How to pay for college without loans

How to pay for college without loans

Miriam Caldwell has been writing about budgeting and personal finance basics since 2005. She teaches writing as an online instructor with Brigham Young University-Idaho, and is also a teacher for public school students in Cary, North Carolina.

Trying to figure out how to fund your college education? While student loans may seem like the easiest solution to pay for college, there are alternatives. Especially considering that student loan debt is at an all-time high,   you may want to try to minimize your debt as a new college graduate.

If you plan to graduate from college debt-free, you’ll need to create a budget for college to help you manage your money and limit your spending. You’ll also need to find creative ways to pay for tuition, books, and other necessities. Read on to learn tips on how to graduate from college debt-free.

Apply for Scholarships

The first way to pay for college without student loans? Actively look for and apply to scholarships. It is also important to realize that not all scholarships are based only on academic performance.

There are even scholarships designed for people entering specific years in college, so you should continue to look for scholarships once you have begun school.  

You can apply for scholarships that are based on service work that you have performed, scholarships based on your major, your ethnicity, or where you or your parents work.


Another alternative is to pay for college is to pay out-of-pocket. This means that you work full-time in the summers and use that money to pay for the next year of college. You can also work during the school year part-time to help cover the cost of room and board, books, or other necessities.

You might even take steps to make your education more affordable, such as lowering your housing costs by living off-campus or choosing a different meal plan.

It's also important to consider the cost of tuition at different colleges. Going to an in-state public university will cost you less than going out of state or to a private college.

Tuition Reimbursement From Your Employer

You may consider working at a company that will pay for you to attend college, a benefit called tuition reimbursement.   Some companies will pay for the classes upfront; others will reimburse the cost after you have successfully completed each semester.

Often, companies will have a time period that you must work for them after you graduate or else you will need to pay them back the difference. This can be a great way to earn your degree while avoiding debt. What's more, the work experience can make you more marketable when you graduate.

Attend College Part-Time

You may also consider working full-time and attending college part-time. It means that your education will take a bit longer, but you will not need to sacrifice as much when it comes to lifestyle choices. This is a good option for someone who has decided to attend college later in life. Many programs are designed specifically for this purpose.

You will need to weigh how quickly you want to graduate against the debt you may take on. If you are doing this option, it helps to have a solid plan in place so that you can move forward as quickly as possible.

Take a Heavier Course Load

Many students will only take the minimum requirements each semester. But you may also choose to save money on college tuition by taking more courses per semester, thus shortening the amount of time you'll need to be in school.

You also may find that by attending classes in the summer, you save money since the cost of tuition is often lower. Some students also take summer courses at local community colleges, which can save money.  

Students might also save money by staying in their college town during the summer. That way, they can keep their summer job and earn more money.

Graduate School

If you are attending graduate school, you may be able to find alternatives ways to pay for it. Most graduate programs work hard to find funding for the majority of its full-time students. This often means working as a research associate or as a teaching assistant.

When you are applying for the program, be sure to educate yourself on the opportunities that are available and find out what you need to do to apply to them.

It’s no secret that it costs a lot of money to get a college education. According to U.S. News, during the 2020-2021 school year, the average cost in tuition and fees students paid for private colleges was $41,411 and that in-state and out-of-state students attending public universities paid an average of $11, 171 and $26, 809 respectively. The cost of college is steep, and it is continuously rising year after year.

However, just because college is expensive does not mean that it will be an economic death sentence for you and your family, and you don’t have to become saddled with mountains of debt from student loans in order to further your education. There are many ways for you to pay for college without taking on loans.

If you want to go to your dream college without racking up debt, here are a few options you should consider:

Start saving early

It is never too early to start saving for college. If you are able to save up enough money to cover all or a portion of your expenses, it will make a huge difference when it’s time for you to pay your tuition and fees.

One of the best ways to start saving for college is through a 529 plan. A 529 plan is an education savings plan that compounds interest. As long as you use the money in your 529 plan for educational purposes, this plan is tax-advantaged.

