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Going to college without loans can seem impossible, but it is possible if you have the right approach.
College costs are constantly rising, and students often struggle to make ends meet, let alone find a way to pay for their tuition and living expenses without taking out any kind of loan.
But don’t worry. There are plenty of ways that you can get through college debt-free with some intelligent planning and hard work.
This article will show you how to pay for college without loans.
This will allow you to get a college degree and not worry about how you will ever pay back the mountain of student debt you accumulated.
So come along as we dive into your options for financing your higher education without breaking your bank account!
Table of Contents
How To Pay For College Without Loans | 25 Tips
Finding scholarships is one of the best ways to pay for college without spending any money on tuition or going into debt.
However, most people need help finding scholarships.
Anyone can get a scholarship for a college education, but the applications tend to be tedious.
That, in turn, discourages many people from applying for scholarships.
If you can spare a few hours to fill in the application for a scholarship, you may not have to worry about tuition money to pay for higher education.
The scholarship search can also be tedious and unsuccessful, but if you know the places to look, you will only spend a little time on it.
Some of the best places to find scholarships are:
- The financial aid office in the school you want to join
- The U.S. Department of Labor website
- Scholarship match websites like Fastweb and Scholarships.com
Finally, make it a point to reach out to your local businesses.
Some may offer non-merit-based scholarships, allowing you an easier path to qualifying and less competition.
Grants are available for students who cannot afford to pay for college.
The good thing about grants is that you do not have to pay the money back.
You can get need-based grants from the government, schools, and other places like nonprofit organizations.
Applying for grants will help you get money for your college.
Some of the federal grants available to students include:
The first two are awarded based on your family’s financial ability, while the last one is for anyone who wants to pursue a career in teaching.
If the grants do not cover the entire tuition, you can choose any other ideas we have here and cover the rest of the fees.
#3. Work-Study Program
A work-study program helps you make some money while continuing your college education.
The jobs are primarily on campus, making it convenient for you to work and still attend classes.
However, you should use the money from the work-study program to cover your tuition and not other things like having fun.
When you apply for federal student loans, you will find out whether you are eligible for work-study jobs.
Only some qualify as financial need determines who is eligible.
You need to have good time management skills because working as you go to school is difficult for busy college students.
The schedules might sometimes collide, but the paycheck will help you to cover basic living expenses.
#4. Employer Reimbursement Programs
Some employers value the knowledge addition of their employees and have begun to offer tuition reimbursement.
This allows you to work while attending college.
How many credits your employer offers varies, but it is usually two courses per semester.
It is also important to know that in most cases, the money from your employer is paid to you after you complete the course and show proof.
Finally, sometimes there is also the requirement that you stay with the company for a certain number of years after completing your degree.
Employer assistance is available for both graduate students and undergraduate students.
If you get a chance to work at such a place, take it because it means your tuition fee is covered and hence no debts.
#5. Asking for Help From Friends And Family
Crowdfunding for college money is very common in the U.S.
Most people without the means to pay for their education will opt for crowdfunding.
It is a smart and almost always successful way of helping cover school expenses.
Some sites allow you to create an account and crowdfund.
However, you have to achieve your goal, or else you will lose your money.
Therefore, the task is to market your campaign as far and wide as possible to reach the goal.
Also, keep the goal small so that you can easily achieve it.
The other places you can as for monetary help is from friends and family.
If you have a wide circle of friends, you can ask them to help raise your college money.
#6. Get More Financial Aid
Sometimes the school financial aid office does not give you enough money for your tuition.
That would mean you will have to rely on loans at some point.
However, you can always negotiate for more financial aid to avoid taking loans that will be hard to pay later.
Convince them why you need more money, and you could get a financial aid award letter with a higher amount.
Besides the school, you can also get more money from governmental sources like the FAFSA.
If you qualify for more than one aid, FAFSA will give you the grants to pay for your schooling.
#7. Reduce Your Expenses
Learning is costly, and not just in terms of tuition.
You will need many other resources to keep you in school.
You might have to take loans to survive if you are not careful.
Have a budget and only spend on necessary things to avoid going into debt.
You can minimize your expenses to ensure you do not take loans.
