Scholarships, tutoring through work-study, or waiting tables as a side hustle: These are all typical ways students have figured out how to pay for college. But for some, typical just doesn’t cut it.
I chatted with five people who used rather creative ways to pay for college, doing everything from flipping sports equipment to scoring big on “Wheel of Fortune.” For some, this covered entire cost of tuition, which averages $32,410 for a four-year private school. For others, it helped with supplies and daily living expenses.
Here are the quirky ways some students figured out how to pay for college.
1. I cut lawns
While Gene Caballero was still in high school, he began looking for a way to avoid going into tens of thousands of dollars of debt for college. He was having difficulty finding a part-time job, so he looked at the resources around him and realized his uncle had a commercial-grade lawn mower that was barely being used.
“I figured I could put the mower to use and make some money,” said Caballero. “So, I worked out a deal with my uncle where I would cut his lawn, and in exchange, he would let me use the mower to cut other people’s lawns.”
The entrepreneurial-minded teen started mowing lawns and continued to through the first two years of college. It turns out cutting grass, pays because Caballero was able to graduate from college debt-free.
He has since turned his side-hustle into a full-fledged business called Your Green Pal, which has been described as the Uber of lawn care. You can sign in to the app, see what local people are charging to cut your grass or trim your hedges and choose someone to come over next day.
2. I won ‘Wheel Of Fortune’
Not everyone may get the chance to win the lottery or strike it rich on a TV game show, but it’s what worked for Daniel Watts. The “Wheel of Fortune” traveling show came to his UC San Diego campus looking for contestants. Watts’ enthusiasm — and his spelling of the word “acumen” — landed him a spot and ultimately helped fund his education.
“I helped pay for college by spelling ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,’” he said. “That puzzle alone earned me over $3,000 in 2003, when I was a 20-year old sophomore. I ended up winning a total of $11,300, most of which I used for school expenses, including a study-abroad trip to Yokohama.”
Though relying on a game show to come to your school isn’t the most guaranteed way to pay for college with no money, it couldn’t hurt to enter some local contests or finally get tickets for “The Price Is Right.”
3. I flipped sports equipment
Investors will flip houses, or body shops will flip cars to make a few extra bucks, but Sean Potter, a personal finance blogger from MyMoneyWizard.com, flipped sports equipment to pay for college.
“I used to find deals in the incredibly small niche that is slowpitch softball bats,” he said. “I’d find sales online, then resell the bats around the intramural fields and local leagues for two to three times the online price. A typical purchase price was $100, and I’d resell them for $250 to $300. I made thousands doing this throughout college.”
With that success, Potter found other items to flip, such as concert tickets. He would buy them using his student discount, then resell them on Craigslist once the event sold out. “My best flip was a group of George Strait tickets I bought for around $30 each with the student discount,” he said. “Then I resold on Craigslist for $150 a ticket.” (Note: Make sure to check your state’s laws on this before reselling tickets, as rules vary by state.)
Potter’s side hustle not only helped him figure out how to pay for college with no money, but also helped him save $100,000 by the time he was 25, $200,000 by the time he was 27, and put him on track to retire in his 30s. Now that’s what you’d consider hitting it out of the park.
4. I found a silver lining to my medical condition
Having a medical condition might prevent you from doing some things you want to do, but it can sometimes help you pay for college. That’s what Jason White, creator of medloophole.com, found out when applying for school.
“I figured out how to pay for college without parents because I found I was eligible for medical-based financial aid,” he said. “I suffer from asthma and allergies, and this helped me qualify for enough money to graduate undergrad debt-free. Not many students know about this possibility and leave it sitting on the table.”
This form of financial aid comes in the form of scholarships from a combination of federal and state programs. It’s difficult to track them down, according to White, but you could qualify if your condition could potentially affect your future employment. That includes everything from allergies to diabetes. The program will even sometimes cover the cost of your diagnoses to see if you’re eligible.
5. I started a web-hosting service
If you have a skill, start using it from a young age. Tech-proficient Nick Gray, who would later go on to found Museum Hack, began designing web pages as a freshman in high school and realized there were people like him who needed a web host.
When you buy a domain name, like StudentLoanHero.com, you have to connect it to a computer server to show the files, images, and website. A web-hosting company is that server. So, to help fill this need, he started a server service called vs3.
“This company I started in high school helped me figure out how to pay for college tuition in two ways,” said Gray. “It got me a partial scholarship, through Wake Forest University’s Presidential Scholarships for Distinguished Achievement, and my web-hosting business generated about $15,000 a year in excess profit. For my lower-middle-class family, this was a lot and helped pay for the rest of college.”
The scholarship covered about 50 percent of tuition, but the remaining $17,000 a year came from Gray’s web-hosting side hustle. “It wasn’t hugely successful like other web-hosting companies, which have sold for millions of dollars,” he said. “But mine helped me to go to a college I could never have afforded otherwise and graduate without any debt.”
How to pay for college: Thinking beyond just scholarships
While these approaches are certainly unique, they should act as inspiration for you to find your own creative way to pay for college.
And if your genius idea still doesn’t cover all of your costs, there are still plenty of ways to finance your education, such as taking out a private student loan to cover any gaps from federal aid. And meanwhile, make sure where to find out where “Wheel of Fortune” is touring next.
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