No matter your financial situation, if you have a desire to get a college education, then, by all means, go for it.
Of all the challenges you’re going to face on the road to graduation, you shouldn’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay for it.
If you’re resourceful, you will be able to find the money and you won’t have to go into a lot of debt either.
According to the Business Insider, student debt continues to rise and the average debt for the 2015 graduating class is $30,100.
When you consider how student debt in the U.S. tops around $1.3 trillion, that’s a lot for an educated and unemployed person to be bogged down with.
How College Debt Affects Your Life
While in college, most students don’t worry much about how they’re going to pay back the debt they accumulated the last four years.
The thought is that they will deal with it later, right after they get that high-paying job.
Unfortunately, reality soon sets in when the job offer is much less than they had envisioned or hoped for.
The more money graduates have to spend on student loans, the less they have to obtain cars, homes or start their families.
Debt, student loan debt, in particular, can cause a delay in building up savings, which can have short and long-term consequences.
Once you pay for rent, transportation, and food in addition to a student loan payment, there’s usually not much left for anything else.
Most people with a ton of college debt usually find themselves struggling to make ends meet or worse, living back under their parents’ roof. There has to be a better way, so how do you get a degree without debt?
Scholarships and Grants
A scholarship is free money awarded to students to pay for some or all of their college costs. If you have a very high GPA or great in sports, then you should definitely start looking for scholarships to apply to.
Heck, even if you’re not, there are literally thousands of places you can find money for you to go to school. I’ve seen scholarships awarded to people who successfully use social media in their everyday lives or submitted great videos on a proposed topic.
Scholly is an app that will send you scholarships you qualify for on a weekly basis. Raise.me
Want to get paid for accomplishments made in high school, such as earning good grades? On Raise.me, colleges will award you money to attend their schools once you graduate from high school.
Grants are similar to scholarships in that they’re essentially money for college you don’t have to pay back. The difference, however, is that grants are usually awarded on financial need, whereas scholarships are awarded based on merit.
There are federal and state grants available, but you must first complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you qualify.
Another option for finding scholarship and grant money is through foundations and private organizations. You can find a list here to start your search. Many have money that is set aside to help people pay for college.
If you’re part of a specific racial or ethnic group, fraternity, or entering a particular field such as engineering, you will find a few you may be eligible for.
To be frank with you, no one cares where you went for the first 60 credits of your degree. They only care about who awarded you that said degree. You could go to one school for a few years and then later transfer those credits to your first choice school.
That’s why going to a community college first is an inexpensive option if you can’t really afford to go to the college of your dreams for all four years.
Another great thing about community colleges is that they usually have partnerships with local universities, which will help to make your transition that much smoother.
Schools feel good knowing they are accepting someone who has demonstrated college-level readiness and you, in turn, get to save thousands of dollars.
Still not convinced?
Consider public instead of private or stay in-state, which is way less expensive than going out of state.
Employer Tuition Assistance
If you are employed, check to see if your employer will pay for part or all of your tuition. There are many employer-sponsored programs that help to cover the cost of tuition for employees and their dependents.
Most of the time, these are excluded from your income and are therefore tax-free. One caveat to consider, however, is the length of service required after you receive the tuition assistance.
While some employers won’t pay for your tuition, they may have a partnership with a college or university that will offer a discount if you go through them.
My cousin earned his master’s degree on his boss’ dime and saved $60,000 and a friend of mine earned hers at 25% of the total cost of tuition, so it pays to check with your employer before starting a program.
Exam for College Credit
I wish I had known about this option a long time ago. Not only would I have saved money, but I could have saved time as well.
If you have a few credits you need to finish a degree or want an affordable way to get started, there are programs out there that will allow you to pass an exam to earn college credit.
This option works like this, you select the course you want to test out of, study, and then take the exam. If you pass, you can turn this into your school and receive credit – just as if you sat in the class for three months.
Depending on the course, you end up paying $100 or so for the exam versus hundreds for a three-credit course. A great bargain for sure and if you have on the job experience, your knowledge will make taking these tests seem like a cake walk.
You may want to look into Straighterline, which allows you to take as many classes you want for a monthly fee of $99 (and a one-time fee of $49 per course). You’ll earn credit for many online programs once you pass their exam.
This is a great option if you want to finish a course early, but still, need a little more prep than a study guide. Most schools will accept credit by examination, just make sure yours do.
My friend was lucky to have a grandmother who left her money specifically to fund her college education. Most of us don’t have a rich grandma.
Or a trust fund for that matter.
As much as we hoped our parents saved for our college fund, reality sets in quick when we realized they hadn’t. That’s okay because you can start putting away money into your savings to pay for your tuition right now.
That’s okay because you can start putting away money into your savings to pay for your tuition right now.
College 529 savings state plans are another great option, which helps families set aside money to be used later for tuition costs. This can be set up by a parent or grandparent and contributed on your behalf.
You could also sign up for programs such as Upromise which awards cash back from eligible purchases which can be transferred into a savings account at any time.
Ebates is not specifically set up as a college savings program, but you could encourage family members to sign up and shop through it to get cash back, which could be used to fund college.
All undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to receive federal loans. These loans are easy to receive and are backed by the federal government (Direct Loans and Perkins Loans – read more about each type here).
Unlike grants and scholarships, loans must be paid back after you are no longer enrolled in school. I recommend applying for a student loan when you have exhausted all other options and there’s not enough money to cover the balance.
If you end up having to take out a student loan, do so responsibly. Take out only what you need and can pay back in a reasonable amount of time. Assess your employment options after college and really think hard about how much debt you want to take on.
There’s a difference between the salaries of a teacher and a doctor…
…so let’s be real.
Will you be able to pay hundreds of dollars each month on top of rent, food, and utilities?
Get Another Job or Side Hustle
I understand that getting a second job while going to school is not an ideal situation, but having extra money you could throw into savings is.
If you’re able to get a part-time job before starting your program, you can use that money solely to pay for tuition.
Don’t want another job? I don’t blame you. Start a side hustle, such as starting your own blog. If you pick a niche you’re interested in blogging about, you could earn enough money to pay for books, supplies, and even tuition.
If you think blogging may be for you, check out my step by step guide on how to start a blog here.