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25 creative ways to pay for college

Going to college and earning your degree is an exciting experience that can help you find the path to a fulfilling career and life. College does come with a high price tag, but that doesn't mean you can't make it more affordable with a little creative brainstorming.

In this post, we share 25 creative ways to pay for college that range from scholarships and grants to original options like crowdfunding and getting paid for tasks you're already doing.

More Michigan students can now attend CMU tuition-free through the CMU Tuition Advantage program. 

CMU Tuition Advantage program info

1. Apply for Federal Student Aid 

There is no form that will be more important to your college career than the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is an online application that helps determine your eligibility for federal financial aid like grants, work-study, and student loans.

2. Apply for scholarships

It may sound obvious, but scholarships can be a great way to help pay for college. You don’t have to pay them back, which is a huge plus for your bottom line. Many scholarships only require a simple application (or are included with your college application). Some require a simple essay or letters of recommendation. Some estimates say more than $100 million in college scholarship money is unclaimed each year.

3. Apply for grants

Federal and state governments – as well as many private organizations – offer grants to students who qualify. These grants can be a great source of financial aid. The best way to get grants is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). You don’t have to pay grants back either – it’s a great way to help you pay for college. 

4. Look for part-time work

Many colleges offer part-time jobs on campus that can help cover some of the expense of tuition and living expenses. You could work on campus as a resident assistant or in the school library. You can also work in staff offices. There are many different types of jobs on campus, and they can also be a great way of building your social network. 

5. Crowdfunding

If you need additional financial support, you may consider using a crowdfunding website like GoFundMe to find donors who want to help you. GoFundMe hosted more than 100,000 college fundraisers last year with more than $70 million raised. Tell a compelling story about what you plan to do with your college education and the steps you’ve already taken by yourself. Share frequent updates. 

6. Participate in work-study programs

Work-study is another way to pay for college that comes from filling out your FAFSA. With work-study, the Federal government pays part of your wages instead of the college. You’ll get a job on campus and you’ll be paid hourly. Work-study is just another reason why filling out the FAFSA is so important in paying for college. 

7. Military service

Joining the military can provide financial assistance for college education. Programs like the Montgomery GI Bill and Post 9/11 GI Bill can help pay for your education, as well as provide other benefits. The GI Bill is a will pay for all or almost all your college education, however, you will have to serve your time in military.

8. Attend a community college 

Starting your education at a community college can significantly reduce the cost of tuition, while still providing core education credits. Most universities have articulation agreements with community colleges that makes it easy to transfer your credits in. Starting at a two-year institution also means you will gain an associate’s degree before receiving your bachelor’s.  

9. Attend a state school 

We’re a little biased but attending a state school can also be a more affordable option than attending a private college or university. In addition to having lower tuition and fees, a state school also can open a world of opportunity for you in the way of social clubs, academic research and networking. 

10. Consider prepaid tuition plans

Prepaid tuition plans allow you to lock in current rates, paying for college tuition at the same rate in the future, regardless of inflation. The Michigan Education Trust in one example of a prepaid tuition plan. These plans can help fight rising costs and lock in today’s rates. 

11. Take summer courses 

Taking summer courses at a local community college can help you catch up on credits for less money than taking the same classes at a four-year university. Most colleges and universities have a core curriculum that all students must take. You can knock these out at a community college and kick your college career in hyperdrive. 

12. Parent Plus loans 

If your parents have a good credit rating, they may be able to take a Parent Plus loan to help fund your college education. Remember that loans must be paid back – consider the overall cost of attendance at the college or university you are considering. The maximum amount you borrow is the cost of attendance minus your other financial aid. 

13. Private loans 

Borrowing from private lenders can also be an option, but should be approached with caution, as it can incur long-term debt. The loans you receive from filling out the FAFSA generally have better terms and conditions for repayment. 

14. Income-shared agreements

These agreements allow students to pay back a percentage of their income after graduation, which may be a more manageable option for some students. Income-shared agreements are a new idea when it comes to paying for college, and not all schools have adopted them yet. 

15. Peer-to-peer lending

Peer-to-peer lending platforms provide loans directly to students by connecting them with investors. All you have to do is fill out a simple form that determines your need. You are then connected with investors who will pay your tuition. You then pay back the loan in monthly payments. 

16. Employer tuition reimbursement 

For working adults, this can be a good option, as some employers offer tuition reimbursement or assistance as part of their benefits package. Check with your employer to see if this is an option for you. You may be able to pay for all or some of your college for free thanks to your employer!

17. U.S. Savings Bonds

U.S. Savings Bonds can be a great way to save money for college as they offer tax benefits and are backed by the federal government. The interest earned on Series EE bonds can be used tax-free to pay for college. 

18. Take advantage of tax credits

These tax credits help pay for college by reducing the amount of your income tax. The American Opportunity Tax Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit are tax breaks that can help offset college education expenses. The American Opportunity Tax Credit can offer you savings up to $2,500 and the Lifetime Learning Credit offers you up to $2,000. 

19. Negotiate tuition

It may be possible to negotiate tuition with the college or university directly, especially if you have received acceptance to multiple schools. While you may not have much luck doing this, getting in touch with the financial aid office at the school you want to attend may help you find other ways to pay for college that you didn’t know about.

20. Live off campus

Living and eating on campus can become expensive quickly. Living at home while going to college can help you reduce the cost of living expenses and focus on education. Some schools require first and second year students to live on campus, so check with your college or university to see if this is an option for you. 

21. Take Advanced Placement or IB classes

Taking Advanced Placement or IB classes in high school can help you earn credit before you start college. Many schools award credit for favorable scores on the AP or IB examinations, saving you the cost of certain courses.

22. Earn prior learning credit

Through prior learning assessments, you may be able to turn your life or work experiences into college credit. At CMU, you can receive prior learning credits for both undergraduate and graduate programs.

23. Look into no-loan schools

Some schools try to meet a student's full demonstrated need without loans. These schools offer aid through scholarships, grants and work-study programs. These financial aid packages are sometimes limited to students from lower- or moderate-income households.

24. Consider a tuition payment plan

Many schools offer tuition payment plans. These plans offer a convenient option for managing college fees by allowing students and families to spread costs over time. Instead of accruing interest, these plans have a one-time fee and monthly payment.

25. Start a side hustle

Whether it's driving for Uber or Lyft, DoorDashing, becoming a paid note-taker or selling handmade goods, many of the things you do every day can bring in earnings you can put toward your college education. If you're already driving to campus, consider Uber or Lyft. Know the area and its eateries well? DoorDash could be for you. If you're already taking notes for class and know you're good at it, see if you can become a paid note-taker. And if you're crafty, you could sell your makes on Etsy or at local markets.

Paying for college can be challenging, but it's important to explore all of the available options to help cover the cost. By using the tips above, you can create a budget that meets your needs, while still achieving your academic goals. Whether you're applying for scholarships, negotiating tuition, or taking advantage of tax credits, there are many creative ways to pay for college that can make your dream of receiving a higher education a reality.

Looking for ways to pay for college? Connect with Central Michigan today – we can help you make your college experience affordable. 

Blog: All Things Higher Ed posted | Last Modified: | Author: by University Communications | Categories: University Communications
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