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30 Ways to Pay for College Without Loans

how to pay for college without loans

It’s no secret that college costs have been continuously on the rise. As college educations have become more expensive, they have also become more integral to many career paths. For most, it is almost impossible to forgo getting a college education. Most students think that the only way to pay for college is to take out student loans. While student loans can be helpful in some cases, they can also result in students being saddled with debt for years to come and are only saved by bad credit loans with guaranteed approval.

Many students are looking for alternative ways to pay for their college education without taking out a bunch of student loans. That is why we’ve decided to come up with a list of the best ways to pay for college without loans.

Paying for College Without Loans

#1. Apply for Aid

One of the best ways to pay for college is by applying for financial aid. Students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see what federal aid they can receive towards their college education. Every single student should take advantage of FAFSA, as it is free money to put towards their college education. Don’t miss out on money that the federal government wants to give; it’s one of our top ways to pay for college. Apply for FAFSA here.

#2. Enroll Online

We love online degree programs. One of the biggest advantages of online learning is that it is oftentimes far cheaper than on-campus programs. Not only is the tuition itself cheaper, but students tend to also avoid the hidden costs of on-campus education. Many on-campus programs include a variety of different fees meant to support the campus. By choosing to enroll in an online degree program, students can make their dollars go further as they save money on online tuition.

#3. Community College Credits

Another answer to the question of how to afford college is by choosing to enroll in a community college for some of your college credits. Many community colleges offer students the opportunity to enroll in an associate’s degree that can then be transferred to a traditional university or college. The advantage of this is that students can save a great deal of money by earning college credits at a community college. Community colleges tend to be the most affordable places for higher education. Earning your general education credits at a community college is a great way to pay for college.

#4. Choose an In-state School

Many states offer students who live in their states much cheaper tuition than those students who are located out-of-state. One of the best ways to pay for college is by choosing to enroll in a local state school. By taking advantage of in-state tuition rates, students can make sure that their money goes much further than if they chose to enroll in a school outside of their state. Out-of-state tuition can sometimes be twice the amount of in-state tuition. In-state tuition is a great answer to how to afford college.

#5. Apply for Grants

Students should also look into grants to help pay for their college education. Grants are free money offered to students who meet certain conditions. Some grants offered include Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grants. These grants are a great way for people to find money to help pay for their college educations. Use this as one of your ways to pay for college without loans.

#6. Get a Job

Having some form of income is a great way to help offset the cost of college. If you are able to manage your course load while working, we suggest that students pursue this option. By working alongside your college education, you can ensure that you are earning money that you can put towards your education. The sooner you start paying for your college education, the less reliant you will be on student loans and student loan debt. Getting a job is one of our top ways to pay for college.

#7. Live Off-campus

Living on-campus can be much more expensive than living off-campus. Depending on the school, on-campus room and board can be quite pricey. By choosing to live off-campus, students can save money on their room and board and use this money to pay towards their tuition. Many college campuses are surrounded by off-campus apartments that are much more affordable than on-campus dorms. While living in the dorm can be fun, it is definitely a place for students to save money on their education and answer their questions on how to pay for college.

#8. Negotiate Aid Package with College

Colleges and universities often offer students aid packages to help them pay for their college degrees. What most students don’t realize is that it is possible to negotiate the size of your aid package with your college or university of choice. Your mileage may vary on this approach, but many students have had success with working with their college or university to request additional aid to help pay for their college education. We recommend that all students at least attempt this option, as it can’t possibly hurt and may result in free money for your college education. Oftentimes this helps students answer their question of how to afford college.

#9. Choose a Five-year Master’s Program

Another great way to help afford college is by choosing to enroll in a five-year master’s program. If you are considering a master’s degree, a five-year master’s program allows students to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in less time, which means less money in tuition. By cutting out an entire year of studies, students can save that tuition cost and put it towards their education. Students can look for five-year master’s programs as a way to save money towards earning a master’s program. It’s one of the best ways to pay for college.