Although you have to be 18 to open an account yourself, your parents or guardians can start a 529 plan on your behalf.

Depending on your tax bracket and the average rate of return (typically estimated to be 7-8%), your 529 plan can provide you with a significant amount of money for college. For instance, if your parents started an account with $1000 when you were a baby and contributed $1000 each year, you would end up accumulating roughly $44,000 by the time you turned 18 years old.

While there is less compounding interest at work if you start saving later in life, it is always a great idea to start whenever you can.

Try this 529 investment calculator to see how a 529 plan can help you.

Fill out the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form that you will need to fill out in order to receive financial aid from the federal government and different colleges and universities.

Even if you do not want to take out any student loans, it is always a good idea to fill out the FAFSA because it can help you earn other types of financial aid as well. The FAFSA is the key to unlocking over $150 billion in college grants. Unlike loans, grants do not need to be repaid when you finish school, and earning grants for college will put you in a better financial situation than if you were to take out thousands of dollars in loans.

Every year, thousands of students miss the deadline for submitting their FAFSA or they neglect to complete the FAFSA because they don’t think they will qualify for aid. As a result, hundreds of thousands of dollars are left unclaimed and unused each year.

Don’t be like these students. Keep track of key information like your state’s deadline for completing the FAFSA so that you don’t leave any money on the table when it’s time to pay for school.

Apply to affordable schools

No, this does not mean compromising your educational goals or only choosing schools that have low tuition costs. In fact, some of the most prestigious colleges with the highest price tags are incredibly affordable due to their competitive financial aid packages.It simply means to look into the financial aid packages and average costs for the schools on your list and use this information to help influence your college choices.

When you visit the websites for the schools you are interested in attending, look at the average tuition and fees for in-state and out-of-state students. You should also look for the average amount of aid that each student receives from the school. Check to see if there are any automatic scholarships that you can receive based on your GPA or prospective field of study.

If you review all of this information and notice that the schools on your list will still be far out of your price range, consider other options that might be more affordable.

You might save money by attending a college within your state instead of traveling out-of-state, or you might save money by attending a college which awards more money based on GPA or on the activities you were involved in like sports teams, art honors societies, or academic clubs.

Apply for scholarships

One of the best ways to pay for college without any student loans is to apply for scholarships. Scholarships, like grants, are essentially free money, and there are tens of thousands of scholarships available for you to apply for during high school.

I recommend applying for as many scholarships as you possibly can and making sure that your GPA, list of extracurricular activities, and standardized test scores are strong enough to help you qualify for these scholarships.

While some scholarships are need-based, others are open for any and everyone to apply. Here are my tips for earning scholarship money:

  • Start applying for scholarships early: As soon as possible, start applying for scholarships that you are eligible for receiving. Typically, scholarships will only be open to high school juniors and seniors. Create an account at or a comparable resource that will help match you with scholarships that fit your needs and qualifications. Spend time browsing these scholarships and applying for them daily so that you can start lowering your college expenses sooner rather than later.
  • Treat applying for scholarships like a job: If you spend time each and every day looking for scholarships, writing and revising scholarship essays, and applying for scholarships, you are bound to find some success.
  • Don’t scoff at small scholarships: When your in-state tuition costs $11,000, you might not be too eager to spend an hour writing an essay for a $200 scholarship. However, earning a $200 scholarship here and a $500 scholarship there will add up quickly, and you might end up getting more than enough to cover your college expenses over time.
  • Look at scholarship criteria: Many schools offer automatic scholarships for students who meet minimum GPA and standardized test score requirements. See what the criteria will be for in order for you to earn money and adjust accordingly. For instance, at Indiana University Bloomington, any in-state or out-of-state applicants with a minimum SAT score of 1330 and a minimum GPA of 3.80 will receive $36,000 in scholarships and students with a minimum SAT score of 1260 and a minimum GPA of 3.80 will receive $20,000. This is a $16,000 difference simply based on 70 points on the SAT! If you are aware of this criteria, you can know how to adjust your SAT target score and study habits so that you can improve your score enough to qualify for the bigger scholarship.

