By considering alternatives to the standard "four years and graduate" routine, you can find ways to cut costs and leave college with a degree debt-free. The credit crisis has been a mixed bag for students seeking loans. The federal government has increased lending by 18.6% to $65.2 billion in the year through November. Private student loans, on the other hand, have fallen by as much as 25%, with 39 lenders having stopped making those types of loans during the same period. But ask yourself first: "Do I really need a student loan?" Let's assume you are like most people who have little, if any, college funding from parents. And let's say you have taken steps to get financial aid. Even if you are mainly on your own in funding your college education, you can still graduate debt-free. The key to graduating from college debt-free is to plan long before you actually choose a school. Look at the opportunities and costs. While getting your diploma debt-free will likely mean getting your education in a less traditional way, it won't make that piece of paper any less valuable. Here is what you need to consider. Know what you want to study: The cost of college no longer makes it a good place to figure out what you want to do, especially if that means adding an extra year or two. You need to have a good idea what you want to major in long before you even step onto campus. If you don't, you are better off taking a year to work and save money or attending a community college, whose fees are more reasonable. That should give you time to take classes to get a better idea of what you want to study.