101 Ways to Pay for College
College students and parents are always looking for creative ways to finance their college education and reduce college expenses. It’s important to look at paying for college from every angle, from the school you choose to the way you finance your education. It’s also much easier to pay for college if your monthly expenses are well-managed, or you have a small income to tap into. Check out these 101 tips to pay for college and feel free to let us know any we missed!
- If you are a high school senior, apply to multiple schools so that you have several financial aid offers to compare.
- Take a look at colleges that are close to your home, or close to a relative you can stay with. If you can commute to school, you won’t have to pay for room and board.
- Carefully plan your school application and college testing expenses – they can add up!
- If able, take Advanced Placement tests while in high school to obtain college credit. Any credits you receive could enable you to graduate early, which would save you money in tuition!
- Your high school may have a program with a local community college that will allow you to take “dual credit” classes.
- See if your school has a tuition payment plan available.
- Consider attending a community college while you decide on your college major and save money to attend a 4-year school.
- If you are planning to attend a public school, consider attending one in the state you live in, to take advantage of lower tuition charges available to in-state students.
- Select your college dorm carefully. Some dorms may cost more because they are newer, or have additional facility/recreation fees attached.
- Select your campus meal plan carefully. If you use up your meal credits early, you will have to purchase additional credits. Most plans do not let you roll over unused credits to the next school year.
- Select your college major carefully. You’ll want to research future career options and salary expectations to make sure you will be able to afford to repay your student loan debt.
- If you are interested in joining the ROTC or the military, you may be able to have all or part of your college education paid for.
Apply for Financial Aid
- Fill out the FAFSA (Federal Application for Federal Student Aid) every year at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ to qualify for financial aid.
- Once you fill out the FAFSA, your school will send you an award letter with your financial aid package.
- If your family’s financial situation changes after you’ve already submitted your FAFSA information (i.e. job loss, medical emergency) work with your school’s financial aid office to see if you can obtain increased financial aid.
Get Free College Grants
- College grants are free – you don’t have to pay them back! Once you fill out the FAFSA, you are automatically in the running for federal and most state grants based on the financial information that you entered.
- If you are a graduate student, ask your financial aid office if there are non-need based grants available for your field of study (sometimes called fellowships).
Apply for College Scholarships
- If you are lucky, your school may award you with an athletic or academic scholarship. These types of scholarships often cover all 4 years!
- Ask your financial aid office if there are college scholarships available for your field of study, heritage, community, or hobbies.
- Ask your department (i.e. English, Science, Business) if there are scholarships available for your major. Your dean or professor may know about these scholarships, too.
- Look for college scholarships from your workplace, church, community, and organizations that you are involved with.
- Start a college scholarship search on the web with sites like Fastweb. Your personal profile that you set up will help you find scholarships that match your profile.
Borrow Student Loans
- The Federal Stafford Loan is a low-cost student loan, backed by the federal government. Your award letter will show how much you are eligible to borrow every year, or you can do additional research here.
- Graduate students can use the Federal Grad PLUS Loan , to supplement Stafford Loan funds.
- If you have maximized free money and federal loan options, consider using a private student loan to pay for college.
Save Money on College Textbooks
- Purchase used college textbooks at the college bookstore. Just make sure you get in line early – used textbooks get sold quickly.
- Look for new or used college textbooks online on sites like Ebay or Amazon. If you are able to find the majority of your textbooks with one vendor, you might qualify for free shipping or a volume discount.
- You can download certain popular textbooks for free from websites like Freeload Press.
- If you’re strapped for cash, ask your professor if you can use a previous edition of the textbook (older editions are usually less expensive).
- If you don’t need your textbooks once you’re done with them, sell them back to the bookstore or on sites like Amazon or Ebay.
Make Extra Money
- If you were awarded federal work-study on your award letter, you can earn extra money by working at your school or in your local community.
- If you were not awarded federal work-study money, ask your financial aid office if you can get on a waiting list in case there is an opening.
- Get a paid college internship. Many degree programs now require an internship to fulfill graduation requirements, but you’ll probably have to work harder to find one that pays.
- Ask your favorite professor if he/she needs an assistant.
- Look for part-time student jobs in your campus newspaper, on campus bulletin boards or in your college’s student activity office.
- Apply for part-time work at local businesses or restaurants.
- Ask friends and family if you can intern at their workplace.
- Start up a baby-sitting, pet-sitting or house-sitting business that you can run in your spare time.
- Find a summer job at a camp or local business .
- Sign up with your school or a local company to become a tutor. You may be able to make even more money by starting your own tutoring business.
- Creating websites is a lucrative part-time job for many students.
- Start your own business in your local community or online (just think Michael Dell).
- If you are majoring in photography, consider working as a wedding or portrait photographer in your free time. Your school may also hire student photographers to work at athletic games and school functions.
- Your school may hire students to work during athletic events.
- If you have school spirit, get hired by your school to give tours or allow a prospective high school student to live with you for the weekend.
Reduce your College Expenses
- Work with a college advisor to make sure that you are taking the appropriate classes to fulfill your major and graduation requirements on time.
