Paying for College 101: 10 Smart Ways to Pay for College

Gravatar for Enoch Omololu
Written by Enoch Omololu
Updated on

According to the College Board research, tuition and other fees in the US can range anywhere from $3,660 to $35,830, depending if you enroll in a public or private college. This amount still doesn’t include room and boarding, transport, and other living expenses.

College is expensive, but there are plenty of ways to afford it — you can even get a college degree without taking out mountains of student loans.

By implementing the right strategies, you can pay off college and save a little on the side.

How to Pay for College Without Loans

Don’t want to burden yourself with paying expensive student loans? This section is for you.

Here, we list several ways to pay for college without loans. Take a look at each strategy and assess which one suits your preferences.

Apply for Student Aid with the FAFSA

One of the most common ways to pay for college tuition is by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA.

More than 13 million students who file for the FAFSA get about $120 billion in low-interest loans, work-study arrangements, and grants from the US Department of Education every year.

Submitting the FAFSA is easy and free; you don’t need to pay any agency or person to prepare the documents for you. You just need to submit a new FAFSA before the academic year begins.

Scholarships to Pay for College

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to wait until you’re in senior high school to look for and apply for college scholarships.

In fact, the earlier you start working on your application, the better chances you’ll have in securing a scholarship to pay for college.

Take a look at the following scholarships and assess if you qualify for any:

  1. 5 Strong Scholarship Foundation

Amount: $140,000

  1. Case Western Theater Scholarship

Amount: $256,400

  1. Eureka College Disciples Leadership Program

Amount: $109,800

  1. JWU Junior Achievement Scholarship

Amount: $8,000

  1. Mercatus MA Fellowship

Amount: $80,000

The scholarships mentioned above have different application deadlines, so make sure to inquire ahead of time. Remember, applying early does pay off.

Grants to Pay for College

Applying for grants to pay for college is way better than taking out loans, as grants don’t require repayments.

Grants are also different from scholarships because scholarships are merit-based, while grants are need-based. Grants are awarded according to the financial need of the student.

In general, you can pay for college tuition through any of the following grants:

Federal Grants

Federal grants are funded by the US government and administrated through the US Department of Education.

Currently, there are three federal grant programs offered to US students, namely the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and Federal TEACH Grant.

To apply for federal grants, you need to submit a FAFSA form, as schools use the information on the form to determine your eligibility.

The amount you’ll get from federal grants depends on different factors, such as your expected family contribution, your status (whether you’re a full-time or part-time student), and the cost of your attendance.

Non-Government Grants

The topic of paying for college 101 will not be complete without non-government grants. This should be your next option once you’ve exhausted all efforts to apply for federal and state-supported grants but to no avail.

College grants are common in the private sector. Professional associations and corporations often offer grants to deserving students who want to pursue degrees closely aligned with the niche of that association or corporation.

You can also find college grants from religious organizations, clubs, and associations focused on providing community service.

Non-government grants have specific and different eligibility requirements but will provide substantial financial assistance to qualified college students.

Research college grants available in your area or community to prepare for the requirements in advance.

Grants for Low Income and Disadvantaged Students

Many college grants available in the US are created to help incoming college students who are facing financial shortfalls.

Grants for low-income students exist to resolve the financial needs of students with socially or economically disadvantaged backgrounds, allowing them to pay for college with no money.

Additionally, there are also grants dedicated to targeting the needs of students who have mental and physical disabilities.

Through grants for students with disabilities, students experiencing different personal challenges, such as hearing impairment, blindness, decreased mobility (often due to physical impairment), and autism, will have better access to college.

In general, grants for low-income and disadvantaged students are sponsored by federal and state governments, along with charitable foundations and advocacy groups.

Do a little research on the requirements of these grants to see if you’re qualified for any.

image showing a hand trying to save money to pay for college tuition fees

Get a Part-Time Job

If you want to know how to pay for college without financial aid, get a part-time job. As long as you know how to manage your time, you can earn money for your college education by working part-time.

Here are some of the most common part-time jobs for college students:


The freelance industry is growing, offering countless part-time opportunities for college students. Besides the ability to choose from different jobs, freelancing also gives you flexibility as you get to choose when and how long you’re going to work.

There are plenty of freelancing jobs ideal for college students. If you have a passion for writing, you can work as a copywriter and earn anywhere from $19 to $45 per hour. If you’re proficient in various programming languages, such as Python and SQL, apply as a web designer and earn at least $30 per hour.

According to Upwork, other high-paying freelance jobs are digital marketing consultants ($15 to $45 per hour), social media managers ($14 to $35 per hour), and data analysts ($20 to 50 per hour).

On-Campus Positions

Working part-time on-campus gives you the opportunity to work with your peers, making it easier for you to network for your career and build professional relationships.

Working on-campus also gives you more flexibility, as you can change your working schedule based on your class schedule.

Depending on your preferences, you can work on-campus as a library associate and charge $13.24 per hour or as a tutor for $21.31 per hour.

Other options include working as a campus ambassador ($10.94 per hour) or a campus tour guide ($13.37 per hour).

Marketing and Retail Positions

Do you love to work in the retail industry? If yes, then consider looking for marketing and retail positions to pay for college without parents.

