If you want to go to college, you better have a plan to pay for it. Otherwise, you’re looking at years of student loan payments after college. That might not sound so bad — it might even sound normal — but it’s important to understand how that debt can affect your life.
In 2016, the average college graduate walked away with $37,172 in student loans — an amount that could take 10 years or more to pay off.
According to a Student Loan Hero study, crushing student loan debt causes borrowers to put off milestones, such as getting married or buying a home. Your debt can have long-lasting consequences you don’t expect.
But by reducing the cost of college, you can take out fewer student loans. Think that’s impossible? It’s not — there are plenty of creative ways to pay for college.
6 ways to pay for college
A single year at a public university as an in-state student costs $9,650 in tuition. Add in the price of room and board, textbooks, and other fees, and your college education can become ridiculously expensive.
If you choose to go to a private school instead, you can expect to pay three times the cost of a public university.
If those numbers scare you, don’t panic yet. Here are six ways to pay for college without loans:
1. Attend a tuition-free school
It might sound like a myth, but tuition-free schools do exist. Some schools offer free tuition to students under a certain income threshold, while others require terms of service in return for your education.
Though some universities cover the cost of tuition, you are usually responsible for other expenses, like room and board. Still, having only your living expenses to worry about can make college much more affordable.
2. Use the 2+2 strategy
You can reduce your college costs by thousands by using the 2+2 strategy, where you go to a community college for two years before transferring to a four-year school for two more years. You graduate with a bachelor’s degree like your fellow graduates, but the cost is much cheaper.
Four years at an in-state public university would cost close to $37,640 in tuition and fees, according to The College Board. A year at a community college is just $3,440, on average.
If you followed the 2+2 plan and went to community college before transferring to a four-year school, you would spend just $25,700 in tuition. That approach would help you save close to $12,000.
For Adam Reres, the 2+2 plan made the most sense for him. “The cost of community college was a third of the cost of the [four-year] university,” he said.
In his case, he paid just $1,000 a semester for community college. His school had an agreement with a local big-name university that guaranteed his credits would transfer over. By utilizing the community college nearby, he was able to dramatically reduce his overall education cost.
3. Apply for scholarships and grants
Scholarships and grants are a well-known source of financial aid. As “free money” — meaning you don’t have to repay the awards — they can be a great way to pay for school.
Although most people know about school-offered scholarships and federal grants, many students overlook other valuable sources of aid. Most states offer grants for residents, and there are many unusual scholarships you can pick up.
When I was a high school senior, I applied for dozens of scholarships. Most were relatively small amounts — about $500 each — but together they covered the cost of my textbooks and class fees. Some of them required essays and intense applications, while others were simple. I won one just for having green eyes.
4. Commute to school
It’s not a sexy option, but commuting to school rather than living on campus can save you thousands. The average cost of room and board is $10,800 at a public university, according to a report from The College Board. Over the course of four years, choosing to live in a dorm can add over $40,000 to the total cost of your degree.
Attending a local school and living at home with your family or renting a cheaper off-campus apartment can be a worthwhile sacrifice. With fewer expenses, you can graduate with less debt.
5. Work on campus
Colleges and universities are like their own towns. They have their own security, food preparation centers, and building maintenance crews. That means schools can be a reliable source of employment. Many on-campus jobs pay minimum wage, but they tend to be more flexible with your class schedule than off-campus gigs.
Some can be cushy opportunities. When I was in college, I scored a job as a department assistant. My job was to answer questions from students in the computer lab and sign out equipment.
Often, there were long stretches of time where I’d be the only one in the building. I could do my homework and study while getting paid at the same time.
If you’re looking for a campus job, check with your school’s student employment or human resources department. Many schools have online listings you can use to find current openings.
6. Launch a side hustle
Although a part-time job can help you pay the bills, juggling a set work schedule with classes and homework can be difficult. Instead, you can launch a side gig to earn extra money in your spare time. Best of all, you can tailor your side hustle to your interests and talents.
When Ashlee Anderson was in college, she found her bank account depleted after paying for necessities like shampoo and food. She constantly looked for ways to earn extra money, doing everything from donating plasma to babysitting.
However, she needed a more reliable source of income. She ended up discovering the perfect side hustle by accident.
“A classmate went home for a family emergency,” Anderson said. “I shared notes with her when she returned and she was so impressed by my outlines, she suggested I note-take for pay. Up until that point, I didn’t even know paid note-taking was an option.”
She went to the school’s disability resource office and signed up to become a designated note-taker for other students. It became a steady source of money: Over her time in school, she made $6,000 as a note-taker.
“I was thrilled to get started because this was a way to make money doing something I already did — go to class, pay attention, and take thoughtful notes,” said Anderson.
Graduating with less debt
College can be prohibitively expensive. However, if you research potential opportunities and are willing to put in extra work, you can find useful ways to pay for college without taking on too much debt.
If you’re looking for money-making ideas to help you pay for school, check out these side gigs you can do from your dorm room.
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