How to Pay for College Without Going Broke

Three Parts:Choosing the Right CollegeSaving Money for CollegeWorking to Pay for College

The average college graduate in America has almost $30,000 in student loan debt, while some owe as much as $70,000.[1] Though many students spend their time after college paying back significant student loans, it is possible to leave college with little or no debt. With hard work and dedication, any student can transition into the post-collegiate world without a significant burden of debt.

Part 1
Choosing the Right College

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    Apply to an in-state school. Going to school out-of-state can be tremendously expensive, sometimes costing two to three times as much as in-state tuition. Look around to see which schools in your area offer the best programs to meet your interests, and shop around to compare the cost of similar programs nearby.[2]
    • Consider public schools rather than private schools as private schools generally cost considerably more than public schools.
    • Consider going to community college for the first two years of an undergraduate degree for general requirements and then transferring to save on degree costs.
    • If cost is a factor, you may want to avoid ivy league schools specifically. Unless you are able to secure a substantial scholarship, ivy league schools are some of the most expensive (though prestigious) colleges in the world.
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    Look for high graduation rates. On average, only 41% of undergraduate college students graduate with a bachelor's degree in four years. Every additional year you're in college means an extra year of tuition, books, housing, and other expenses, and it also means an extra year lost that you could have spent in the work force. When applying to colleges, look at each school's graduation rates, and make sure you don't overexert yourself if you're working while in school so that you can graduate on time.[3]
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    Apply for scholarships. You'll most likely apply to a number of different schools, but you should look at what kind of scholarships and financial aid each school offers. A college that is willing to give you a full or partial scholarship could save you a lot of money, compared to a school that does not offer any merit-based or need-based financial aid.[4] To find out what scholarships are available at a school you're interested in attending:

Part 2
Saving Money for College

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    Avoid the dorms. Dorm life can be a fun way to socialize and meet new people, but it's also expensive. If you can live at your parents' home for free while attending school, do so. You'll save thousands of dollars each semester, and that money can be spent on books, gas, and tuition.[10]
    • If you're going to school too far from home to commute, look for roommates to share the cost of housing. Look for off-campus apartments, as on-campus housing tends to cost substantially more money.[11]
    • Compare the cost of living in different neighborhoods near your college by searching for apartment listings online at websites like Craigslist or Trulia. If you shop around, you might find that some neighborhoods are a little bit cheaper than others because of factors like lack of access to public transportation, longer commute times, and so on.
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    Ride a bike or take public transportation. Biking is a free means of transportation (other than occasional tune-ups) and a great way to work out. Or take public transportation, if it's available in your area. There are a number of websites, including The Denver Post's news site, that feature a calculator to determine how much you could save by taking public transportation instead of driving every month. [12]
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    Don't pay for new textbooks. The cost of textbooks can put a significant financial burden on most students, but it doesn't have to. Most students will not re-read textbooks after a given class ends, so why pay extra for a brand new book that you'll only use for a few months?
    • Buy used. Many textbooks are available used, either in your school's bookstore or online at websites like Amazon.[13]
    • Share a textbook with friends or roommates who are also taking that class. You can chip in on a used textbook and save even more money.[14]
    • Rent textbooks, either from your school's bookstore, or from online booksellers like Amazon. You can also rent e-books, if they are available for the classes you're taking, and save even more money.
    • Check your school's library for textbooks you need. Many colleges have a section for textbooks, and once you have your class syllabus, you can borrow the book you'll need from the library for free. Make photocopies of chapters if you need to highlight or underline passages to help you learn the material. Return the book when you're finished, and you will have saved a substantial amount of money.
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    Be careful with credit cards. Credit cards may seem tempting to students struggling to make ends meet, but credit cards do not give you free money. However, owning a credit card and paying off your bills on time is a great way to establish and improve your credit score rating. Just be careful so you don't end up in even deeper debt down the line.[15]
    • Start with a low credit limit. You may even want to opt for a secured credit card, which requires you to deposit a predetermined amount of cash to back your spending limit.[16]
    • Pay your bills on time, every month. This is the best way to responsibly use a credit card in order to improve your credit score rating.[17]
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    Keep track of your expenses. Use a notebook or a spreadsheet to keep track of how much you spend every month on expenses like groceries, bills, clothing, gas/transportation costs, eating out, and rent. Then find ways to cut back on your expenses.[18]
    • Avoid eating out whenever possible. This is an easy way to cut back on expenses, and eat healthier at the same time.[19]
    • Keep new clothing purchases to a minimum. Opt for thrift stores, or look for special sales at department stores.
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    Make your own food. College cafeterias are convenient for on-campus meals, but they can also be quite costly. Instead of dropping money every day at the cafeteria, save money by buying bulk groceries and storing them in the refrigerator at your dorm or apartment.[20]
    • If you do purchase an on-campus meal option, be sure to choose the option that's right for you. Most colleges offer bundles, depending on how often you anticipate you'll eat at the on-campus cafeteria. If you don't think you'll eat at the cafeteria three meals a day, seven days a week, then opt for a cheaper option that fits with your needs.[21]
    • Find out if your college offers a student food pantry. A growing number of colleges and universities now offer food pantries where low-income students can acquire free canned goods and packaged food.[22]

