How to Pay for College: 7 Ways to Afford it

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How to Pay for College: 7 Ways to Afford it

In this blog post, I will cover a variety of responses to the ‘how to pay for college’ question.

And keep in mind it’s not a matter of picking one option and abandoning all others. It’s probably a good idea to make use of as many as you can.

For example, why take out federal student loans to cover your entire post-secondary education—and then spend the next 2 to 3 decades trying to pay it back—when a large part of those necessary funds could come from grants or scholarships that don’t need to be repaid?

So read on. You may even be lucky enough to figure out how to go to college for free!

How to Pay for College? Mix & Match Any That Apply to You
Take out a student loan
Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Consider Going to a Community College First
Consider a More Affordable School
Apply for Scholarships
Apply for Grants
Join the Military

How to Pay for College:

  › 1. Take Out a Private Student Loan

Since taking out a student loan really is an answer to how to pay for college, I will address it and get it out of the way.

But know this. It isn’t the best or most sensible way to pay for or get help with your college tuition. In fact, it’s likely the least sensible way.

At first, a loan may seem to be the answer to your prayers. If you apply and get approved, you may have the money you need.

But hang on there. Let’s consider some statistics.

First, it is said that having a college degree increases your earning potential by about 50%, at least according to figures published by the Economic Policy Institute.

  • College grads earn about 50% more than someone who only has a high school diploma

That sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Go to college and make more money when you’re done.

So clearly, at least from a monetary point of view, it makes sense to go to college. And if you took out a loan to do so, you’ll be making the extra bucks that will make your loan repayment easy. Am I right?

But how about these statistics?

According to this report by the Strada Institute for the Future of Work and Burning Glass Technologies, 40% of college graduates off in a job that doesn’t require their degree, meaning they aren’t making the money they assumed they would.

  • 40% of new college graduates find jobs that pay less than what they expected to earn

And this isn’t just a passing phase for some graduates. The study also finds that 1 in 5 college graduates still aren’t working in a job that demands a degree a decade after they finished school.

  • A decade after graduating from college, 1 in 5 graduates are still working in an underpaying job

And as these statistics show, while having a degree certainly does improve your chances of being employed at all, there is still no guarantee you will find employment with a degree.

  • Some graduates remain unemployed, never finding a job at all

The lesson here? Yes, taking out a student loan can be an answer to how to pay for college, but it should never be your first answer. (Let’s forget the fact that it was my first answer here. It shouldn’t be your first answer.)

If you do decide on getting student loan debt, a lot of college students tend to work part-time jobs off-campus to pay off the federal loans or private loans they’ve taken.

It can also help with college expenses on top of the cost of college because student loan payments can be made through several repayment plans.

Now, how about moving on to some more sensible solutions on how to afford college.

  › 2. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

Depending on where you live, you may have no choice here. Some states have made filling out the application, a high school senior year graduation requirement.

  • Louisiana (already enforced)
  • Illinois (enforcement begins in 2020)
  • Texas (enforcement begins in 2021)
  • Michigan (enforcement under consideration)
  • Indiana (enforcement under consideration)
  • California (enforcement under consideration)
  • District of Columbia (enforcement under consideration)

Two years ago, according to a 2018 annual report, The U.S. Department of Education helps nearly 13 million students complete their college education by awarding approximately $122.5 billion in:

  • Federal Grants (Pell Grants)
  • Student Loans
  • Work-Study Program Funds
  • Financial Aid Award

Filling out the FAFSA makes you eligible to share in these scholarship opportunities, grants, loans, and funds.

And since some colleges work on a first-come, first-served basis when it comes to awarding money, you should get to this as soon as you can.

  › 3. Consider Going to a Community College First to Save Money

I’m sure some will scoff at this, but if you’re concerned about how to afford college, it’s something you should give some thought to.

Instead of enrolling in a four-year college off the bat, you can take some of your first and second-year credits at a community college at a significantly reduced cost. From there, take your earned credits and transfer to a school that offers your bachelor’s degree of choice.

And yes, I know you’re asking how to pay for college, and it might seem that this isn’t an answer. But paying less for college will certainly make it easier to pay for college, right?

  • Years one and two: earn your college credits at a community college for much cheaper
  • Years three and four: transfer to a graduate school to get your degree

As state students, you can even work full-time while studying or you can go for work-study jobs.

With all the college savings you’ll have, you can open up a savings account and receive free money at a decent interest rate. Then use that money to eventually pay off the last year’s fees at whatever college you transfer to.

  › 4. Consider a More Affordable School for Lesser College Costs

Is it really necessary for you to get your education at one of the more expensive schools in the country?

If you don’t have that kind of money to throw around, take a step back and be reasonable. Paying back huge student loans just because you had to go to a school with name recognition will haunt you for a long time.

Paying off student loans can be hard enough with increasing the amount you need to pay back.

Take a look at this chart provided by

  › 5. Apply for Scholarships and Financial Aid

Whether or not you have your mindset on one of those big-name schools, apply for scholarships. It could be a medical school scholarship or anything else. Just apply for as many as you can.

To help, there are a lot of online tools to find grad school scholarships, so be sure to put them to good use.

Parents should also check with their employers to see if they offer scholarships for children of employees. Parents looking to change employment might consider such benefits before making a decision.

Check to see if there are any community groups or businesses that offer scholarships.

Wondering how to go to college for free?  This might be the answer.

  • Use online search tools to find scholarships and financial aid opportunities
  • Check with employers and aid organizations
  • Find out if there are any businesses or community groups offering scholarships or financial aid.

  › 6. Apply for Grants

Assuming you filled out the FAFSA mentioned above, you can seek the assistance of grants that are awarded by schools, a variety of organizations, and several federal assistance programs. Wherever the award comes from, the amount is based on your own financial needs.

Thanks to the FAFSA, you’ll be notified of whatever grants you might be in line for.

The other course of action to take is to check with your state grant agency to see what grants might be available to you.

  • A completed FAFSA puts you in line for different assistance grants
  • Check with your state grant agency for any other available grants

Again, if you’re wondering how to go to college for free, this might be helpful as well.

  › 7. Join the Military

The Armed Forces tuition assistance program benefits both enlisted and officer military members. Either can receive an annual allotment of up to $4,500 for tuition and fees.

Note that depending on where you join, there are differing criteria.

Another option is the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Any member of the military who has seen at least 90 days of active duty since September 11, 2001, is eligible for this program.

Depending on the length, the program offers to pay for 40 to 100% of in-state college or university tuition. There is also a provision to cover up to a maximum of $17,500 of attending a private or foreign school.

  • Enlisted personnel and officers are eligible for up to $4,500 for tuition and fees
  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay for 40 to 100% of your tuition depending on a variety of criteria

You can essentially take care of the entire cost of attendance of any public university and even that of private colleges. The federal aid, in this case, doesn’t depend on one’s financial situation, their living expenses, or their higher education, it depends on their service.

How to Pay for College

As you can see, there are many ways to pay for college, and we haven’t come close to listing them all.

Take some time researching available help with college tuition methods. You’ll eventually figure out the best way to finance college.

Furthermore, if you decide to opt for student loan options like PLUS loans or other loans given by the federal government, you can always apply for loan forgiveness programs or refinance those unsubsidized or subsidized loans and get better repayment options.