ways to pay for college

Learn about options for paying for college–including scholarships, work-study, federal student loans, and creative ways to pay less for a degree.

1. Complete the FAFSA

The vast majority of students who submit the FAFSA receive some form of financial aid.  Don’t fall for myths like “my family makes too much to qualify.”  Filling out the FAFSA gives you the opportunity to qualify for federal grants, work-study funds, student loans, and possibly other types of financial aid.

2. Fill out the CSS Profile

About 400 colleges (mostly private) use the CSS Profile to award institutional grants and scholarships.  Though it’s not free to submit the CSS Profile, eligible students can get a fee waiver.

3. Seek Merit Aid

Many colleges are eager to compete for high-achieving students, and therefore, offer substantial merit scholarships.  (This is in contrast to the “brand-name” schools, including schools in the Ivy League, who don’t need to offer merit aid to attract students.)  Places like King’s College offer full-tuition scholarships to students who meet certain academic and extracurricular requirements.

4. Apply for Private Scholarships

Companies, foundations, and other organizations offer a variety of scholarships.  Scholarship amounts range from a few hundred dollars to full tuition.  An application, including essays, is usually required for private scholarships.

5. Get a Work-Study Job

To apply for work-study funds, submit the FAFSA.  These funds allow college students to get a work-study eligible part-time job on campus, and most of the hourly wage is paid by the federal government.  In addition to earning money to use for paying for college, you’ll gain valuable work experience.

6. Take Out Federal Student Loans As Needed

If you need to take out loans, take out federal student loans before tapping into private loans.  There are four types of federal direct loans plus the Perkins loan.  The US Department of Education’s student aid website provides helpful information on these different loans.

7. Work During the Summer

High school students who are too busy to work during the school year should consider working in the summer to earn money for college.  Admissions officers view work experience positively when reviewing college applications because it’s a sign of maturity and shows that the student doesn’t lead a cushy existence.  You can learn a lot from holding a job while working toward paying for college.

8. Attend Community College and Then Transfer

By attending a community college for the first two years and then transferring, you can save a ton of money and still end up with the same degree as others.  Many community colleges have transfer agreements such that you’ll have an advantage in the transfer admissions process if you meet certain academic criteria.  For example, Delaware County Community College has special partnership agreements with Villanova University and other four-year institutions.

9. Go Abroad

Universities across the globe offer English-speaking undergraduate programs at the fraction of the price of US colleges.  BAU International Berlin University of Applied Sciences offers BA degrees in Business Administration and other areas of study.  The tuition is 7,200 Euros per year.  As of this writing, that’s about $8,400 per year.  Compare that to universities in the US that charge $50,000 per year for tuition and fees.  Studying abroad also offers an enriching experience that can’t be replicated in one’s home country.

(Photo: University of Minnesota Duluth)