Briana McGeough graduated from Brown University in 2012 without a penny of student debt to her name. In fact, she left college with $16,000 to spare after covering her expenses.
How did she do it?
McGeough says her debt-free college experience began right when she was in high school.
"My goal was to just cover tuition, because Brown's tuition is more than my family makes in a given year," she told CNN Money. With that in mind, she applied for financial aid from the university in addition to more than 30 scholarships.
What made McGeough successful -- and where others sometimes fail with financial aid -- was her commitment to social work.
"I think there are a lot of great reasons to do community service," McGeough told The Huffington Post in an interview, "but by getting involved in community service, I looked pretty closely into scholarships for people who were working on specific social causes."
McGeough was ultimately granted $50,900 in aid and won an additional $4,000 a year in scholarships for her service and leadership in the LGBT community -- more than enough to cover her $42,000 annual tuition and housing costs.
Her three pieces of advice?
1. Get involved. Investing yourself in community service opens a world of opportunity for scholarships.
2. Specify. Look for scholarships that are unique to specific groups. A smaller pool of applicants will help your chances.
3. Do your homework. Find out what the universities you are interested in can provide in terms of financial assistance.
McGeough also saved while she was a student. She told HuffPost that she took job opportunities like research fellowships and assistant teaching jobs and worked several hours during her academic career.
Today, she has started her own business and has a head start in financing her graduate degree in social work.