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How to Pay for College: Top Tips and Advice

College is an exciting time. But before you pack your bags and head off to school, there are some important details you must iron out first. One of those is paying for your education. Luckily, there are countless ways to afford college without taking out student loans.

Here are some of our top tips and advice on how to pay for college:

Apply for Financial Aid

One of the most important steps to getting funding for college is applying for financial aid. Federal and state governments, as well as universities and private organizations, offer financial help in various forms to help students pay for school.

Find out how much financial aid you can get by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online. This is the government’s official form that determines your eligibility for federal student loans, grants, and work-study programs.

The FAFSA is free and easy to complete in under 30 minutes. It’ll ask you for information about your family’s income, assets, and other details about your life. Your answers will determine your award amount, so be as accurate as possible.

Even if you think you don’t qualify for financial aid, it doesn’t hurt to fill out the form. It doesn’t cost anything and you never know what you might get.

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Work with a Company that Offers a Tuition Reimbursement Program

Did you know that some companies will pay for you to go to college? Yes, you read that right—some cover full rides while others offer a set amount each calendar year for tuition and fees. Employers like Target, Google, Amazon, Starbucks, and Chipotle each have their tuition reimbursement programs with unique criteria for qualification.

Typically, participants must:

  • Enroll in an accredited college or university
  • Have a minimum GPA
  • Earn certain grades in their classes
  • Work at least part-time for the company (20-30 hours per week)
  • Study a certain field

Offer Freelance Services

Freelance work is ideal for students who enjoy the flexibility of being able to work from home, set their hours, and make more money than they would at a traditional job. If you choose freelance work over a part-time job, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Pick projects that interest you the most.
  • Don’t sell yourself short—see how much other service providers like yourself are charging and set your rate accordingly.
  • Know your boundaries and don’t take on more work than you can handle along with your classes.
  • Market your freelance service(s) on social media, LinkedIn, and bulletin boards at school.

Freelancing gives people the opportunity to build up their skill sets while receiving a lucrative income.

Get a Paid Internship Related to Your Major

A paid internship is a fantastic way to gain valuable experience in your field. Find paid internships by searching websites like Indeed and LinkedIn, and peruse local newspapers and websites that align with your interests and major.

When applying for a paid internship, ensure your skills match what they’re looking for. If a company has more than one position, read over the requirements before applying. The pay may vary per position and employer, so be sure to ask about it during your interview.

Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

A scholarship essay is your chance to show off how well you write and articulate your thoughts. So don’t just recite other people’s ideas. Make yours original, but be honest and don’t exaggerate. Having a winning personal essay on hand will save you time later when you have to submit an essay for scholarship consideration.

Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants are an awesome way to pay for college. Why? Because you don’t have to repay them later on! They’re awarded based on financial need, academic achievements, athletic ability, artistic talent, or other special circumstances. Check with your financial aid office at school to learn more. An advisor can tell you how much money is available in the form of scholarships and grants at your school. He/she may also have information about potential sources of funding that could help you out.

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Work Part-Time or During the Summer

One of the most productive ways to earn money in college is by working part-time during the school year, and full-time over the summer. When it comes to finding a part-time or full-time job, remember to think outside the box. Your options are not limited to retail or working in an office. Fun jobs include tutoring, research assistant, camp counselor, and lifeguard, to name a few. You could even consider dog walking as a side hustle. The sky is your limit!

Take Advanced Placement Classes

If you’re a high schooler reading this in hopes of getting ahead, then consider taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes. It’s an excellent way to earn college credit and reduce your time in a four-year university. Passing an AP exam can count toward general education requirements if you’re planning to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

There are many AP classes you may take, but the availability depends on your high school:

  • English Literature
  • World History
  • Government
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Spanish
  • Statistics
  • Calculus
  • Music Theory
  • Psychology
  • And more!

Is there a class you want to take that your high school doesn’t offer? Look into taking concurrent enrollment courses in your desired subject at a community college. Junior colleges often work with high schools to offer free or discounted classes that can transfer over to college credit. Be sure to check with the community college and your future four-year institution to find out which credits will transfer.

Participate in Work-Study Opportunities

Work-study is a form of financial aid that allows students to work on campus and earn money while in school. It’s a good way to build your resume and gain work experience. It’s also nice because you don’t have to pay out of pocket for college. You simply work part-time, and your compensation goes straight to funding your education.

But not everyone is eligible for work-study. Determine your eligibility and discover available opportunities by visiting your school’s financial aid office. An advisor will point you in the right direction—if there are no work-study options for you, he/she may suggest other work opportunities.

Pursue an Online Degree Program

When trying to figure out how to pay for tuition and fees, it’s crucial to consider all your options. When it comes down to it, you may not have the luxury of choosing a school based on its location or reputation. If you’re feeling stuck in terms of funding options, check out online degree programs.

Online degrees can be more affordable than traditional degrees because they usually require fewer on-campus credits. Students can work while they study—which is ideal if you need to earn some extra cash to offset college expenses. The flexibility in a class schedule also affords you more time to spend with family.

Finally, don’t forget that many online programs offer financial aid. Pursuing education online doesn’t mean you don’t have to apply for the FAFSA. Filing for it can present scholarships, grants, and even work-study opportunities to help you pay for your online degree.

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College Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

With all these options available, there’s no reason to feel like going to college is out of reach. If you want to go, take the steps that will make it possible. Don’t want student loan debt? Get creative and find innovative ways to generate cash flow. It’s possible to earn a degree without taking on any debt or relying on your parents for funding.

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