NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — In 2008, the amount of student loan debt carried by Americans came to a historical peak. Excepting mortgages, student loan debt is the highest form of consumer debt, surpassing both auto loans and credit card debt . In some cases, student loans even surpass mortgages especially for students pursuing advanced degrees in medicine or other demanding fields . It's not unheard of for student loan debt to be in the six-figure realm, and the odds of securing a job post-graduation that can support that kind of debt ( and make it worth it ) isn't favorable.

Today, the average student loan debt is $29,400, but keep in mind that this is a median figure. There are of course several students in community college programs, who left school after a few terms, or who are only freshman and not carrying a heavy debt load (yet). If it's not too late for you, here's how to graduate college with zero debt -- and if it is, here's how best to tackle it.

Choose your university wisely

It might not be as "cool" to go to a community college and you might miss out on Greek life, especially at four-year schools where only freshmen can go through recruitment. However, pursuing an associate's degree first or getting into one of the many partnership agreements between nearby community colleges and four-year schools can save you a lot of money .

Oftentimes, community college tuition and fees are half or less of universities.

According to Peter Vogt, a resident expert for Fastweb (a leading source for higher ed students), there are many upsides to going to community college first including "testing the waters of college-level academic work...explore various majors," more accessibility and lower costs.

If that doesn't mesh with your plan, such as if you want the full experience of an exclusive program only available at a few universities, take the financials into consideration . Just like you look at the quality of graduates and education, you need to see what kind of funding is offered. If two schools strike your interest, but one offers more scholarships or much lower tuition, then that might be a game changer. Getting a full-ride scholarship is very plausible in arenas beyond strict GPA and sports, but this requires intensive research and work.

Be smart with money

Get a part-time job or paid internship immediately when you start your program. Not only will this ease your cash flow problems, but it can also be a way to get a head start on your career. Frances Bridges, a contributor at Forbes who writes career advice for Millennials, suggests students "break down to an interviewer what you've done, and demonstrate the qualities you possess that go hand-in-hand with the company." If you're majoring in writing and want to make a living with your passion, consider freelancing or starting your own monetized blog for extra cash. You might be surprised what a lucrative job you can drum up.