If you are struggling to earn the SAT score you need in order to qualify for college scholarships, Prep Expert can help. Prep Expert has helped thousands of students earn millions of dollars in scholarship money. Sign up for SAT prep courses or private SAT prep tutoring today when you visit our website.

Students who enroll in lower-cost public colleges and who pick wealthier parents are more likely to graduate from college with no student loan debt. These tips will help you pay for college without student loans.

Choose a cheaper college. Students who enroll at community colleges are less likely to graduate with student loans. More than half of the students at these colleges do not borrow to pay for their education and more than two-thirds graduate with less than $10,000 in student loan debt. More than three quarters of students who graduate with no debt enrolled at a college that charged less than $10,000 a year in tuition, according to data from the 2015-2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:16). Another option is to enroll at a college with a generous no-loans financial aid policy .

Choose an unconventional college. You can opt for a work college or attend college in a country that offers free tuition for international students.

Choose a college that is close to home. Students who enroll at an in-state public college are less likely to graduate with student loans than students who go out-of-state for college.

Consider a college where your parents attended, or better yet, where they work. Many colleges offer discounted or free tuition to employees and their families. If your parent or sibling attended a college, you may be eligible for a legacy discount, too.

Major in STEM. Students who major in STEM, especially mathematics, are less likely to borrow to pay for college. Perhaps it’s because math majors know how to calculate the impact of compound interest and are more wary of borrowing to pay for college?

Use our Loan Calculator to determine the monthly loan payment and total payments on your student loans, based on the loan amount, interest rate, loan fees and repayment term.

Apply for scholarships. Students who win more scholarships, especially scholarships worth $25,000 or more, are less likely to borrow to pay for college. More than half graduate with no debt. The goal of many scholarship providers is to reduce the student’s work and debt burden. So, focus on free money first.

Did you know that scholarships are taxable? Use our Scholarship Tax Calculator to figure out the taxable amount of your scholarships and calculate how much you’ll have to pay in taxes.

Find an employer who will pay your tuition. Students who benefit from employer-paid tuition assistance are also less likely to graduate with student loan debt.

Graduate on time. Plan a pathway from matriculation to graduation. Consider how often each class is offered and any prerequisites. Take 15 credits a semester instead of 12, since you can’t graduate in four years on just 12 credits. Students who take less time to graduate are also less likely to graduate with student loan debt.

Pick wealthy parents. Students whose parents earn $100,000 or more a year are less likely to borrow to pay for college. Students who need financial aid to pay for college are more likely to graduate with student loans, in part because most colleges use student loans to meet financial need. Three-quarters of students who file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) graduate with student loan debt, compared with only a third of students who don’t file the FAFSA. That’s why only 25% of Pell Grant recipients pay for college without student loans, compared with 57% of non-recipients.

But since those who earn $90,000 per year or above are earning more than 87% of the rest of the U.S. population, there are other ways your parents could help you eliminate student loan debt without being wealthy. Parents: If you’re looking to change jobs, look for positions at a college that would offer free or discounted tuition for your kids. Find creative ways to save money to apply towards college costs. CollegeBacker is an easy-to-use online platform that allows you to open or grow your college savings plan. You can use their gifting feature to easily receive gifts from family and friends, and shop through their links to earn cash back towards college. Learn more about CollegeBacker.

Save for college. Every dollar you save is a dollar less you’ll have to borrow. It is cheaper to save than to borrow. Money in college savings plans also gives you the flexibility to choose a more expensive college than you otherwise could afford.

Even if you don’t have a lot of extra money to save for college, get creative. Use cash-back credit cards for everyday purchases, pay off your balance in full, and use any cash you earn to put towards college. Ask any presents received from birthdays, holidays, and graduations, to be in the form of cash for college or the Gift of College gift card. Sell any unwanted belongings for extra money. Apply any unexpected money, such as winning a contest, a bonus at work, or refund, to the college savings.

Fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA can open the door to grants, which is free money you don’t have to pay back. You can also qualify for work-study, which could help reduce what you need to borrow.

Dependent students, Asian and Hispanic students, and male students are less likely to graduate with student loan debt.

More than 90% of international students graduate with no debt, in part because they are not eligible for student loans.

Earning college credits in high school by taking AP classes and participating in dual enrollment may not be effective in reducing student loan debt at graduation. College credit may be limited to students who earn a 4 or a 5 on AP tests, and then may count only for general credit and not satisfy prerequisites.

How to pay for college without loans

When you go to college, you’re probably wondering how you’ll pay for your post-secondary education. With so many headlines about billions of dollars in student loan debt hurting Americans, you may be wondering how to pay for college without loans.

While many college graduates have student loan debt, obtaining a college degree might help you find better jobs, higher pay, and a fulfilling career. Fortunately, in this guide, you’ll find numerous ways to pay for education without taking out loans.

1. Start Saving Beforehand

Saving is less expensive than borrowing. Every dollar you save means one less dollar youэll have to borrow later. Money in college savings programs also allows you to attend a more expensive college than you might otherwise afford.

You can save money with anything. For instance, you may need some help with your homework. And when you want someone to write your academic task for you, it’s better to pay for essay writing cheap service! Choose an affordable writer from the list and save your cash for a better future!

2. Look For Universities That Provide Significant Financial Aid

Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid even if you don’t think you’ll qualify. The FAFSA is your admission pass to the world of financial aid. By submitting it, you’ll be considered for financial help, which may include federal grants, work-study programs, student loans, and specific state and school-based aid.

Fill it out as quickly as possible since some institutions give out funds first-come, first-served. In addition to the FAFSA, some institutions require you to complete the CSS Profile to be eligible for financial assistance.

3. Look for Scholarships

You don’t have to wait until you’re a senior in high school to begin looking for scholarships. Starting sooner may be advantageous. Every year, for instance, the Evans Scholars Foundation provides full-ride scholarships to hundreds of golf caddies.

However, you must be a caddie for at least two years to qualify, which means you must begin caddying during your sophomore year of high school or later to be eligible by the time you apply at the start of your senior year.

Scholarships, unlike student loans, are not required to be repaid. There are many available; utilize a scholarship search tool to reduce your options. While many scholarships need you to complete the FAFSA, the majority also ask you to fill out a different application.

4. Pick an Affordable College

If you asked your friends or neighbors what the essential aspect of picking a college is, you’d hear a variety of replies, such as name recognition, dorm size, or the success of the football program. But let us break it down for you: when it comes to picking a college, the only thing that matters is whether or not you can pay for it without taking out student loans.

Your first goal should be to find a college that’s within your financial means. That may include altering your or your child’s expectations of attending a specific dream educational institution.

On the other hand, if you can find enough scholarships, grants, and further help to make it happen debt-free, their ideal college may still be within reach.

5. Attend a Community College First

Do you want to know why everyone adores them? We have these great schools called community colleges all across America, including your city. They allow students to earn meaningful college credits on their route to a degree at a far lower cost than if they’d enrolled in a four-year university right out of high school. They can complete the fundamentals in a community college for two years before transferring to a university that provides bachelor’s degrees for years three and four.

Let us address a common misconception. Many people believe that spending their first two years of education at a community college will disadvantage them when it comes time to apply for employment after graduation. The fact is that few companies, if any, notice when applicants have only spent two years at the school from which they graduate. The biggest thing they check for is whether you have a degree, followed by what you studied.

6. Work During Studying at College

We’ve moved to one of the favorite methods of students to pay for a debt-free education: working during school. What does it mean? Why would someone want a child to work throughout their college years?

