It has been said that having a college degree today is like having a high school diploma twenty years ago—virtually mandatory. While that may or may not be true, what is known is that college is something that figures into a majority of young people’s post-high school plans. But as the cost of tuition rises (while income more or less stays the same), people are scrambling to find ways to pay for their education.
Everyone knows about loans and scholarships, but here are some other ways to pay for college that do not involve parents or require you to get into a soul-crushing amount of debt before you are old enough to drink:
- Earn college credits while in high school
This can be done by taking AP classes and/or college courses at a local community college while still in high school. Getting basic classes (your general education courses, mainly) out of the way can save you a lot of money and time once you are in college, as long as your credits transfer. This is especially helpful if you are eyeing an expensive college; classes at a community college are typically much cheaper than those at other universities.
- Consider more prestigious schools
This sounds counterintuitive but it actually makes sense. Keep in mind that the more prestigious schools typically have the most illustrious, wealthy alumni donating to them and attract the most attention. This means that more prestigious schools will be a little more generous with financial aid than a lesser-known school that does not have access to those kinds of resources.
- Don’t forget to fill out your FAFSA
Yes, it can seem tedious, but filling out your FAFSA is one of the best ways to see how much financial aid you are eligible for; additionally, when you fill out your FAFSA, you are automatically in the running for state and federal grants, which you do not have to pay back—they are basically free money. Even if you do not expect to get much financial aid, it is still advantageous to go ahead and fill out the form just in case—you may be surprised by what you can receive.
Start saving for college in the summer with the earnings from your summer job (if possible, have the foresight to start saving as soon as you decide that you want to go to college) and save your graduation gift money. Buy used college textbooks or split the cost of the textbooks with a friend. Do not allow yourself to eat out or go places where you know that you would be tempted to spend money frivolously. Saving money in little ways by being thrifty, creative, and sometimes just plain cheap can do a lot to offset the costs of college. Personally financing your own education is the best way to have total control over the process; plus, you do not have to pay the money back.
- Free housing
Living at home, with relatives, or friends at a reduced cost or even for free can drastically cut your college expenses. Room and board are one of the most expensive parts of attending college, so avoiding that cost is a great way to conserve money. Additionally, if living on campus is your best option, compare the prices of the different dormitories and on-campus apartments—newer buildings and facilities with amenities tend to cost more than their older, more basic counterparts.
- Look outside of academic scholarships
There are a ton of non-academic scholarships available if you know where to look (fastweb.com comes in handy here). You can win scholarships because of your ethnicity, heritage, and a variety of personal circumstances (there is, for example, a scholarship for tall Texans); you can win them by being involved with certain organizations or by submitting varying pieces of work. The point is, scholarships are available from a multitude of sources, not just universities.
Working during the summers and saving your earnings is a good start, but for a steady flow of cash all year, consider having a job while in school. You can work on-campus or on-campus and there are a plethora of job opportunities that are strictly online, which is perfect for the busy, hectic life of a college student. You can even start up your own business!
- Apply to many different colleges
Yes, application fees can be a little bit expensive, but applying to a larger number of colleges means that you will be able to select the college that best suits your financial situation as well as your academic desires. Compare your award letters from each college that accepts you and see what they are willing to offer
- Be a part-time student
Perhaps the best way to juggle both financial and educational concerns is to split the difference and do both. Going part-time means that it will likely take longer to get your degree, but it comes with a number of benefits, the biggest being the lowered financial impact. Paying less per semester while also earning money full-time means that, as long as you know how to manage your money, you can largely avoid becoming the “poor college student” stereotype that survives for four years by eating nothing but ramen and giving up beloved hobbies. Part-time students can maintain their quality of life while also receiving an education, which is always a plus.
- Tuition reimbursement from your employer
Some companies will actually pay for you to attend college, either through upfront payment or reimbursement after every successfully-completed semester. In exchange, these companies will typically require you to work for them for an agreed-upon length of time after you graduate, or you will have to pay back the money that they spent on you.
- Heavier class loads
You can reduce the amount of time you will have to spend in college by taking heavier course loads each semester. Adding extra classes, as well as taking classes during summer and winter breaks, when tuition is often lower, can lower the amount you spend on classes and cut the time you spend at college, bleeding money, down significantly. Of course, not everyone is able to handle a heavy course load—that is something that must be considered on an individual basis.
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