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8 Tips to Pay for College Without Student Loans

   With the average college student graduating with at least $28,000 in debt – and in many cases much more – you’ve got to wonder if there are other ways to pay for college without student loans.  Yes, Virginia, you can get a college degree without hocking your future with the right planning. Here are 8 tips to help you pay for college.

1.) Scholarships:  While scholarships make up less than 5% of the total sources for funding college, there are millions of dollars that go unclaimed  each and every year.  Scholarships come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Not all are based on just academic merit.  There are scholarships for those pursuing a particular vocation, career program or academic research area.  There are scholarships for those who play in the band as well as on the gridiron.  Some scholarships are based on heritage, religious affiliation or even community service.

You need to be diligent and thorough in your search.  And with internet tools, it is easier than ever to do this without paying for a scholarship search service. When I was entering college in the pre-Internet days, I had to schlep down to the Boston Public Library which had the most extensive collection of resources for searching for scholarships.  Now, all that information and more is just a click away.

Free Scholarship Databases. There are a number of options available:

NOTE: Avoid sites that may require an application fee.

Scholarship Lotteries. In an effort to drive traffic to their websites, some are offering free scholarships. In exchange for getting your email address on a list that will get you all sorts of solicitations from colleges and services, you get a 1 in 10,000 chance (on average) to win money. These include:

2.) Pay As You Go: This is a tried and true way pay for college.  When I went to school I had two different part-time jobs that helped me pay for books, fees and gas.  By working full time during the summer break and part-time through the school year at $10 per hour, you may be able to earn $10,000 or more.  Even after taxes and assuming you spend 30% of your take-home pay, you’ll have about $8,000 or so to put towards your college costs.  Worried that working will ruin your social life and reduce the amount of time you have to study? Well, the social life part is probably true but studies show that students who work while attending school actually have higher GPAs.  Probably has something to do with motivation and time management skills – both really good skills valued by eventual employers.

3.) Attend Community College:  Commute to a community college to complete your core courses.  You’ll save thousands in tuition and fees.  Then transfer the credits to the school you want to graduate from.  While it may seem less prestigious to attend a community college, what really matters is the school you graduate from for your Bachelor’s degree.  Just check the credit transfer policy with your school.  When I went to school, I can tell you for sure that my high school friends who went to Harvard were using the same text books I was but were paying a heck of a lot more to be taught by Teaching Assistants when I was being taught by an actual professor.

4.) Live Off Campus:  Dorm living and campus meal plans are expensive. While convenient, you’ll probably spend less by living off campus or commuting.  For underclassmen this is not a likely option depending on school policies but it’s certainly something to consider for your Junior or Senior years.

5.) Attend College Part-Time: Sure, it will take longer to get your degree but you’ll have work experience and little or no student loan debt which will give you a lot more flexibility and less financial stress.

6.) Take More Classes Than the Minimum: With a heavier class load you may be able to get down the graduation aisle sooner and save both time and money in the long run.  Instead of taking the minimum number of courses to be a full-time student, take an extra course during the year.  Or take classes during the summer – preferably at a community college for lower cost. The average 4-year college degree takes nearly six years to complete.  By taking an extra 3 credits per year (or more) you’ll probably be better able to graduate on time or earlier – saving thousands in tuition and student loan costs.

7.) Get Tuition Reimbursement from an Employer: Lots of employers offer programs available for both full-time and part-time employees who may be eligible after a minimum amount of time.  These may include Starbucks, UPS, and even WalMart. If you’re pursuing a college degree in a location or profession that is experiencing a skilled labor shortgage, such as in nursing, you’ll find employers willing to provide assistance in exchange for a post-graduation commitment for employment.  And if your mom or dad are self-employed, they may be able to hire you and structure an employee education benefit program that saves them income tax dollars too.

8.) Join the National Guard, Military or Community Service Groups: Doing good for others can also pay off for you.  Serving your nation through military or community service is good citizenship in action and can put education dollars in your pocket. While not for everyone, you’ll have the opportunity to earn GI benefits, scholarships and education awards.

With some creative planning, you can pay for college without student loans.