Judging from students’ experience, doing some work outside the classroom or library indeed improves academic achievement. Many young people realize that it goes against what many people in our culture believe, but data shows that students who take a part-time job (less than 20 hours per week) frequently have higher grades than those who are not employed.

There are the following job opportunities during your school’s years:

  • Programs for Work-Study. These enable your child to work part-time while still attending college. In your FAFSA letter, they’ll discover out if they’re qualified. Work-study employment is typically on campus, making them an easy option to mix work and academics;
  • Off-Campus Employment. Many occupations are ideal for busy college students wanting to increase their income. Customer service occupations that are suitable with a part-time schedule may be the best option for your youngster. There’s a lot of money to be made by waiting tables, parking vehicles, or working at a mall. Alternatively, they may seek a part-time office job that is more in line with their professional aspirations;
  • Business on the Side. If your child has the excellent skill, interest, or creative talent to turn into a profitable product, the possibilities are endless. Consider crafts, fashion design, music classes, and tutoring.

The Bottom Line

Many people think that higher education means borrowing a large sum of money for college and then repaying it over ten years or longer. However, with some creative thinking and a willingness to build your path, you may get the college experience you desire without incurring a lifetime of debt!

This content is a joint venture between our publication and our partner. We do not endorse any product or service in the article.

How to Pay for College without Loans: A Guide added by Joint Venture on October 25, 2021
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Many students leave college with $20k, $30k, or even $100k or more in student loan debt. And even with a high-paying job directly out of school, it can take years to pay off these loans and move on with your life. But what if there were a better way?

Table of Contents

The Trap of Student Loan Debt

How to pay for college without loansSource:

Research from NerdWallet shows that 62 percent of the class of 2019 graduated with a diploma and student loan debt. Among these college graduates, the average student loan debt clocked in at $28,950.

In total, 43 million Americans have student loan debt (roughly one in eight people). Those in the 25-to-34 age bracket are most likely to have student loan debt, while the largest amount owed goes to the 35-to-49 age range.

The worst part about student loan debt is that it lingers. While the standard repayment plan lasts for ten years, most people end up making adjustments and taking much longer. In fact, one study shows it takes an average of 18.5 years for people to pay off their student loans. The typical borrower starts at age 26 and doesn’t end until age 45. That means the first two decades of a borrower’s career are spent making payments. And with an average interest rate above 4.5 percent, it’s costing thousands of dollars per year in interest and fees.

Student loans certainly have a role to play. They can allow people who otherwise would have no access to higher education to tap into world-class learning opportunities and acquire valuable degrees. However, they can also saddle unsuspecting young people with a decades-long burden that prevents them from living life to the fullest.

Tips to Help You Pay for College Without Loans

How to pay for college without loansSource:

Paying for college without loans might seem like a pipedream, but you have more options than you realize. While financial aid is the first option to explore, we’re assuming that you’re already on top of this. (If you have not applied for aid, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – a.k.a. the FAFSA form.) Beyond financial aid, there are plenty of other options. And if you’re strategic about it, you can layer some of the following tips together and graduate college without taking out any student loans. Take a look:

1. Find Scholarships

Scholarships are one of the single most powerful tools for paying for school. And while they can require significant work to find and secure, it’s free money that never has to be paid back. That’s a huge blessing that can end up saving you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime.

Most people assume that they can only qualify for scholarships if they have a 4.0 GPA or are the beneficiary of some major award or endowment. But there are thousands of scholarship opportunities out there – and only a few of them are based on academics or financial standing.

For example, if you’re studying to become an accountant or other financial professional, click here for the Wiley Accounting and Finance Student Scholarships, which are given out on a monthly basis to students who satisfy different qualifications.

Treat your search for scholarships like a full-time job and you’ll “earn” more on an hourly basis than any low-wage summer job could ever give you. If, for example, it takes you 20 hours to find a scholarship that pays you $2,000, that’s the equivalent of getting paid $100 an hour for your time. Who wouldn’t take that opportunity?

