Federal and private student loans are available to help you cover the cost of your college education.
But in a best-case scenario, student loan debt can be a major inconvenience — and in the worst case, financially crippling.
If paying for college out of pocket is a possible option for you with the support of college savings or other means, here are some creative ways to help achieve your goal of paying for your education without taking on any student loan debt.
5 creative ways to pay for college
Paying for college out of pocket can feel like a tall order, but it can be possible if you take the time to research options and implement them.
1. Apply for all the scholarships
It’s not uncommon for incoming college freshmen and older students to apply for scholarships offered by their school. In some cases, you may be automatically eligible just by enrolling. But there are also countless private companies and organizations that provide scholarships to students in need of assistance.
Websites like Scholarships.com, FastWeb, and The College Board provide access to millions of scholarship opportunities. While you won’t be eligible for all of them, it pays to spend time researching what’s available and applying for the ones you do qualify for.
The more you apply for, the higher your chances will be of getting some help.
Also, some organizations and colleges may offer grants, which, like scholarships, don’t need to be repaid. Keep an eye out for those opportunities as well.
2. Forget about household college names
The idea of having a major university on your resume is exciting. But over the course of your career, your skills, work ethic, and personality can have a lot more impact on your ability to get a job and earn a living than your alma mater.
Instead of picking a school that’ll cost you tens of thousands per year, consider a state college that may be able to give you more bang for your buck.
Also, you can save even more money if you attend a community college for the first two years of your college experience, and then transfer to a four-year school to complete your studies.
3. Get the right job
Working during school can make a big difference by providing an ongoing source of income you can use to pay your living expenses and college costs. But if you can, try to find an employer that also offers tuition reimbursement as an employee benefit.
Depending on the company, you may be able to receive money upfront for the upcoming semester, or you’ll get reimbursement after you’ve completed each semester.
Just keep in mind that employers typically won’t provide this benefit to just anyone who works for them. You may need to work for the company for a set period before you can qualify, or you’ll need to commit to a set number of years at the company — and if you don’t meet that requirement, you may need to pay back the money.
4. Take more classes
It may be tempting to take just the minimum number of classes to be considered a full-time student. But at many colleges, tuition costs max out at a certain number of credit hours, and any other classes you take beyond that won’t cost you another dime.
By taking one or two extra classes every semester, you’ll not only save money because you’re technically not paying for the extra education, but you may also be able to graduate early.
Another way to approach this is by taking classes during the summer. Because fewer students are interested in summer school, classes can be cheaper than during the regular school year.
5. Ask your school for more money
The financial aid award you receive from your school may feel final, but it is possible to appeal for more. Reach out to your college’s financial aid office and ask about your options for receiving more money to help you pay for school.
There’s no guarantee it will work out in your favor, but if you can make a good case for yourself, it is possible. Try to focus on why you’d be a good candidate for more aid and ask the office to consider potential changes in your family’s financial situation since the last time you received aid — unemployment, medical bills, bankruptcy and other financially-distressing events may improve your chances.
Cut expenses to make paying for college out of pocket easier
In addition to looking for creative ways to pay for college, it’s also important to keep your costs under control while at school.
- Live off campus to avoid higher rent costs of dormitories.
- Get on a cheaper meal plan or opt to buy your own groceries.
- Create a budget for your expenses and set spending goals each month.
- Purchase your textbooks secondhand and try to sell them back at the end of each term.
- If you’re not considered a dependent by your parents, take advantage of education tax credits.
- Take college courses in high school to get a head start.
- Get on a low-cost phone plan through companies like Ting, Republic Wireless, and FreedomPop.
- Before you purchase something, check for student discounts.
- Take advantage of all the free services your college provides.
What to do if you need to use student loans
Paying for college out of pocket is ideal, but if you need to take out student loans, start with federal loans.
Offered through the U.S. Department of Education, these loans typically offer lower interest rates and better benefits than private student loans.
If you happen to max out your federal loan options and still need money, make sure you’ve exhausted all your other options to pay for college. If there’s still a gap after that, then it may be time to consider private student loans.
If you do need the support of private student loans, keep in mind that your eligibility is based on your creditworthiness. Because you might not have a robust credit history as a college student, that may mean getting a creditworthy cosigner to apply with you like a parent or relative.
Before applying for private loans, be sure to use Purefy’s Compare Rates tool to get interest rate offers from multiple lenders in one place. This tool makes it easier and faster to compare all your options and pick the best one available — with no credit check required.