Paying for college with loans can seriously lower the benefits you end up getting from your degree. That’s because the debt you accumulate in student loans often outweighs the benefits a degree gives. But, if you can find ways of paying for college without going into debt, your degree can actually be an asset that helps you get ahead.
The reason: if you graduate without debt, you are in a better position to take that unpaid internship. You can also afford to hold out for the job you really want instead of taking the first thing that comes along so you’ll be able to start making payments. Here are a few tricks to paying for college without loans so that you can enjoy those opportunities.
#1 Financial Aid & Grants
Both the federal government and states offer financial aid and grants for studying. In no case is it enough to cover all of your costs. In fact, it rarely even covers all of your tuitions. However, it is a huge help. And in combination with other strategies (like scholarships or saving up money before starting), it can help you get through without taking on debt.
These are usually income-based grants so if your family is pretty financially secure, you may not qualify. But there is no harm in applying just to see if you can get anything.
#2 Paying for College with Scholarships & Prizes
Scholarships are a surprisingly underutilized way of paying for college. There are so many scholarships out there. But not a lot of people bother applying for them. The best way to maximize the money earned from this option is to follow this process:
- Check every scholarship resource you can find online.
- Dedicate all the time it takes to scour those databases for every scholarship that even remotely sounds like something for you—even if it seems like a long shot.
- Make a list of every scholarship you found and organize it by deadline.
- Create a schedule for systematically going through your list and applying to every single one. Treat it like a full time job.
Some just require you fill out an application but most will have special requirements like writing essays or even making a video. Take this into consideration when making your schedule.
It’ all about the law of averages. If you apply to hundreds of different scholarships, there’s a pretty good chance you are going to win at least a few of them. And even if those don’t cover the total costs, free money is free money.
#3 Put off College to Save Money
This is a tougher one. But also a really smart one if you are up to the task. Instead of going directly into college after high school, get a job. Live at home and work full time. Living at home will keep your expenses down. If your parents are willing to support you on this plan, you could keep your expenses at zero (because they pay for your gas, food, etc.) and just put every paycheck straight in the bank.
Put that money in a high interest saving account to help it grow a little faster. You can also look for creative ways to save money even faster during this time. And once you have saved up everything, you can go to college and use that money to pay for it.
If you go this route, you can choose to just save up for tuition or you can choose to save for tuition and living expenses. The latter option means you’re not only paying for college but allowing yourself to stop working and focus entirely on your studies for that 4 years. But it will take longer.
#4 Find Creative Side Income Strategies
Whether you use these to earn money while in college or use it to speed up the money saving process beforehand (or both), picking up extra cash on the side is a great method of paying for college.
Here are a few examples of side jobs you could be doing to increase your income:
- Drive for Uber, Lyft, or a similar service
- Put a room in your apartment up on Airbnb or a similar service
- Do yard work
None of these will pay for college on their own. But they can definitely help cushion your bank account and speed up the process of saving up the money you need.
#5 Go to Europe
Many countries in Europe view college education as a human right. This means that tuition is either completely free or so cheap that American students will go green with envy. More importantly, the standards and quality of education at colleges in Europe are comparable to the United States.
So, you’re getting an education just as good as you would in the states. You’re getting it at a fraction of the price. And, you get to live in Europe! It’s one of the most fun ways to get a degree without getting into debt.
The downside is that a lot of grants and scholarships in the United States can’t be applied to foreign universities. But the upside is that you could easily pay all of your expenses while studying with a part time job. That’s because in Europe, paying for college really just means paying for your living expenses while you attend college!
#6 Cut Your Living Expenses
Live at home if possible. If not live in the cheapest place you can (which usually means off campus) and keep your expenses as low as possible. Get roommates. Get as many roommates as you can without going insane. Don’t buy a beautiful set of new furniture. Find as much free or ultra cheap stuff as you can online. People are giving away old furniture all the time. You just have to pick it up.
Don’t take on a car payment. Get a reliable but cheap used car off craigslist. Better yet, get a bike or use public transport so that you don’t have to pay for gas, insurance, and car maintenance.
You know that stereotype of the broke college student living on ramen noodles and reusing plastic utensils rather than buying real silverware? That’s you now. Embrace it. It’ll suck now but it will make for fun stories later on.
There’s money out there. You just need to do a little advance planning. Figure out exactly how much you need to pay for college. That includes tuition and living expenses all 4 years. And then use every opportunity you have to get the money for it. Every opportunity except taking on student debt that is!