NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Whether you have a college student or you are preparing for it, tuition costs are probably on your mind.

Student load debt exceeded credit card debt in 2010 and auto loans in 2011.

It makes you wonder if this generation can possibly graduate debt free. News 2 found a young woman who did, and we asked her how she did it.

Move in day isn’t just the start of something big for Belmont University freshman. For many, it’s the culmination of many years of planning.

“Sent in my applications early, applied for scholarships early,” said student Caroline Quarles.

And for the parents, it was many years of saving.

“Planning that for 20 years,” said father Bill Pelletier. “College costs a lot, and we did like you’re supposed to and put a certain percentage away. It’s just that college got a lot more expensive.”

Two thirds of college grads will have student loan debt averaging 35 thousand dollars.

Kristina Ellis started planning her freshman year in high school knowing she’d be on her own to pay for college.

“It’s a lot to put on a young person. We’re asking students who are 17, 18 years old to make a decision that will impact them for 20 to 30 years,” she said.

Ellis told News 2 it lit a fire under her, so she started looking into scholarships and what could do to stound out.

“And it led me to over half a million dollars in scholarships [to] graduate from my dream schools-Vanderbilt for undergrad and Belmont for grad, debt free,” she said.

Here are a few things she recommends.

Take college level courses in high school. That’ll help you graduate in four years or less.

For the free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA, apply early in October and watch where you save. Federal student aid is determined by a formula.

“If you had some type of inheritance left to the student, 10,000 in student’s bank account, it may be better to have that in the parent’s bank account because it’s assessed differently by FAFSA, actually assessed less,” explained Ellis.

Ellis also says to keep looking for scholarships, even if you are already in college.

Academics are important, but many students are rewarded for all sorts of things that’ll surprise you.

“There are a bunch of niche scholarships for having the best zombie apocalypse escape plan and having the best duct tape prom dress for being tall, for being short, for being right or left-handed, for having a certain last name…” Ellis told News 2.

She authored a book titled “How to Graduate College Debt Free.” Click here to visit her website.

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