You don’t have to pay for college with student loans. With a little effort and hard work, graduating without student loan debt is possible!
College is costly, especially if you do not qualify for financial aid. Tuition at public and private colleges has steadily increased over the last two decades.
However, just because you do not qualify for financial aid does not preclude you from obtaining a college degree.
Here are some strategies for covering college expenses and achieving your educational objectives.
Ways to Pay for College without Loans and Debt
A college education does not have to be a debt trap. Here are some options for paying for college without taking out loans:
Save up Before College
Obviously going into college with some money in your account is one of the best ways to graduate without debt.
If you can pay cash for even some of your degree, you will take on less debt. Typically the best place to put your money while saving for college is in a 529 account.
You can find more about this and other college savings options here. But the most important thing is just that you start saving as soon as you can.
Apply for Scholarships and Grants
Free money is always a good idea, too. There are literally thousands of scholarships and grants available to apply for online.
You can also find local scholarships and grants at your neighborhood library.
Often times small local groups pass out $250 or $500 scholarships, and the applications may not be that competitive.
Even if you put an hour or two into these applications, your return could be pretty high!
Apply for as many scholarships and grants as you can, provided they’re a good fit for your high school record, abilities, and future plans.
But don’t spend loads of time applying for scholarships and grants that you don’t really qualify for. That time is better spent working so you can complete step one.
Choose Your School Wisely
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t always mean choosing the school with the lowest sticker price.
If you can qualify to get into an elite Ivy League school, for instance, you might find that they charge absolutely no tuition.
Some of the most well-known schools have the most robust financial aid programs, even for upper-middle-income families.
The key here is to apply broadly to different schools. Try some local schools, which we’ll talk about in a moment, that have a lower sticker price.
But consider more prestigious, expensive schools, too. Then, compare the schools based on their actual cost after non-loan financial aid is applied.
Once this is done, choose a school that you can afford, but one that also has a strong program for your area of interest.
Remember, future employers care less than you’d think which school your degree comes from, as long as you have taken the right courses and excelled in your program.
Try a Community College First
If those offers aren’t enough to make college truly affordable, consider going to a community college for your first two years.
Many of these local schools offer solid education for a very low price tag. And they’re getting better by the year at ensuring their credits and degree programs are transferable to more well-known schools.
If you can pay cash for a community college, and especially if you can live at home during that first two years, you can save up more money for your last two years at a larger state or private school.
Negotiate with the College
You can negotiate with the financial aid offices once you’ve received offers from the schools you’re interested in.
Some colleges and universities give their financial aid officers more leeway than others. However, it never hurts to try to bargain.
This is especially true if your second or third choice school offers you a generous financial aid package.
You can use that offer as bargaining power when negotiating with your top choice school.
In conclusion, if you still need to borrow money for college after exhausting all of your other options, look into federal student loans first.