2. Apply for Grants

How to pay for college without loansSource:

People often lump grants and loans together, but they’re totally different. With a grant, you do not have to pay the money back. Grants are awarded by various organizations, schools, and federal assistance programs. Filling out the aforementioned FAFSA form is the first step. But even if you don’t qualify for one of these grants, your state grant agency might have other avenues for you to explore. Never assume that you won’t qualify. It’s best to fill out the appropriate forms and then let the folks in charge of doling out the grants figure out if you qualify.

3. Start With Community College

Paying for tuition to a four-year private college or public institution is expensive. But guess what? A much more cost-effective option is to spend the first year or two at a community college.

All of your general education credits – which are what the first two or three semesters of college consist of – can just as easily be earned at a local community college (where they cost just a fraction of the price you’d pay at a four-year school). Once you acquire these credits, you can then transfer to the larger school and finish your degree.

4. Start Working

How to pay for college without loansSource:

The days of waiting tables and bartending at night to pay for college are gone. This might have worked for your parents, but the exponential rise in college education over the past two or three decades makes it virtually impossible today. However, working can provide a significant boost and help you pay for college…when combined with other methods highlighted above.

Even if it’s $100 per week during the school year and another $400 per week during the summer months, every little bit adds up. Also, enrolling in an online school can help you with your time management when you need to work and study. Rasmussen has a great online finance bachelor’s degree that has an accelerated Master’s program so you can save money on your MBA as well. Click here to learn more. Use your time wisely, and you can eventually leave school with little or no debt.

5. Try Income Share Agreements

A totally new and revolutionary concept of schooling has come onto the scene over the past several years. It involves a unique approach where you attend school for no cost and then agrees to pay back a small percentage of your post-graduate income for a period of time. These Income Share Agreements, or ISAs, almost always end up benefiting the student in the long run. They’re particularly common for industries like graphic design, web development, and various tech fields.

Adding it All Up

Graduating from college without student loan debt is difficult in this climate. It’s not impossible, though. Today’s culture often gets those two ideas confused. Difficult things might feel impossible, but they can be achieved with the right balance of grit and strategic forethought.

How to pay for college without loans

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Asking “How do I pay for college?” is like asking, “How do I get healthy?” or, “How do I learn another language?” There are lots of answers, but there’s not always one clear path.

If you’re like most students and families, you’ll cobble together funds from multiple sources. Some types of financial aid are better than others, so use the following advice in this order:

1. Fill out the FAFSA

Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid even if you don’t expect to qualify for any aid, says Ben Miller, senior director of post-secondary education at the Center for American Progress. The FAFSA is your ticket into the financial aid arena. Submitting it puts you in the running to receive financial aid including federal grants, work-study opportunities, student loans, and some state and school-based aid.

Fill it out as soon as possible because some colleges award money on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition to the FAFSA, some schools also require you complete the CSS profile to be considered for aid.

2. Search for scholarships

You don’t have to wait until you’re a senior in high school to start your scholarship search. In fact, it could pay to start earlier. For example, the Evans Scholars Foundation awards full-ride scholarships to hundreds of golf caddies each year. But you have to be a caddie for at least two years to qualify, which means you’d have to start caddying during your sophomore year in high school at the latest to be eligible by the time you apply at the beginning of your senior year.

Scholarships, unlike student loans, don’t have to be paid back. Thousands are available; use a scholarship search tool to narrow your selection. While many scholarships require that you submit the FAFSA, most also have an additional application.

How to pay for college without loans

With the growing cost of college tuition, it’s become increasingly more difficult for students to pursue higher education. But don’t lose heart—while crowdfunding is one great option for raising money for school, there are plenty of other ways of paying college fees in case you fall short of your fundraising goal. Read on to learn how to pay for college without taking on major student debt.

