6 Ways to Pay for College When Scholarships Aren’t Enough

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Scholarships are one of the best ways to pay for college — after all, it’s money you don’t have to pay back.

Because there are many possible sources of scholarship funds, most people can get at least some scholarship money, especially if they start searching for opportunities early.

Unfortunately, most students can’t fund their entire education with scholarships. If you need to find other ways to pay for college, read on to discover six options to turn to when scholarships aren’t enough.

1. Grants

Like scholarships, grants are awards that don’t have to be repaid. There are many sources of grant funding, including Pell Grants from the federal government and grants from individual states, such as New York’s Tuition Assistance Program.

Many grants are need-based, while others are awarded based on academic performance. To be eligible for federal or state grant funding, you’ll need to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some states also require you to apply directly to their education department to be eligible for state grants.

Check out this complete guide to state grants to find information about your state’s options.

2. Savings

Covering the cost of college with savings is also a great way to fund your education since it can reduce or eliminate the need for student loans.

While tuition is expensive, attending a community college is much cheaper and easier to fund with savings. In fact, community college students pay an average annual tuition of just $3,440, according to CollegeBoard — roughly three times less than those at a four-year school.

Starting out at a community college has become so popular that many schools now market special 2 + 2 programs, which allow students to complete their first two years at a community college before transferring to a partner program at a four-year university.

Because the cost of community college is so low, you may be able to fund most or all of your first two years of college with money you already have in the bank.

3. 529 savings plans

Parents can stretch their funds even further by investing in 529 plans, which provide tax-breaks for college savings.

There are two types of 529 plans: One allows parents to prepay for tuition at a specific school or in a certain state, and the other allows money to be invested for use at any institution. When parents use a 529 plan to save for college, the money they contribute grows tax-free.

If you’re a parent and you want to be able to pay as much as possible for your child’s education, investing in a 529 plan and taking advantage of these tax breaks will allow your investment dollars to work harder. This will make it much easier to build a nest egg big enough to cover at least a portion of your child’s college costs — and hopefully more.

4. Work-study programs

Federal work-study programs provide students the opportunity to help fund their educations by working either on or off campus. Work-study jobs are typically related to the student’s major, and employers must accommodate the student’s class schedule.

Work-study programs are a form of financial aid, so you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA. Your school must also include work-study as part of your financial aid package in order for you to be eligible for a job. Eligibility is based on financial need, so you’re more likely to be offered this option if your family doesn’t have a lot of income.

Unfortunately, funding for work-study jobs is limited and there’s no guarantee a job will be available when you need one. Learn more about this option in our complete guide to work-study programs.

5. Federal student loans

If you’ve exhausted your options for school funding that you don’t have to pay back, federal student loans are typically the next best option.

Federal loans for students provide many more borrower protections than private loans, including loan forgiveness for individuals who work in qualified public service jobs as well as income-based repayment plans to keep payments from becoming too high.

Federal loans don’t require students to have a cosigner, and approval isn’t based on your income or credit score. Unfortunately, there are limits to the amount you can borrow, so federal loans may not fully cover the costs of your education.

Parents can also apply for loans through the federal government in the form of Parent PLUS Loans, although these work differently than loans for students. Parents do not get all the borrower protections students do, and parents with adverse credit likely won’t qualify for PLUS Loans.

You can learn all about federal loan options in our comprehensive guide.

6. Private student loans

When scholarships aren’t enough, consider taking out a private loan. However, most students shouldn’t apply for private loans until they’ve exhausted other sources of funding, including federal student loans.

When parents are borrowing, on the other hand, private loans can sometimes be a better deal than Parent PLUS Loans, so be sure to do some careful comparison shopping to select your best lender.

For both parents and students who’ve exhausted other ways to pay for college, there are a variety of options for private lenders, many which offer affordable interest rates as well as borrower protections such as deferment or forbearance.

Be sure to carefully compare the interest rates, loan terms, and customer feedback on private lenders to find the right loan for your situation.

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