Reduce the number of textbooks you buy by using public libraries to access necessary books.
You should also cut costs on things that are not necessary, like partying and eating out, to save the money you have for tuition.
Consider finding a roommate so you only need to pay half the living expenses.
#8. Military Tuition Assistance
The U.S. military has programs like Reserve Officers’ Training Corps that help students who cannot afford school fees.
However, you must be willing to serve after getting your college degree.
The military will pay your tuition fee, and you will join a military branch once you finish school.
Also, you are eligible for educational benefits if you have already completed your military service.
All you have to do is apply to all these programs, but the details of the application and the provisions will depend on the military branch you want to join and the school.
#9. Start College Planning Early
Financial planning is important, especially for parents who want to take their kids to college.
As a parent, the earlier you start planning for your child’s education, the better.
You can create a college savings plan with your bank to prepare for your kids’ education.
If you do not manage to do that by the time they finish high school, you can seek financial help from friends, family, and the government.
It is also wise to have a conversation with your child to let them know they need to help cover school costs.
This could mean saving money from summer jobs and working during breaks throughout the school year to help with the expenses.
All you have to do is make sure you plan to avoid the last-minute rush that could lead you to take loans.
#10. Save Money For College
Students can also save money for their college.
If your parents are not in a position to afford college, it is upon you to find a way to achieve your goals.
Start saving as early as possible so you can have enough money for all your expenses by the time you get to college.
Savings might not be enough, especially for students with no high-level skills to help them make good money.
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Therefore, financial aid, scholarships, and grants could significantly add to your savings.
That way, you can get help with the tuition fee and use the rest of the money for upkeep and other college expenses during your study period.
#11. Take High School Courses For College Credit
Another great way to go to college without student loans is to earn college credits while still in high school.
Most high schools offer advanced placement courses that you can take, and as long as you earn a passing grade, you earn credit.
Doing this could help you knock off a semester or two, saving you a lot of money.
#12. Avoid Private Schools
The average cost of tuition from a private university is $57,570 per year compared to $45,270 for a public school.
There was a stigma against public schools in the past, but this is no longer the case.
#13. Go To A State University
If you want to reduce your costs further, consider attending a school in your state.
Most states offer discounts to in-state students that make the cost of attending college much more affordable.
As mentioned above, the average annual tuition cost for a public university is $45,270 for out-of-state students.
The average in-state tuition is $27,940.
Over four years, this comes to a savings of close to $70,000.
If you get a scholarship to cover the tuition, you might not need any other money to cover your college costs.
#14. Live Off-Campus
Dorm rooms are usually costly because of the amenities provided by the school.
In some cases, you can save money by living off-campus.
Go to the neighborhoods within the school you want to join and look for a cheap and decent house.
You can save for furnishing before joining school so that you do not have a lot of expenses during your study.
Also, living off campus gives you a lot of freedom to look for a job outside the campus.
When I attended college, the monthly rent for an apartment down the street was less than the room and board my college was charging me.
So I found a friend that wanted to save money, too, and we rented an apartment.
#15. Live At Home
The best decision a student could make would be to live at home.
Free food and accommodation at home mean that the only money you need is for tuition.
However, that would only apply to students studying in-state.
If you can live at home, take it because that will cut your expenses by a tremendous amount.
Combining that with any other financial source we have discussed will ensure you do not need to take any loans.
#16. Fast-Track Your Education
The faster you can complete your courses, the less expensive it will be.
Some universities allow students to combine master’s and bachelor’s degrees.
That means that you only need about five years to complete all your courses.
If you can get into such an institution, your tuition fee will be manageable, and you will not have to take any loans.
You can also get scholarships willing to cover the 5-year program and save you the money you would have used for that.
You can still graduate early if you don’t want to combine degrees.
Take summer courses or see if your school offers classes over the extended winter break.
While you will still be paying for the courses, if you don’t have to pay to live at college by graduating early, you will save a lot of money.
#17. Go To An Affordable School
Another good way to avoid student debt is to look for an affordable school.
Education is usually costly, but some schools are more expensive than others.
Put in the effort to find a good school that doesn’t cost a lot of money.
When doing your school search, you can use many of the guides for school rankings to help you find quality options.
