8 Ways to Pay for College Without Going Into Debt

how to pay for college

With all of the media attention around the student loan crisis, it can feel taking out loans to pay for school is the norm. Some may even consider it an (expensive) rite of passage!

For the more fiscally minded student, there is good news: there are ways to pay for school without going into debt. The only downside is that they require an earnest time commitment and a little detective work.

For those who want to learn how to pay for college without student loans, here are eight ways to make it happen.

How to pay for college without loans

1. Employer reimbursement

Many businesses are now offering tuition reimbursement to both full and part-time employees. Big name brands such as Starbucks, Home Depot, IBM, and Coca-Cola now offer tuition reimbursement/assistance to make themselves more competitive, while helping employees defray college costs.

2. Scholarships

Scholarships are a given factor in the “how to pay for college” equation, but with stiff competition and lengthy application processes, many students get discouraged from seeking them out.

Our advice? Keep going. Thousands of dollars in scholarship money is left on the table each year – either because the application criteria is too stiff, or kids don’t want to take the time to apply.

Sites like Collegeboard.org and Fastweb.com can help students find these scholarship opportunities.

And yes, it does take a lot of time to fill out scholarship applications. But the longer the application, the less competition! Students should view applying for scholarships as a part-time job and remember not to snub smaller awards. Every little bit you win – even $500 – is less money you have to take out in loans and eventually repay.

3. Grants

Think scholarship money gets left on the table? A reported 2.9 billion in federal Pell Grants – which also don’t have to be repaid – went unused in 2014.

Why? Many eligible students didn’t fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or didn’t complete it on time.
Aside from federal grants, there are also many private grants available to eligible students. Scholarships and grants are similar; they’re both sources of free money students do not have to pay back. However, grants are usually awarded based on need, while scholarships can be based on a student’s merit.

4. Work study

Students who qualify for federal aid may also qualify for a school’s work study program. These programs place students in an area related to their field of study and allows the money they earn to be used for tuition and other college-related expenses.

5. Join the military

The GI Bill allows those who serve in the military to receive a free college education, plus free housing while in school.

There are some stipulations: the GI Bill only pays $17,500 per year for private universities, for example. You also must have served on active duty with an honorable discharge. But for those who want to serve their country, a 100 percent free education afterward is a nice incentive.

6. Compromise

With all of the hype around the college experience and the money schools invest in marketing to potential students, it isn’t very glamorous to talk about picking a budget-friendly school. Still, making the more fiscally sound decision now could have long-lasting benefits, such as more money in your savings, freedom and flexibility in your career, and less stress from debt payments.

Aside from those gifted a free education by their parents, students who graduate without student loans are often the ones who made sacrifices. Consider attending a state school instead of a private university, opting for your second choice school because you received more financial aid, or attending the school where a parent works in order to pay for college without student loans.

If you truly want to avoid student loan debt, you may have to decide on the school that isn’t your first choice.

7. Save early and get creative

There’s nothing stopping you from getting a part-time job while in high school and saving money for your college education. It may also be to your benefit to get a side hustle, such as babysitting or freelance writing, that you can take with you into college to help you pay as you go (see blow).

For the really creative types, you can create products, start blogging, or launch a crowdfunding campaign to help cover college costs.

8. Pay as you go

Those wondering how to pay for college without taking on student loan debt often ignore the most obvious choice – going to a nearby school and paying as they go. It might mean taking longer to graduate or having to balance full-time work with full-time studies. Even so, for students who want to graduate with zero debt, working your way through school one of the best ways to get it done!

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