#10. Take Maximum Credits Per Semester

Students can stretch their tuition costs by choosing to enroll in the maximum credits per semester in another one of our top ways to pay for college without loans. Many colleges and universities charge the same amount of money to full-time students regardless of how many credits they are taking once they pass the full-time threshold. For example, some colleges and universities consider a student to be a full-time student at 12 credits per semester but they allow students to take a maximum of 18 credits per semester. By choosing to take a full-load, students are getting more credits for the same price. We encourage students to take as many credits as they can without compromising their education in order to save money.

#11. Budget

A vital skill to adult life that will also help to make college more affordable is learning to create a budget. Budgeting allows students to get a better handle on where they are spending their money, and it is one of the top ways to pay for college. By having that laid out in front of them, students can figure out where they are spending too much money. By taking control of your spending through budgeting, students can redirect their money towards paying for their college, helping them to avoid loans.

#12. Have Work Pay for College

A great solution to how to pay for college is by finding an employer that is willing to help pay for part or all of a student’s education. Many businesses have programs designed to help their employees continue their education. For example, many businesses offer their employees the ability to earn a Master’s in Business Administration degree that is paid for by the company. By taking advantage of this, students can avoid paying for some or all of their graduate program. Want an online shopping platform that feels tailored? We’ve enjoyed our time on Shoppok and think you will too.

#13. ROTC

The Reserve Officer Training Corps is a program offered by the United States designed to provide students with officer training free-of-charge. This program answers the question of how to afford college for many students. By enrolling in the ROTC program, students can have the entirety of their college education paid for, in exchange for four years of military service. This option is great for students who want to graduate completely debt-free. ROTC students also are able to continue their careers in the military beyond their four-year education.

#14. Work-Study Program

Many colleges and universities offer work-study programs for their students. These programs allow students to take on full-time or part-time jobs in exchange for free or discounted tuition. For some students, this is the best way to pay for college. Students can knock out a large portion of their tuition costs by enrolling in a work-study program, while also gaining invaluable job experience that they can use on their resumes post-college. Work-study programs allow students to save money and gain job experience.

#15. Apply for Tax Credits

The United States government offers a variety of different tax credits that students can choose to claim when enrolled in college. One of the main tax credits that all students should be taking advantage of is the American Opportunity Credit. This credit applies to the first four years of college and offers $2,500 per year. Forty percent of this amount is amount is refundable, meaning that students can get $1000 in cash from the government if you owe no tax. The Lifetime Learning Credit is a similar tax credit aimed for beyond your first four years of school. Use these tax credits as one of the ways to pay for college without loans.

#16. Get a Gig

Another great way to control the cost of college is by getting a gig. Getting a gig is one of our top ways to pay for college. Students can sign up to drive for Uber or deliver for companies like Postmates while enrolled in school. This is a great way to set up an extra source of income that isn’t too demanding of your time. Instead of getting a job where your work schedule is somewhat out of your control, having a gig allows you to earn additional money while retaining complete control over your work schedule.

#17. Freelance

Similar to getting a gig, another great option for earning money while in college is by freelancing. Where this differs from a gig is that a freelance job allows you to leverage the skills you are learning during your career into a business of your own. Say you are learning web design in your college program, you can then offer those skills to those in need of web design work. Not only is this a great way for you to earn money and control the costs of college, but it also means you’ll be able to gain valuable work experience for your resume. Freelancing jobs also let you work on your career skills while attending school.

#18. Cook at Home

This might not seem like it would make a huge difference, but a major cost that students incur is food. Most college students spend a lot of their money on food outside of their house or dorm. Even meal plans on college campuses can prove to be pricey. A great way to save money that can be put towards your college education is by choosing to cook more at home. Whether this means cooking all your meals at home, or just a few, students can save lots of money throughout the year by making their own food. A great way to get started on this is by creating a meal prep plan that can be executed on the weekends to prepare yourself food for the week. Cooking at home is just one step on the road of how to afford college.

#19. Live at Home

With the cost of college increasing, many students opt to live at home rather than on-campus or in their own apartment as a cost-saving measure. This is a great option if your parents live near campus or if you’re studying online. Many students find that living at home is the best way to pay for college. Rent is a very costly expense, and if you can manage to avoid it, you will be able to use that money to help pay for your studies.

