How to Pay for College Without Financial Aid

College Financial Aid

The college situation in this country is somewhat of a Catch-22; we grow up learning that we’ll never get ahead financially if we don’t have a college degree, but to get that degree, we have to put ourselves in thousands of dollars’ worth of debt. It doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Thank goodness for financial aid. Without it, many low- and middle-income students would never be able to afford a higher education. But what those who are too “rich” to qualify for financial aid, but too poor to pay for college on their own?

If you’re worried about the size of the financial aid package you’ll get from the school of your choice, don’t despair. It’ll take some extra legwork, but there are plenty of avenues to explore to help you pay for college.

Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

First stop: If you haven’t filled out the FAFSA, do so. Completing the FAFSA is the simplest way to determine if you qualify for a variety of forms of student aid including Pell Grants, which don’t have to be paid back. Most federal and state loans, grants and work-study programs require the FAFSA, and many colleges use it to determine if a student qualifies for school-sponsored aid. For help filling out the FAFSA, try Citizen’s Intuitive Student Financial Aid Assistant.

Apply for scholarships

Scholarships are merit-based, but they’re not just for geniuses and athletes. Millions of dollars in scholarship money is available to regular students with average accomplishments, as are many “oddball” scholarships for unusual talents and interests. It takes some research.

Step 1. Plug “scholarship” into Google along with a few keywords that relate to your situation. For example, you could search for scholarships based on overall academic achievement and in a particular subject, your intended major, ethnic background, religion, extracurricular activities/sports or hometown.

Step 2. Use a reputable scholarship search engine such as Scholarships.com, Fastweb or College Board.

Step 3. See what the government has to offer:

Apply for grants

Whereas scholarships are merit-based, grants are usually need-based. Like scholarships, they don’t need to be paid back. Conduct an online search for grants in the same fashion outlined above in the section on scholarships. Grants can come from:

  • The federal government
  • Your state government
  • The college you plan to attend (inquire with the financial aid office)
  • The private/nonprofit sector — corporations, professional associations, religious organizations, clubs and associations (again, conduct an internet search to find these and ask at your financial aid office)

Work & work-study programs

The simple truth is, you may have to work while attending college. According to a 2015 study from Georgetown University, more than 70 percent of college students have worked while going to school over the past 25 years. Even a part-time job can help defray costs.

Don’t forget to apply for the Federal Work-Study Program, too. This program provides part-time employment to undergraduate, graduate and professional students with financial need. Your school has to participate in the program, however, so check with their financial aid office for more information. File the FAFSA to apply for the work-study program.

Work for a company that reimburses tuition

You could also work for a company that offers a tuition reimbursement program. Companies that do this include:

Similarly, find out if employees of the college you wish to attend get free or discounted tuition. This benefit is usually only available to full-time employees, but it’s worth a shot.

Finally, don’t forget community college

Don’t sell community colleges short. They’re cheaper usually drastically so — and you’re eligible for financial aid at these schools as well, so your final out-of-pocket expenses could be quite affordable. And most community colleges have transfer agreements with state universities to allow students to transfer their credits. To find community colleges near you, visit the American Association of Community Colleges.