Ways to pay for college

1. Financial aid

Many students don’t know how to pay for college without loans, yet financial aid is one of the best options available to anyone whose family doesn’t have the means to financially support them through school. FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) allows the student to apply for aid by filling out details about his or her family’s background; this includes total household income, savings, and any assets they happen to own. Depending on these factors, the student may qualify for a full or partial grant.

Tip: If your parents have divorced or separated, only list the parent who claims you as a dependent. This way, the total household income stated on your application will be lower, and your chances of receiving a greater subsidy will be higher.

2. Scholarships

Scholarships are the closest to free money for college you can get. If you don’t qualify for financial aid, don’t get discouraged. A common misconception is that all scholarships are merit-based; in reality, you don’t need to be at the top of your class in order to be eligible for what’s out there. Lots of scholarships are centered on need, location, talent, and even heritage. Most high school seniors qualify for roughly 50-100 scholarships, which they may not even know about.

Tip: Chances are you’ll qualify for more state scholarships than national ones. Look at local organizations and institutions or talk with your guidance counselor about how to go to college for free even if you don’t have a stellar performance to back you, and what’s available in your area. You can also research online.

3. National and state grants

The Department of Education offers a number of federal grants to students, including Pell Grants, Academic Competitiveness Grants, National SMART Grants, and TEACH grants. Even though the amount of relief you qualify for is generally need-based, other factors like the cost of tuition, your status as a student, and your coursework will also be taken into account. Grants don’t necessarily need to come out of federal money either; nonprofit organizations, religious institutions, and charities can also provide monetary grants to students. If you’re wondering how to get money for college when you don’t qualify for national grants, they are a great place to start.

State grants are also worth applying to, especially if you want to maximize your chance of receiving a full aid package. While grants on the state level can be more competitive (they usually require that you have a minimum GPA), there tends to be a greater pool of aid money for college available to those who apply on a local scale.

Tip: State grants typically require that you fill out an additional form to FAFSA, so make sure you do your research about how to apply so you can access the right grants. For example, in order to complete the process to apply for a Cal Grant you’d need to fill out the CADAA .

4. Federal loans

Federal loans are often used in combination with grants and are a great way to make up for any extra costs if your aid package doesn’t cover everything involved in paying for college. There’s a limit as to how much you can borrow (to ensure you’re not saddled with debt) plus federal loans have extremely low-interest rates compared to if you take a private loan.

Tip: The Department of Education pays the interest on direct subsidized loans when you’re in school as well as the first six months after you graduate.

5. Official benefactors

Official benefactors can include the Military, Coast Guard, Air Force, AmeriCorps, Peace Corp, National Health Services Corps, and ROTC programs.

ROTC (reserve officer training corps)

Their programs prepare college students for the military once they’ve graduated. Over a thousand colleges offer this program, allowing students to pursue a university education without having to worry about tuition or room and board. You will be expected to complete military training and to commit to 12 years of service after graduation, however.

The Army, Air Force, and Navy

Each has their own programs with their special set of requirements and schools, while the US Coast Guard doesn’t offer the same ROTC initiative. Instead, they have a similar training program known as the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative.

AmeriCorps and Peace Corps

If you plan to volunteer in exchange for education awards (whether it be domestically or internationally), then there’s always the AmeriCorps or Peace Corps . You’ll receive upwards of $5,000 for each year served in AmeriCorps and $8,000 for every two years in the Peace Corps, in addition to a monthly stipend to cover your cost of living.

Tip: There’s a fellowship program available to Peace Corps volunteers continuing with their upper education called the Paul D Coverdell Fellows program .

Get help paying for tuition

Everyone is entitled to an education. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not know how to afford college without applying for student loans. Now that you’re armed with this information on how to pay for college, you’ll be able to make the choice that’s best suited to you and your situation. Every day we see people successfully use tuition fundraising to fund their educational dreams. Don’t forget that you can always lessen some of the financial strain by starting a fundraiser .

Student loans are designed to help college students pay for the cost of their education. But with an average student loan balance of nearly $30,000 for a Bachelor’s degree alone, it’s worth looking for other ways to pay for college.

