How to Pay for College: 10 Best Ways 

Woman researching how to pay for college
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Wondering how to pay for college? You have options. But some choices are better than others.

Personally, I had to take out student loans and I combined that with a work-study program. 

Americans now owe a whopping $1.75 trillion in student loans and I’m part of that statistic! 

But your situation may be different!

From federal grants to student loans, work-study programs, and scholarships, among other revenue sources, paying for college is more than doable. Let’s explore the most common and accessible ways to fund your University studies.

1 – Federal Grants

Grants may be the easiest way to grab free money to pay for college. The first step to applying is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form to see if you qualify. 

Federal grants are awarded based on financial need. Applications are accepted in the fall, and students must submit the form by the following summer. For example, for the 2022-2023 academic year, federal applications open on October 1st, and the deadline is June 30th 2023. 

FAFSA asks for financial information like tax forms from the previous year and bank balances for checking and savings accounts. Once you’re determined to be eligible for FAFSA, the money is distributed directly to your school. Your school applies it to your tuition. So you have less to pay out of pocket. 

After each school year, remember to renew your FAFSA

Once you create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) login, when you submit your FAFSA for the first time, the forms will pre-populate with the information you entered the previous academic year. This feature makes the renewal process a breeze and saves you from filling out tedious financial forms every year!

2 – Student Loans 

Taking out student loans may seem daunting, but having perspective on the long-term value can help.

Investing in your education will offer you higher earning potential and access to more fulfilling job opportunities. With time and the right payment plan, you will eventually pay off your student loan debt. Then you’ll enjoy the rewards of a lucrative, rewarding career. 

Also, keep in mind, interest on student loans is almost always tax deductible, up to $2,500 a year! The two main types of loans are federal and private student loans. Find out more about each loan below:  

Federal Student Loans 

Federal student loans are issued by the government and are subject to various laws and regulations. They have fixed (typically low) interest rates and offer income-based repayment plans. This type of loan can be subsidized or unsubsidized. 

  • Subsidized loans: Awarded based on financial need and do not accrue interest while enrolled in school (must be enrolled at least half-time).
  •  Unsubsidized loans: You (the borrower) will be responsible for interest fees you accrue while enrolled in school. However, you have the option to defer payments until after graduation. 

Private Student Loans

Private student loans come from organizations like a bank or credit union. These often have variable interest rates and are not subsidized. In addition, private student loans usually require the borrower to have established credit or provide a cosigner. 

Check out this video on how to fill out your FAFSA form here:

3 – Scholarships 

Scholarships are often merit-based and have competitive requirements such as a grade point average (GPA) minimum and extracurricular activity involvement. There are plenty of scholarships for high school seniors awarded from sources such as local businesses, national organizations, banks, or directly from educational institutions. 

In the US, the average scholarship is estimated to be worth $7,400. This can be a tremendous help, whether it’s used to pay for part of a student’s tuition or cover the cost of ramen noodles, Fireball, and other college expenses. 

4 – Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs are federally regulated, based on financial need. It’s an opportunity for students to work a part-time job to help cover education expenses. Depending on your institution, students enrolled in part-time and full-time studies may qualify. 

The baseline pay for these programs is minimum wage which varies from state to state. Students can earn more depending on their financial needs or their school’s program. Undergraduate students must be paid hourly and at least once a month. 

Remember: work-study programs have a cap on how many hours a student can work, but this is probably for the best, as retaking courses because you have no time to study will only cost you more. 

My work-study experience was to sort mail and packages for my dorm. It was fun because I got to do it with my friends!

5 – 529 College Savings Accounts 

529 college savings accounts have tax advantages and may be sponsored by the government or post-secondary institutions. Their purpose is to encourage saving for future education costs. These accounts can be 

  • Prepaid: An account holder puts credits into an account to pay for tuition at participating schools. Typically, these funds can only be used for tuition, not for room and board. 
  • Education Savings Plan: The account holder can contribute to an investment account that can be used for tuition, room and board, or other expenses. 

The main benefit of a 529 plan is that it is a source of tax-free earnings. This means the longer money is in the account, the more interest it will accrue, tax-free. However, it is important to note that the contributions made are not tax deductible.  

6 – Dual Enrollment Credits 

Dual enrollment credits offered by participating (usually local) universities can be taken in high school to give students a head start on completing a degree. These courses are generally offered at a reduced tuition rate. 

