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How to pay for college without student loans

Here are some ways to help finance your college education.

students in hallwayWith the rising cost of higher education, it’s important to start thinking about how you’re going to pay for college before you’re actually applying.

According to Forbes, “In 1980, the price to attend a four-year college full-time was $10,231 annually—including tuition, fees, room and board, and adjusted for inflation—according to the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2019-20, the total price increased to $28,775. That's a 180% increase.” 

While taking out a loan or applying for financial aid may seem like your only option, it’s not. There are many programs in place to help students afford higher education, and a few key choices can also help you get there without launching a massive debt for your future self to have to clean up.

5-May-20-2022-03-05-45-52-PMApply for every scholarship.

Yes, every scholarship. While it’s common knowledge that many colleges and universities offer scholarships for athletics or exceptional grades, there are also scholarships available for children of service members, students who worked part-time in high school, students who are first-generation college students, and many other student situations. A few websites to look for potential scholarships are Going Merry, Cappex, and College Board.

Another great place to check is your parent’s job(s) or professional organizations. Many businesses offer scholarships for tax purposes, so ask your parents, grandparents, or any other family member or neighbor if their jobs offer financial aid for students. Many professional organizations also offer scholarships or financial aid to their members’ children who meet certain criteria, which can vary from program to program.

Your high school guidance counselor and any organization/club/church/sport you’re a part of probably also has resources or actual scholarships that you can apply for. Make sure to do your research and ask everyone for an opportunity – the worse they can say is no.

A few common high school clubs/organizations that usually offer some sort of scholarship or financial aid are: JROTC, Key Club (via Rotary Club), 4-H, FFA, FBA, Boy & Girl Scouts of America, and many others.

6-4Attend a trade school or community college.

Generally speaking, trade schools and community colleges are less expensive than universities. Depending on what your major or area of study is, attending one of these schools may be a more financially secure option. Especially for your general education, or first two years of college.

Community colleges are often cheaper, more flexible, and have more financial aid programs available. They are also typically smaller than four-year universities, so you’ll have less competition for those financial aid programs. 

7-4Put off college (for now) and save.

I know graduating high school and running off to college sounds exciting, but it’s not always realistic. If you’re unsure how you’re going to finance your higher education, put off college for a few years and save. There are many jobs available to high school graduates, and while they’re not known for their lavish pay, a consistent job will help you get there, simply as a jumping-off point.

If you can live with your parents (or another family member/friend) for free, stay at home and put as much of your income as you can into a college savings account. If you can’t live with your parents, try moving in with (responsible) friends and splitting bills. Having roommates can help keep your cost of living low, allowing you to save a good portion of your income for your education.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, one-third of students enrolled in bachelor programs changed their major before they graduated, and significantly more considered changing. And depending on what you change your major to, it could add classes or semesters to your track to graduation. Taking this time off may be beneficial while you decide what you really want to do in your career. Maybe you wanted to be a nurse, but after being a receptionist at a clinic, you realized this field wasn’t for you. Or maybe you wanted to be a lawyer, but after volunteering at an animal shelter, you realized being a veterinarian is where your heart is. 

There’s nothing wrong with going straight into the workforce after high school, so don’t let your peers or parents make you feel bad about it. College is always available, and it’s better to attend when you have the right mindset and means to pay for it, versus jumping in when you’re not ready and dropping out or graduating with more debt than your income.

Even if you don’t find a way to pay for 100% of your college education and you still end up taking out a loan at some point, the less you need the better. Taking a loan out for $5,000 to pay for your last year is a lot better than taking a loan out for $25,000 to pay for the entire education. 

Be strategic, be smart, and do your research.