Working in a brick-and-mortar store allows you to gain valuable work and human skills, which you can use in your professional career.

If you love to promote products and shoot videos, submit your resume to different brands to apply as a brand ambassador.

On average, you can earn about $17.23 an hour for this role and acquire in-depth marketing and advertising skills. 

Take Out Loans

When all else fails, consider taking a loan. But because loans are expensive and increase your risk of acquiring debts, you should only take this option when absolutely needed.

You can apply for federal loans and student loans to fund your college degree. Each type of loan requires a lot of responsibilities, so make sure to weigh the pros and cons of each.

Federal Student Loans

If you need to borrow money for your college education, consider federal student loans first before private loans.

There are three types of federal loans, namely direct unsubsidized loans, direct subsidized loans, and direct PLUS loans.

Regardless of the type of federal loan you want to avail of, the application starts the same: you need to complete the FAFSA to determine your eligibility.

You can file the document online and wait within 3-5 days for your application to be processed. You can also mail your application, but the processing is longer as it’ll take about a week.

You can choose from four (4) federal student repayment loan options:

  • Standard repayment: This lasts for ten years and is the best choice if you want to save money from paying high-interest rates.
  • Extended repayment: Here, your payment amount starts low and then increases every two years for a total of 25 years.
  • Income-driven repayment: This option allows you to tie the amount you pay to the potion of your income and extend the length of your repayment terms to 20 or 25 years.
  • Graduated repayment: Taking this option will lower your monthly payment but will increase the amount you have to pay every two years within ten years.

Private Loans

If you do need to apply for private loans to fund your college degree, take your time to compare options to determine the best lender.

You should choose one with the most generous borrower protections, flexible repayment plans, and the lowest interest rates.

Keep in mind that qualifying for private loans is harder than federal loans. For you to qualify for private loans, you should have a good credit score.

You’ll also have better chances of getting the loan if you have strong finances and a co-signer with a stable financial background.

You can choose from the following options to repay private loans:

  • Immediate repayment: This repayment option minimizes the interest you pay, leading to more savings.
  • Interest-only repayment plan: Choosing this option will only require you to pay the interest of the loan when you’re still in school.
  • Partial interest repayment plan: You’ll need to make fixed monthly payments that cover part of the interest you owe.
  • Full deferment: With this option, you’ll pay nothing while you’re still in college. However, your loan balance continues to grow during this time.

Other Smart Ways to Save Money for College

Paying for college out of pocket is possible if you know how to save money as a college student. As long as you’re consistent with your efforts, it won’t be long before you’ll have enough funds to support your education!

Live Off-Campus

Living off-campus is cheaper than university housing. This is especially true if you choose to live with several roommates whom you can split the rent and other bills with.

Claim a Tax Credit

Under the American Opportunity Tax Credit or AOTC, eligible students can get a maximum annual credit of $2,500 in the first four years of college. This credit may cover tuition, fees, and various course materials.

529 College Savings Plan

If you want to learn how to pay for college without financial aid, utilize a 529 college savings plan. This is a state-sponsored investment plan that allows students to save money to pay for education expenses.

Buy Used Textbooks

Textbooks are a must in college but buying them brand new isn’t. Buy used or rent textbooks to save a couple of dollars right off the bat.

Related: Here are the places where people sell used textbooks.

Learn to Cook

Instead of dining out, opt to cook your meals from scratch. The process might be tiring, but it will surely make your bank account happy.

Plus, learning how to cook is an important life skill you’ll need when you become an adult.

Choose Carefully

There are several ways to pay for college — too many that you’ll be overwhelmed with the options available to you.

We highly suggest comparing your options carefully, so you’ll end up choosing a strategy that’s perfect for your current financial situation.


What is the best option to pay for college?

The best way to pay for college is to fill out the FAFSA. It has lower interest rates and might make you eligible for forgivable student loans.

What is the best way to save money for college?

Besides the suggestions mentioned, you can also save money by using all available campus amenities, brewing your own coffee, and using a bike in lieu of a car. Buying discounted electronics, opting out of cable, and skipping expensive summer trips also help. 

What is the cheapest way to go to college for students?

If you have a tight budget, you can earn a bachelor’s degree by starting at a community college and transferring to a public school. Choosing to live at home instead of staying on campus is also an excellent money-saving hack.

Related: 30 Popular Things To Make and Sell For Profit.


Get paid to play games for free with Mistplay. $12 million+ paid to members. Android phones only. (US/Can only).

Get a $10 sign-up bonus when you join and complete your first online purchase of $20 or more. Get paid to shop and more. (US/Can only).

Get paid to answer surveys, shop online, surf the internet, play games, and watch videos. Get a $10 welcome bonus. (US/Can/UK).

No current offers for this category.

Gravatar for Enoch Omololu

Enoch Omololu

Enoch Omololu is a personal finance expert who has a passion for helping others win with their finances. He has a master’s degree in Finance and Investment Management from the University of Aberdeen Business School and has been writing about money management for over a decade. Enoch has been featured in several leading personal finance publications including MSN Money, The Globe and Mail, Wealthsimple, and the Financial Post.

Leave a Comment