8 Ways to Pay for College Without Going Into Debt

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the financial institution.

how to pay for college
Logo

We’ve got your back! Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less

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!

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

(1)All rates shown include the auto-pay discount.  The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

(2)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.

Information advertised valid as of 11/4/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  2. View Auto Reward Debit Reward Terms and Conditions at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/AutoDebitReward.
  3. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  4. Lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest interest rate offered on the Discover Undergraduate Loan and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable Margin percentage. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 2.250% as of October 1, 2019. Discover Student Loans will adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Please visit discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates for more information about interest rates.
Discover's lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

4 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).

  1.  Rates are as of July 1, 2019 and include auto-pay discount. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

Citizens Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of December 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.70%. Variable interest rates range from 2.80% – 11.06% (2.80% – 10.91% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.72% – 12.19% (4.72% – 12.04% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown requires application with a co-signer, are for eligible applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, borrower making scheduled payments while in school and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of the loan.

Please Note: International Students are not eligible for the multi-year approval feature.

2.84%
10.97%
1
Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

2.87% – 10.75%*,2Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SallieMae

2.80%
11.37%
3
Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

3.52% – 9.50%4Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

2.80% – 11.06%5Undergraduate and Graduate

VISIT CITIZENS

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Published in Big Money Decisions, Credit & Debt, Spend Less