#18. Go To A Trade School
Trade schools give you marketable practical skills like plumbing and electrical work.
Everyone does not have to go to a college or university to get skills that can provide them with a good paycheck.
Many people working in the trades industry are earning six-figure salaries.
The good thing about trade schools is that they take less time and require less money.
Anyone can therefore afford to do a course at a trade school and get a valuable skill to use and make money.
#19. Federal Student Aid
Federal student financial aid is available to all students based on their financial needs.
The application is straightforward and focuses on why you need financial aid rather than whether your grades are good.
There are different types of financial aid that FAFSA gives to students.
Once you log on to their page and apply, you will be able to see the aid available to you.
This aid comes in handy for students who do not have the means to go to school but want a quality education.
#20. Work Before Joining College
You do not have to work with anyone’s timeline.
You can postpone joining college and get a job to save for college.
That will help you fund your education without having student loan debt to think about.
Also, you can experience the job market and make connections for when you get your degree.
You will finish schooling later than others, but you will not have any student loan debt to add to your paycheck.
The other benefit of this option is that you will have a better idea of what job you want to do.
Most students at age 18 have yet to decide what they want to do.
So they major in a subject that interests them, then find out after the fact they don’t like working in the industry.
#21. Attend College Online
Everything is available online in the vibrant digital world we live in today.
You can join an online program and graduate with a degree equivalent to someone who went to a physical one.
Besides the fewer fees and no accommodation costs, online learning is also flexible.
That means you have more time to focus on things like a part-time job and earn the money to pay for the course.
#22. Dual Enrollment Courses
Some colleges partner with high schools to offer dual enrollment courses where students can take some classes in high school and earn credits.
The courses you do in high school will cost less or nothing, saving you the money you would have used in college.
However, you must research the credit transfer policy for the college you want to attend before doing the courses with that intention.
#23. Get A Part Time Job
A side job will give you money to survive in school and clear your fee balance if you have any.
If you do not qualify for the work-study program, you can look for a job off campus and do it in the evenings and weekends when you have time.
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It will give you the discipline to manage your time and finances and help you afford to pay for college without federal or private student loans.
The job also gives you skills and experience that might help you when you graduate.
#24. Attend A Community College
For courses like criminal justice and nursing, you can attend community college and finish your education in fewer years than the traditional four-year school.
You can earn a certificate or degree at the local community college or transfer credits to another school.
Either way, with associate degrees from community colleges, you can still get a job in your field of study.
#25. Avoid Student Loan Debt By Not Going To College
The truth is not everyone should go to college.
This doesn’t mean if you can’t afford it, you can’t go.
Instead, some students are not the right candidate for college.
And some jobs don’t require a college degree.
In Pennsylvania, the governor just passed a law that most state jobs no longer require a bachelor’s degree.
So instead of thinking you have to go to college, think again.
The last thing you want is to pay tens of thousands of dollars in college costs only to realize you don’t like the industry or didn’t need the degree in the first place.
The Best Options To Pay For College Without Student Loans
There are many options to go to college and not take federal loans.
Here is a rundown of some of the best strategies.
If you plan to go to college someday, start saving for it now to make it easier for you when that time comes.
Consider going to community college for the first two years to cut costs before transferring to a four-year school.
From there, research colleges to help you find the best one at the lowest price.
For most students, this means avoiding private colleges and sticking with public universities in your state.
Next, start with a scholarship search and grants before you can exploit all the other financial sources listed above.
Another option is to find an employer that will hire you without a degree, train you, and pay for you to go to college.
There are many options out there for how to pay for college without loans.
Even if you have to take out some federal student loans, you can use these tips, so when you borrow money, it is much less than you would need.
Even if you think you will be fine without tuition assistance, you must still complete the FAFSA to know the various federal student loan options available.
This will save you headaches when you realize you have a financial need but cannot get help because you didn’t fill out the form.
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I have over 15 years experience in the financial services industry and 20 years investing in the stock market. I have both my undergrad and graduate degrees in Finance, and am FINRA Series 65 licensed and have a Certificate in Financial Planning.
Visit my About Me page to learn more about me and why I am your trusted personal finance expert.