The more time you or your child have before college, the easier it will be to reduce the need for student loans or avoid them altogether. If, however, you or your child are already enrolled in college, there are still a few things you can do.

Save in Advance

If you have time, consider saving for college costs with a 529 College Savings Plan or a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA).

Funds saved with these accounts can grow tax-free, as long as you use withdrawals for qualified education expenses. Also, more than 30 states offer tax deductions or credits for 529 plan contributions.

Keep in mind, though, that most states won’t give you the tax break unless you contribute to your state’s plan. The only exceptions are Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, and Pennsylvania.

Once you set up an account, set a monthly or annual savings goal. Depending on how long you have, you may not be able to save enough to cover the full cost of a college education. But even a little is better than nothing. Every dollar you save is a dollar less you’ll have to borrow.

Get Free Money

If a student gets good grades and test scores, they may have a shot at earning an academic scholarship. If not, there are plenty of other ways to get free money for college in the form of scholarships and grants.

There are several scholarship search websites that provide millions of scholarship opportunities for students from all walks of life. Your chosen college may also offer additional scholarships that aren’t based on academic performance.

By filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you can also potentially qualify for federal grant money. Like most scholarships, you don’t need to pay this back as you would a student loan.

Enroll at a Low-Cost College

It may be nice to have a prestigious university on your resume, but there are several colleges that may offer a quality education at a fraction of the price of schools with household names.

Start by looking at community and in-state public colleges. Even if you attend one of these colleges for the first couple of years then transfer to your preferred university, you can still save thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars. Or, perhaps a 2-year degree is your goal?

But, beware of taking a detour through a community college on your way to a 4-year degree, as you may miss your destination. About a fifth of students who start off at a community college, intending to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, succeed within six years. That compares unfavorably with students who start off at a 4-year college, who are more than three times as likely to attain a Bachelor’s degree.

Depending on your income level, you may even qualify to attend one of the six dozen colleges and universities in the U.S. that have no-loan financial aid policies. Instead of providing loans as part of their financial aid packages, these schools offer grants and work-study programs.

Attending one of these schools may not eliminate your need for student loans altogether, but the possibility is there. The average debt at graduation at Princeton University, the first of the no-loans colleges, is less than $10,000.

Work during School

Attending college with a full schedule of classes can feel like a full-time job. But even a part-time job on campus can help you save enough to stave off crippling student loan debt.

Let’s say, for example, that you get a job working 12 hours a week and earn $8 an hour. Assuming you work that job for four full years with no pay raise, you’d earn just under $20,000 in gross income — and that’s not including more work hours during the summer.

That’s not a lot, but even after taxes, it could save you from having to take on thousands in student loan debt that you’d end up paying off over the next 10 years or more.

The more you can work, the more you’ll earn. Just make sure you have a good balance between your job, school work, and social life.

Don’t work more than 12 hours a week when classes are in session. Every additional hour takes time away from academics. Students who work a full-time job during the school year are half as likely to graduate as students who work 12 hours or less a week.

Live at Home instead of On-Campus

If you live near the college campus, having your child live at home instead of in the dormitories can save $10,000 or more per year.

Commuting can be tedious and parking a challenge on college campuses. Public transportation may shut down late at night. Your child will miss out on late night study sessions and other aspects of the college experience.

But, better to have your child live at home during their college career than have to live at home after college because they graduated with too much student loan debt.

Start Planning Sooner Rather Than Later

The sooner you start preparing for college costs, the easier it will be to avoid student loan debt. If you’re a parent, start saving with a 529 plan or Coverdell ESA when your children are young. And if you’re a high school student, expand your search for a college that can give you a good education without forcing you to rack up massive student loan balances.

Whatever you do, consider student loans as a last resort to pay for college instead of the default solution. It’ll require more effort now, but it’ll all be worth it when you graduate with less debt or none at all.