#20. Academic Scholarships

One of the main ways students can save money on their college education is by receiving academic scholarships. Academic scholarships are awarded to students based upon their academic performance either in high school or in their time as an undergraduate(if pursuing a graduate degree). Academic scholarships award the top students who have the highest grades and have achieved the most during their studies. Striving to get good grades is not only the best way to make the most of your education, but it also is a fantastic way to pay for college without loans.

#21. School-specific Scholarships

Different universities and colleges offer different scholarship reward packages to students. When applying for different colleges and universities, make sure to reach out to the Financial Aid office to find out about any scholarship programs that may be unique to the college or university you plan to enroll in. Oftentimes, there might be a selection of school-specific scholarships that you can apply for. This is one of our top ways to pay for the college education that you might not otherwise know about.

#22. Military Scholarships

While the ROTC program is a great way for students to pay for college in exchange for military service, a military scholarship allows students to use the military experience they already have to pay for their college education. A variety of different military scholarships are offered to potential students from all branches of the military. Military scholarships also cover active-duty students, as well as those who have been discharged from the military. Use your military experience to help fund your college education. For service members, this is one of our best ways to pay for college.

#23. Apply for American Honors

American Honors is an organization that helps students save a great deal of money on their college education. By partnering with community colleges and universities, American Honors creates an affordable pipeline for students to go through as they work towards gaining a higher education. Rather than putting together your degree path by going to a community college and seeing which credits transfer to your university or college of choice, American Honors takes much of the guesswork out of this process and sets students up for an affordable degree. American Honors helps to answer the question of how to afford college.

#24. Start Planning Early

If you’re planning on going back to school, or even thinking about the possibility of going back to school, a great way to come up with some extra money to pay for tuition is to start planning early. By making a plan for how you’ll pay for your tuition and actively saving money, you’ll be able to put yourself in a better financial decision as you move towards your goal of not taking out any loans for your college education. Planning early might be the best way to pay for college.

#25. Go to an Affordable Area

A great cost-cutting measure for college is choosing to attend a college in an affordable city or town. Many major cities have a much higher cost-of-living. This should be taken into account when deciding which college or university to attend. By opting for a college or university that is in a more suburban or rural area, students can save money on food, entertainment, and housing. This is money that can be put towards tuition costs.

#26. Apply for On-campus Studies

Students can take part in a variety of on-campus studies for extra income. Many education departments on-campus run experiments and studies year-round that require student participation. One of the main ways that student participation in these studies is encouraged is by offering money to participants. While this may not be the most money in the world, this is still extra money that you can put towards your college experience.

#27. Athletic Scholarship

Many colleges and universities actively pursue students who have excelled in athletics during their high school education. If you are a former high school athlete who is interested in college sports, you might be eligible for an athletic scholarship. Depending on the sport, athletic scholarships can cover part or all of your college expenses. This is highly-dependent on the college and the sport. We highly recommend that high school athletes that plan to continue their athletics through college and university look into this option.

#28. Identity-based Scholarship

A variety of different identity-based scholarships are offered to students. These are a great way for students to save money on their college education. Identity-based scholarships are offered to students based on their cultural or racial background. These scholarships allow students to save money on their college education with little to no additional effort. So start looking today for scholarships that are offered to students of your background, as it may be one of the best ways to pay for college without loans.

#29. Be an RA

Many schools offer students tuition assistance or free housing in exchange for being a resident advisor. As a resident advisor, you will live in the dorm as a resource to the other students. This is a great compromise for students who want to have the dorm experience but don’t want to spend too much money on living on-campus. Being a resident advisor can be a little demanding ,so make sure that you’ll be able to fulfill your duties as a resident advisor while still maintaining good grades.

#30. Don’t Party!

College can be a very fun time in a student’s life, but don’t let that make you lose sight of why you’re there in the first place. A great way for students to gain control of their finances is by eliminating partying and drinking. You don’t have to completely remove this from your life, but if you can limit the amount you’re out partying you’ll be able to save money and redirect those funds towards paying for college. Partying too much also runs you the risk of having poor grades, which can result in a prolonged stay at college and more tuition costs.


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NPCO Staff

This concludes our list of the top ways to pay for college without loans.