Part 3
Working to Pay for College

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    Consider military service. Serving your country in exchange for tuition assistance is a good way to go to college for less --- or even for free --- while getting experience. Here are some options[23]:
    • The Armed Forces tuition assistance gives enlisted and officer military members up to $4,500 annually for tuition and fees.
    • The Post 9/11 GI Bill will pay 40% to 100% of tuition and fees at an in-state public college or university or up to $17,500 at a private or foreign school for members who have served at least 90 days on active duty since September 11, 2001.
    • The Reserve Officers' Training Corps will pay for most and often all of your college tuition and fees. In exchange, you are obligated to join the military after graduation.
    • Each service arm of the military also offers their own tuition assistance benefits for active duty and reserves. Click here for a chart.
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    Take a year to work. If you can delay going to school for one year, you can use that time to work full time and save up money for school. You may even be able to take online courses during that time. Aim to work 40 hours per week, but if you can manage working 60 hours per week, even better. Set up a savings account at your bank or credit union so that you will not be tempted to use that money as disposable income.[24]
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    Work a job in your free time. Even if you cannot or do not want to take a year off to work and save up money, you can still work while you're in school. Campus jobs may be ideal for a working student, since they are likely to be more understanding about working around your class schedule.
    • Apply to be a teaching assistant for breaks on tuition
    • Find out if you can clean up in the dining halls in exchange for free meals
    • Apply to be a research assistant
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    Try a work-study job. If you qualify for the Federal Work-Study (FWS) Program, you can earn minimum wage or higher, often while working in a field relevant to your studies. Many FWS part-time jobs are on campus, though some are located in the community nearby your school. The best part is that most work-study jobs are flexible in determining what hours you are available to work, so you can build your work schedule around your class schedule every semester.[25]
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    Consider an internship. Internships are an excellent way to gain valuable experience in your field and earn a strong recommendation that could help you land a lucrative job after college. Some internships are unpaid, but many offer a competitive salary, and you may be able to get college credit for your internship as well.[26]
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    Opt for student loan forgiveness. Students in the United States who enter the workforce employed full time by a government agency (local, state, or federal) or by a non-profit organization with tax-exempt status are eligible for Public Student Loan Forgiveness. Under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, post-collegiate workers who took out Direct Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loans, Direct Consolidated Loans, Direct PLUS, and Direct Stafford Subsidized/Unsubsidized Loans make 120 income based repayments, income contingent repayments, or pay as you earn repayments, after which point the remainder of that worker's student loans are forgiven.[27]


  • Apply for as many scholarships as you can from as many sources as you can.
  • Separate your needs from your wants. Do you really need a manicure every week, or is that a want? Make a budget based on your needs and stick to it.
  • Eating out is fun but expensive. Treat yourself every once in a while, but don't make it a regular habit.
  • Try to walk, cycle or use public transport to get to your college. As you've probably noticed, petrol prices are at their peak at the moment.

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Categories: Budgeting and Financial Aid for College