Alternative Ways to Pay for College (and how to make it cheaper)
College is expensive, and a cocktail of financial aid, scholarships, grants, work-study, off-campus jobs, as well as both federal and private loans is often the best way to alleviate the immediate financial burden of paying for college. That said, there are some alternative ways to pay for college or cut down on the total cost. It might seem complicated, but don’t worry — we’ve outlined a few ways to make college more affordable below.
- Capitalize on cheaper college credits. If your school charges a flat-rate fee per semester and you’ve got the ambition, take an extra class each semester and graduate early. The stress of an increased workload may be offset by the amount of money you’ll save, not only on tuition, but also in fees, on textbooks, on living expenses, and every other incidental cost you might incur as a student. Or take your general requirements at a cheaper community college or online university, then transfer colleges for your sophomore year and finish your education at the college of your dreams—just make sure the credits will transfer before you enroll.
- Claim any tax credits available for tuition costs. Tuition and college expenses may be tax deductible, and you or your parents might qualify for other tax credits, including the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit. These are often overlooked, but they can save you a bunch of money.
- Understand your expenses and their alternatives. Do the research. Are you required to live on campus? Are you required to have a meal plan? Is an apartment nearby cheaper? Do you really need a car? Knowing these answers can save you bundles, and remember, you’re not supposed to live in the lap of luxury when you’re a college student. That can come when you’ve graduated and are debt-free.
- Find cheaper college books. While the campus bookstore is certainly the most convenient place to buy all your college textbooks—it is, after all, the closest—it’s important to remember that your campus bookstore is also one of the most expensive places you can purchase your books, whether you’re buying them new or used. Purchasing your books online, however, gives you the opportunity to compare prices and find books that you can actually afford.
- Switch from credit to debit. Both cards are convenient, but with debit you don’t risk spending more than you have or missing payments, which could hurt your credit score, which might make loans down the line more expensive. Also, you won’t have to worry about paying interest, which is just wasted money you could’ve used to help pay for tuition.
- Work during the summer. The more money you earn, the less money you borrow. Next to scholarships, general income is one of the best ways to pay for college without loans. Our suggestion: make the most of seasonal work. Restaurants, theme parks, hotels, national parks, and more, all see a hiring boom during summer months to account for things like increased tourism. Take advantage by getting your applications in as early as possible. Practice interviews, dress up, show interest, and generally be impressive. Don’t turn up your nose at a job busing tables or mowing lawns: every dollar you make means the less you have to borrow, which is worth a whole lot. So in short: score some work and get some money.
- If you’re still in high school, take Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Then take the AP exams at the end of the year. Those often translate into college credits, and you can conceivably cut a whole semester or year off your college education, saving you literally thousands of dollars in tuition and fees.
- Apply for scholarships within your major at the university you’ll be attending. Many departments have scholarships totally separate from general admissions scholarships. Some are academic, some are need-based, and some are based on volunteer work. The difference being: you have to go out of your way to apply for them. You don’t automatically qualify. But scholarships are one of several ways to pay for college without loans, so taking the time to apply is always worth it. Check with your major department for deadlines and application procedures.
- Consider co-op programs instead of internships. A co-op program usually requires you to go to school for one semester then work full-time the next in a position relating to your major. The best part? Internships are usually unpaid whereas co-ops can make a lot of money. That way you’ll earn credit and full pay at the same time. Think of it as one of many different ways to pay for college.