the gap between the cost of college and the value of the degree continues to widen, a better way to prepare for life professionally and financially has emerged.

Societal expectations may pressure young adults into taking out loans for thousands to pursue a college degree that won’t significantly set them apart in the job market. They’ll pay luxury prices for a common item.

Ascend offers a real and valuable alternative to this path. Ascend enables students to earn money as they go through the program so they see a quick return on their investment. It equips them with project-based learning, in-demand professional skills, and a network with real job opportunities.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ascend and seeing if your student is eligible for the program, please schedule a free consultation with our team. We would love to talk with you, hear about your young adult’s plans for their future, and how Ascend can accelerate their growth. 

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