Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further
Figuring out how to pay for college can be an overwhelming process for both students and parents. And how could it not be? The average student faces a bill of over $30,000 a year to get a college degree. However, there’s almost always more than one path to take when it comes to paying off college tuition.
Use the tips below to learn smart ways to pay for college expenses, from pricey textbooks to on- and off-campus housing.
Complete Your FAFSA ApplicationResearch Scholarships and GrantsFind Work-Study Programs Set Up Payment PlansExplore ROTC Programs Search for Affordable SchoolsConsider Off-Campus Housing Reduce Your Number of Classes Find an InternshipLook Into Student Research PositionsAsk About Employer Tuition AssistanceTap Into SavingsApply for Loans
1. Complete the FAFSA
Submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the first step to finding different options for financing your education in college. If approved, you could be eligible for a number of federal and school-based grants, student loans, and work-study opportunities during the year.
Make an effort to submit your application as soon as possible, as some schools give out rewards on a first-come-first-served basis. And be sure to check whether your school wants you to complete a CSS profile as well.
2. Research Scholarships and Grants
Federal grants and scholarships are some of the best ways to pay for college. Federal grants are rewards given to students based on their financial need. Scholarships are rewards given to students based on their academic or extracurricular performance and achievements.
Though they’re different, you can essentially think of them as the same thing — free money! Unlike loans, you don’t have to pay back money awarded to you. However, you do need to ensure you remain eligible, or the reward could be rescinded.
3. Find Work-Study Programs
Work-study programs help students with paying for college by securing them on- or off-campus part-time jobs they can use to earn money. If accepted into a program, you’d earn at least minimum wage up to the amount stated on your package.
Note that work-study jobs are not guaranteed and you’ll have to find an on- or off-campus opportunity on your own to receive any funds.
4. Set Up Payment Plans
Students and parents of students frequently explore payment plans through the university if they’re looking for financing options that don’t involve taking out loans. These allow you to pay off outstanding tuition balances over time with affordable monthly payments. So instead of applying for a $10,000 loan at a bank, you could pay $415 over 24 months with a small administration fee.
5. Explore ROTC Programs
The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC, is a scholarship program that pays for a student’s room and board or tuition, fees and books in exchange for a minimum of eight years serving in the military post-graduation.
6. Search for Affordable Schools
Lower overall tuition costs by finding schools that fit into your current budget. A tactic many people use is starting out at a local community college or technical school.
You can then choose to stay and get your degree there or transfer your credits to a four-year institution. Just remember to check whether the four-year school you’re interested in accepts transfer credits.
7. Consider Off-Campus Housing
Living on campus is a dream for some. You’re close to your friends, classes, and most necessities you need as a college student. However, room and board charges are often hefty — sometimes even more expensive than the tuition itself.
Finding affordable off-campus housing is a potential work-around. And if you can find a few friends to room with, you’d be saving even more. Remember that you’ll have to account for expenses like groceries and utility bills, but it can also be an opportunity to learn how to properly track and budget your money.
8. Reduce Your Number of Classes
There are many ways to pay for college beyond putting money away in a savings account. You can actually work toward reducing your tuition costs by lowering the number of classes you have to take once you’re in college.
There are a few different ways of doing this, but the main tactics used include:
Passing AP/IB tests Earning college credits in high school Exploring dual enrollment programs
However, be sure to check with your college to ensure they accept transfer credits and any other policies regarding being exempt from certain classes.
9. Find an Internship
Internships are an amazing opportunity to learn and get real-world experience while you’re in school. They can also sometimes offer financial incentives paired with your work experience.
In 2021, the average salary for an intern was $15 to $30 per hour depending on the field. You could use this income to make payments on a payment plan or proactively pay off outstanding loans.
10. Look Into Student Research Positions
Similar to internships, student research positions allow students to get valuable work experience and make money while doing it. Many college departments offer these positions to students studying a related field.
If you’re interested, simply ask a professor and they’ll likely give you more information. You can also look for job postings on different job search sites online.
11. Ask About Employer Tuition Assistance
Another thing you could do to reduce your college payments is seek out employers offering tuition assistance programs. These programs help you pay off a portion of your student debt to relieve the burden of financing your education.
12. Tap Into Savings
Some people like to think ahead when it comes to paying for college. Having a nest egg to turn to when it comes time to enroll is a common route many families take.
529 college savings plans in particular are popular among the 85% of parents who support their children financially through college. These are savings accounts designed specifically to help you pay for future educational costs, such as tuition and fees, books, room and board, and other expenses.
Note that there are sometimes fees for making non-qualified withdrawals, so it’s important to read through the rules associated with your account.
13. Apply for Loans
Even after years of saving and applying to dozens of scholarships, there’s a chance you’ll still need some financial help — and that’s OK. Over 83% of students rely on some form of financial aid to attend college.
Applying for loans can help you work toward paying outstanding balances. But unlike grants and scholarships, you’re required to pay the funds back — whether that be post-graduation or sometime sooner.
Here are common loan options used to pay for college bills:
Private student loans: Financial aid given to students by privately owned companies and/or nonprofit organizations Federal student loans: Financial aid provided by the Department of Education to eligible studentsParent PLUS loans: Financial aid provided by the Department of Education to eligible parents of students
The moments leading up to and after college can be tough emotionally and financially. Not only do you have to figure out how to pay for college expenses, but also adjust to life in a different environment.
Be sure to use these tips and the Mint app to help ease the transition by learning how to better manage your money and set long-term financial goals.
How To Pay for College FAQs
Still have some questions about paying for college? Not a problem — we have answers.
What Happens if I Can’t Afford College?
First, fill out the FAFSA to see if you qualify for any federal scholarships and grants. If ineligible, there are private loans, grants, and scholarships you can apply for to help pay for tuition and other expenses.
How Do Parents Afford College Tuition for Their Children?
Families typically use a combination of monthly income, personal savings, and financial aid to pay for college tuition and expenses.
Can I Use My 401(k) To Pay for College?
Using your 401(k) is one way to pay for college tuition. However, there are withdrawal distribution fees added to translations completed before you’re 59 ½ years old.
How Can I Raise Money for College Fast?
Using a crowdfunding site like GoFundMe is a great way to potentially raise funds for college quickly. You could also explore a number of side hustles that match your interests.
How Much Should Parents Save for College?
A good way of staying on track for college savings as a parent is multiplying your child’s age by $2,000. This will give you an estimate of how much you should have at that point in time.
Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further
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