Four Ways to Hack the College System ... Without Breaking the Law

America’s elite college system is in tatters. Dozens of rich Americans may face jail time due to the U.S. Department of Justice’s charges that they bribed their children’s way into elite colleges. A number of people have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the schools tricked them into wasting valuable dollars on admissions applications without knowing that the dice were already rolled against them.

This scandal may cause millions of Americans to reconsider whether their children can succeed — most of us can’t bribe our way into elite schools. The good news is that, just like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and dozens of Fortune 500 CEOs, you can hack the college system and still be highly successful through unconventional and creative thinking.

The first step to success is to stay away from colleges that provide little value to your financial future. A 2012 PayScale report found that one in four colleges provides a negative return on investment — in other words, you never make that tuition money back compared to other options.

In contrast to these options, going to an in-state university can save you tens of thousands of dollars each year compared to going to a private college. The value is particularly great at flagship in-state universities. Many employers report loving seeing public universities on resumes because graduates “are often the most prepared and well-rounded academically.”

Second, consider community colleges. We the authors live in Virginia, where students who receive associate degrees at state community colleges and maintain certain GPAs are automatically accepted at all state four-year universities upon application. This gives most students a high-quality education — many community college professors teach at the four-year level, and most have tremendous real-world experience — which will accomplish their professional goals while saving thousands of dollars in tuition, room, board, and books.

Third, get out of your undergraduate program in three or four years. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do when you leave high school, asking respected adults for advice and taking a good look at your strengths and weaknesses can craft a path to college that creates a foundation for professional success — as opposed to adding thousands of dollars to your debt load and leaving school scratching your head as to your future.

Fourth, invest the money you’re not wasting on high-priced universities. Saving just $10,000 per year on college and investing it wisely will make you a multi-millionaire at 60 years old, generating over $11 million by the time today’s high school senior is 74. These numbers are based upon investing the money at the average annual market gain of 11 percent and not touching it until retirement.

With so many parents funding their child’s college education, investing the unspent tuition is another way to secure their future.

Of course, college isn’t for everyone. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg may be the most famous people without a college degree. Trade schools and vocational programs provide a fantastic way to get a job with little to no debt. While college students are taking on tens of thousands of dollars in loans, a hard-working trade professional is earning money — and a smart trade professional is investing as much of that money as possible.

In the end, the rich families who broke the law to get their kids into college don’t represent the average American. For the rest of us, we don’t have the money to bribe our way in or to take on lots of debt. Instead of breaking the law for prestige and status, you can hack the system and get a quality education which lands you a job, provides financial security, and equips you for a successful future.

Kyle Winey is author of the ground-breaking and Amazon best-selling book HACKiversity: The Secrets to Achieving More by Doing Less in Collegewhich helps students use their college experience to unlock extraordinary personal and professional success in today’s highly competitive economy.

Dustin Siggins is founder of the communications strategy firm Proven Media Solutions and a graduate of the Honors Business program at Plymouth State University.