How to Pay for College

Applying for college is one thing. But paying for it? That’s a whole other can of worms. A recent study found that 70% of parents are worried about the cost of college.

Unfortunately, getting a degree is still necessary for many jobs (and some even require post-graduate education). 

Worried about paying for college? Don’t be. We’ve compiled all the best ways to pay for your degree – while minimizing your student loans. 

1. Apply for grants and scholarships 

Data shows that millions of dollars worth of scholarships are unclaimed every year.

There are two main kinds of scholarships and grants: external and internal. External scholarships are given by third-party organizations, major companies and nonprofits. For example, the Live Mas scholarship is given by fast food giant Taco Bell. 

The federal government provides a few kinds of external grants, including:

Pell Grant

The Pell Grant is given to students with demonstrated financial need. The maximum annual Pell Grant amount for the 2023-2024 school year is $7,395, but the exact amount you receive depends on your family’s finances. 

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant 

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is another need-based grant, but schools have a limited number of spots. To increase the odds of getting this award, submit your FAFSA as soon as possible. Amounts range from $100 to $4,000 per year.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

If you had a parent who served in the military and died due to conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan, you may be eligible for the  Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. The annual amount is equal to the Pell Grant. Students cannot receive both the Pell Grant and the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant

Aspiring teachers may be eligible for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. This grant is given to prospective teachers who agree to serve in a high-need field for four years. The annual amount is $4,000, and grants can be given for a maximum of four years. 

Internal Scholarships

Internal awards are those given by schools directly. Most schools have a limited amount of scholarships they dole out, and these are often given on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Some scholarships are only given for one year, while others can be renewed for a certain number of years. Many scholarships have GPA or degree requirements. These can vary wildly depending on the scholarship provider.

Many schools have separate scholarship applications that you must complete to be considered for these awards. Also, schools often require that students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify.

The FAFSA is also the form required to receive federal student loans, grants and work-study. Make sure to complete the FAFSA by the deadline.  

External Scholarships

There are thousands of scholarships that are given by both for-profit and nonprofit companies and organizations. You can find these scholarships on major aggregators like Scholarships.com, but it can also help just to do a Google search.  

Focus on scholarships that fit your specific background, interests, skills and demographics. For example, if you’re a first-generation college students, search for “first generation student” and the word “scholarship” or “grant.”

2. Apply for work-study

Work-study is when you are given a part-time job, usually on campus, and receive a regular paycheck. Work-study is a federal financial aid program where schools receive work-study funds to assign certain jobs to eligible students. Work-study jobs are normally between 10 and 15 hours a week, so you have plenty of time to study and do extracurriculars. 

To be considered for work-study, you have to complete the FAFSA. Work-study is only given to students with demonstrated financial need, and there are a small number of spots per school. 

3. Get a part-time job

While a part-time job may not pay enough to cover most of your expenses, it can help you avoid taking out some student loans. Look for part-time jobs on campus; these may have more flexible schedules or opportunities to study while you’re on the clock. 

For example, working in the computer lab may be a perfect way to study while occasionally helping students solve basic IT problems.

Try to be careful about doing gig work like driving for Uber and delivering food for DoorDash. The cost of gas and wear and tear on your car might end up cutting into your profits. Plus, if you get into a car accident, you may find that you’re entirely responsible for the costs. 

If you have any tangible skills, like graphic design, you can start freelancing to earn extra money. If you don’t have a professional portfolio, you can start on sites like Upwork.com or Fiverr.

Freelance writing is one of the ways that I avoided taking out more student loans in college. Plus, you’ll gain more experience that you can add to your resume. Win-win. Ask your professors if they have any leads for you.  

If you’re talented in a certain subject, see if you can get a tutoring gig on or off-campus. For example, if you’re a Spanish minor, you can tutor Spanish for both high school and college students. 

4. Take out federal student loans

If you absolutely have to borrow money for college, start with federal student loans. Not only do they have lower interest rates than private loans, but they also offer a wide range of income-driven repayment plans, so you can potentially lower your payment. Federal loans are also eligible for many forgiveness programs as well as longer deferment and forbearance plans.

Plus, federal student loans may come with hidden perks. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal government paused payments on federal student loans. Those with private student loans still had to make payments.

There are two main types of federal loans: Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Direct Subsidized Loans are only available for students with demonstrated financial needs, while Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to everyone else.  

5. Work for a company that pays for college

While it’s not common, there are some companies that pay college tuition for their employees.  

For example, Starbucks has a special deal with Arizona State University’s online program to pay for tuition for both part-time and full-time employees. While your degree options may be limited, you can still get a decent bachelor’s degree. 

Here are some other major employers that offer partial or complete tuition reimbursement:

  • Amazon
  • Chipotle
  • Walmart
  • White Castle

If you have one of these companies near you, see if you can apply and get a gig to potentially get a free or discounted college education. 

6. Attend college in state

The best way to minimize your student loans and pay for college is to attend an in-state school. In general, going to school in-state is 65% cheaper than going to school out-of-state. The average annual cost of attendance at a public, four-year, in-state college was $9,375, while the cost at a public, four-year, out-of-state school was $27,023.

Over the course of four years, that difference could equal more than $70,000. Plus, you’ll likely qualify for much more in financial aid if you attend a local school. Most states only offer grants and scholarships to local students, with a small handful of schools even offering free tuition if you meet certain criteria.  

7. Take out a private student loan

When you have exhausted all other possible options and still owe money, the last resort is to take out a private student loan.

Private student loans usually have higher interest rates and fewer benefits than federal student loans. They are rarely eligible for income-based loan repayment plans or forgiveness programs. If you can’t afford to make payments on a private student loan, it will be much easier to default than if you had federal loans.

If you do take out private loans, minimize how much you borrow. Try to add a cosigner if possible, because that can get you a lower interest rate. Once you graduate, you can try to refinance your private student loan to get a lower interest rate.

Avoid taking out an income-share agreement (ISA), which is when a company or school agrees to fund your education in exchange for receiving a percentage of your income for a certain amount of time after graduation. ISAs can end up costing more than a private student loan, and they are not eligible for refinancing.

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