In addition to paying for the course, some programs have a minimum grade requirement for the course to count as college credit. 

Similarly, students can sign up for advanced placement (AP) classes, a type of dual enrollment credit. After taking an AP course, the student must pass a standardized AP exam to determine whether they earned credit. 

Speak with your high school guidance counselor for more information on dual enrollment credit opportunities available at your school. 

7 – Employer Tuition Assistance 

Some employers offer tuition assistance programs to help employees pursue a degree in their field of work in return for a long-term commitment to stay with the company. These employer tuition assistance programs often cover children or spouses of the employee as well. 

Employer tuition assistance can also mean reimbursing employees for student loan payments up to a certain amount. Although this will not help students make their initial payments, it is something to keep in mind when joining the workforce. 

8 – Regional Tuition Exchange Programs 

Regional Tuition exchange programs are a way for students to attend out-of-state colleges for in-state or reduced tuition rates. 

These programs are available for public and private universities, and students are not required to complete FAFSA to qualify. To participate in one of these programs, ask your school’s financial aid office for more information, or check out this list of popular programs here.  

9 – ROTC Programs

The Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program offers scholarships for students to complete military training while they earn a degree. The requirement is that they join the military once their degree is completed. 

Scholarships can vary; however, full tuition coverage requires a minimum eight-year military commitment, and the student must enlist as an officer of the US Air Force, Army, or Navy after graduation.

10 – Alternative Ways to Pay for College

Here are a few choices to consider to pay for college or reduce your educational expenses:

No-Loan Schools

No-loan schools are post-secondary institutions that only offer financial aid through grants, work-study programs, or scholarships. These schools do not provide loans to their students, which can be a less stressful alternative to paying for college.

Live Off-Campus

Students pay a premium for accommodations. On average, room and board at a private university costs $1,121 per month per person and is only available for nine months of the year. 

Living off-campus can be much more affordable. An apartment gives you the option of roommates to offset the cost of rent and utilities. In addition, if you plan on staying at the same school for several years, you can sign a longer lease to lower your monthly rent.

Payment Plans 

Payment plans allow students to spread large bills into lower monthly payments over extended periods.

Some universities charge a fee for payment plans, which is something to consider when choosing this payment method. Also, it is crucial to be aware of incurring interest when extending your repayment time frame. 

Consider Gig Work 

Gig work offers students the flexibility to take the time to focus on their studies. You can pick up paid gigs that fit your schedule. For instance, you could work more during school breaks, less when class is in session, and then not work at all when you have exams.

Commonly Asked Questions About How to Pay for College:

How to Pay for College Without Loans?

Avoiding loans involves applying for scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. Apply for grants and work-study through FAFSA, and be sure to reapply each year. Also, if you can get an early start, consider contributing to a 529 savings account or enrolling in AP courses while in high school. 

How to Pay for College Without Parents?

Students can pay for college without their parents through

How to Pay for College With No Money?

There are plenty of student loans, grants, and work-study program options for students with financial needs. Be sure to apply through FAFSA before the summer deadline. Also, check out this comprehensive list of scholarships!

How to Pay for College Without Financial Aid?

Scholarships are a fantastic way to earn money for college. Check out this list of scholarships. Diligent students could make enough money to cover more than tuition and room and board. Plus, there’s no cap on how many scholarships a student can earn. 

What’s the Best Way to Pay for College? 

The top 10 best ways to pay for college are:

What Are 4 Different Ways to Pay for College?

There are many ways to pay for college, including federal grants, student loans, scholarships, and work-study programs. 

How to Pay for Collage? (common misspelling of college!)

See if you’re eligible for federal grants. That’s free money for your college education! Research scholarships, apply for work-study programs at your school, start a 529 college savings plan, consider ROTC, and take AP classes for college credit in high school. You can also pick up gig work or a part-time job.

How to Pay for College by Yourself?

To pay tuition on your own, consider making use of gig work. Gig work is flexible and allows you to make money on your own schedule while studying full-time. You can also get scholarships and grants and apply for work-study programs on your own. 

How to Pay for College with Loans?

When paying for college with loans, be sure to apply for loans before the deadline by filling out a FAFSA form or a loan application with a private lender. Prioritize federal loans instead of private loans to ensure the interest rates are fixed, and payment plans are income-based. 

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