How to Pay for College Without a Scholarship

Classrooms Team

Dec 7, 2020
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You just got into the college of your dreams, but your grades weren’t good enough to earn you a scholarship. How are you going to afford this next chapter of your life? As the price of tuition continues to increase by 5.2% each year, the thought of attending university may seem like the impossible dream. 

Even if you didn’t receive a scholarship, there are plenty of other forms of aid that may help you cover the cost of higher education. Here are seven ways to help pay for college. 

  1. Save With a 529 Plan

Get a jump start on paying for your college education by saving up some money. The earlier you start putting money in the bank, the more you’ll have to fund your learning when the time comes. 

Consider using a 529 plan to grow your money tax-free. Then, make withdrawals to pay for education-related expenses like tuition, fees, and books upon graduating from high school. You can also use the money to upgrade your technology or enroll in an apprenticeship program. 

  1. Appeal Your Financial Aid

Yes, you can ask your college of choice for more money. If you feel they haven’t given you enough financial aid, write a formal appeal letter and follow up with a phone call. Reemphasize why you’re a good fit for the school and explain your financial situation. As always, honesty is the best policy and may just win you more aid in the end. 

  1. Apply for Grants

If the financial aid office cannot provide you with more funding, consider applying for a private scholarship or grant. During the 2019-2020 school year, federal grant aid totaled $41.6 billion, including $27.8 billion in Pell Grants. With this specific grant, you may receive up to $5,920 per year if your family earns less than $30,000 annually. 

Many colleges are also offering emergency grants to students in response to the global pandemic. Call your financial aid office to learn more about this grant and others like it. Odds are you’re eligible for a few, and you just don’t know it yet. 

  1. Test Out of Classes

Are you still in high school? Save money later by testing out of college classes now. At the beginning of the school year, sign up for advanced placement classes. If you pass the test at the end of the year, some colleges may let you skip a general education course. This will allow you to pay for fewer college classes and graduate quicker.

You might also take advantage of the College Level Examination Program. More than 2,900 colleges across the U.S. will grant college credit to those who pass CLEP exams. Take a few tests online to see if you can lower your tuition costs. 

5. Take Out a Loan

Once you’ve exhausted all your options and still turn up empty-handed, you can consider taking out a loan. This option is a last resort for a reason. The average student owes $32,731 in student loans and will spend many years paying down their debt — plus interest. 

If a loan is your only option, borrow money from the federal government first. It typically offers lower interest rates and more borrower protections than private lenders. Plus, the government may even pay your interest while you’re attending school, which may save you a few hundred dollars.

6. Find a Work-Study Job 

Pay off student loans quicker by checking the Federal Work-Study box when you fill out the FAFSA. This program guarantees access to a job — usually on-campus — to help you pay for college costs and student loan payments. Moreover, you may open the door for a full-time position at the university upon graduating, ensuring you have an income to continue paying off loans. 

If you don’t qualify for a work-study job, consider applying for a part-time position elsewhere. Odds are you’ll make more money so you can pay for your education and potentially reduce your borrowing amount. Additionally, you can work extra hours during the summer to save for next year’s expenses.

7. Claim Tax Credits

Did you know you can offset the cost of college by claiming tax credits? The American Opportunity Tax Credit lets students claim up to $2,500 for education expenses like books, supplies, and equipment. If the refundable portion of your credit is more than your tax, you may even receive up to 40% back. 

There are several requirements for eligibility. For instance, you must enroll in at least one semester and maintain half-time student status in your degree program. Moreover, you must have a gross income below the eligibility threshold — which is about $80,000 for single taxpayers. 

Know Your Options

When it comes to furthering your education, attending a top-tier or state university isn’t your only option — regardless of what parents and teachers might tell you. In fact, there are many ways to earn a degree or receive an education that will land you a well-paying job. 

For example, trade schools and apprenticeships are excellent alternatives for those pursuing a skills-based career. Within two years, you will gain enough hands-on experience to become a full-time electrician, medical assistant, welder, plumber, or other skilled tradesperson. 

You might also consider earning a four-year degree through a local community college. They are more affordable than public or private universities, and they offer just as good of an education. Plus, you can always transfer later after you’ve saved more money. The choice is yours.

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