- Look for student travel deals on sites like StudentUniverse or STA Travel.
- Use student flight deals offered by airlines, like AirTran.
- If you will be flying extensively, sign up for a frequent flier program to earn free flights.
- Purchase your computer, software and accessories through a student discount program from Dell, Apple, HP or Microsoft.
- Use free campus transportation whenever possible.
- Split your campus parking pass with a friend, and share the cost. If you don’t want to buy a parking pass, consider parking off-campus.
- Walk, bike or skate to school.
- Carpool to school or work with a friend or roommate.
Manage Your Living Expenses
- Rent or dorm fees are generally the second highest education expense, after tuition. Shop around to find college apartment move-in specials for college students.
- Find roommates to split your living expenses.
- Consider doing without, or reducing, monthly expenses like cable, telephone and entertainment expenses.
- Buy used furniture on Craigslist or through campus newspaper ads.
- Purchase student discount cards, or look for student discounts at local restaurants and businesses.
- Reduce food expenses by cooking more at home, instead of eating out.
- You may be able to get free room and board by signing up to be a dorm monitor or resident assistant.
- Some college apartment complexes provide free or discounted rent for students who refer other tenants to the building.
- Join your family’s cell phone plan (it’s usually cheaper than getting your own). Check your account frequently online or on your phone to make sure you don’t go over your allotted minutes or text messages.
- Use free websites like Facebook or Flickr to communicate with friends and family, and share pictures for free.
- Communicate using inexpensive or free internet calling services, like Skype. You can also talk for free on some instant messengers, like MSN, if both parties use headsets or microphones.
- Start using coupons at the grocery store, local restaurants or department stores.
- Bring your own snacks to class, so you won’t be tempted to buy anything from the vending machine or cafeteria.
- Some campuses have free Wi-Fi. Check to see if it’s in a convenient location to avoid paying for internet.
- Look for free events happening on campus, like movie screenings, rather than going to the movie theater.
- Never turn down free food around campus (club meetings, events, etc).
- Ask about free student checking and savings account at local banks.
- Use cash or student loans to purchase textbooks, food and other college expenses instead of a credit card.
- If you need a credit card, make sure you get one with no annual fee and a low interest rate.
- Save money in interest by paying more than the minimum on your credit card.
- Save big money by paying the interest on your unsubsidized student loans every month while you are in school, if you are able.
- Send your family and friends your high school graduation invitations, along with a letter explaining your college intentions. They may just send you contributions to your college fund.
- Ask family and friends to contribute to your 529 College Savings Plan or another type of college saving account in lieu of birthday or holiday gifts.
- Ask family and friends to donate furniture for your apartment or dorm room.
- Ask a relative to give you a loan, that you will pay back with interest. Make sure you draw up the appropriate paperwork to protect both parties.
- If your relatives are about to get a new computer, ask if they will give you their old one!
- Pay for all or part of college expenses with your personal cash or savings.
- Create a 529 College Savings Plan for your child’s education.
- Some states will allow you to lock in today’s tuition prices through a 529 Pre-paid Tuition Plan.
- Help your student find and apply for college scholarships.
- Ask your employer if they offer scholarships for employees’ children.
- Take out a Federal PLUS Loan in your name to help pay for your child’s education.
- Help your child obtain a private student loan by co-signing.
- If you have a lot of unnecessary items around the house, consider holding a garage sale or selling items on Ebay and using the funds for your child’s education fund. Also, many household items can be donated to charity, which would save you money on taxes that you can then use to help pay for your child’s education.
- Help your student create a budget and stick to it.
- Many parents have to reduce their monthly expenses while their child is in college, in order to have enough left over to pay their child’s food and living expenses while he/she is in college.
- Purchase airfare for your child to come home well in advance to save money in travel costs.
- Mail your student care packages with food and study supplies to help reduce spending needs. Weigh the cost of mailing a grocery gift card rather than mailing food items; it’s probably much cheaper to send a gift card than a heavy package.
- If your student needs a credit card, consider adding him/her to one of your accounts. Chances are your card’s interest rates are better than what he/she could qualify for, and you can keep an eye on college spending.
- If you are paying for college expenses, make sure you look into all of the tax deductions available to you.
- Sign up for the Peace Corps, Americorps, or similar volunteer organization after college. In exchange for your service, you may receive money towards your student loan debt.
- If you work in a public service job for 10 years while making payments on your student loans, the government will forgive the rest of your student loan debt. To receive this benefit, your loans must be consolidated into a Direct Loan held by the Department of Education while you make payments, so consider consolidating as soon as you leave school and your grace period expires.
- Consider working for an employer in the private field that offers student loan payoff as an employee benefit.
- See if your occupation has jobs that qualify you for loan forgiveness in exchange for a certain number of years in public service (Ex. teacher, physician, nurse, lawyer).
- Live at home after college. You can use the money you save in rent and expenses can help pay off your student loans.
- Paying more than the minimum on your student loans will reduce the amount you will pay in interest, and pay the loans off faster.
- Use your student loan interest as a tax deduction every year, if you qualify.