Student loan debt is no joke. The average student in the US owe $17,126 in student debt according to Business Insider (I assume this is for undergraduates). You can find a graphic below that breaks down student loan debt by state. But there are ways to lessen the blow. Some people dropped out of college to run and expand a company they started and made a killing. Others had a side hustle and used that to get them through college with minimal to no debt. Those are the stories we mostly hear about. But there are a few easier and unique ways to pay for school while attending.
Let’s assume that you’ve already chosen the college/university that you’ll be attending and starting from zero. That means, you have no savings for college, no 529 plan (Essentially a saving plan for college set up by parents when kids are younger), and parents will not be helping you out.
The Long Application to apply for grants (FAFSA)
Completing the FAFSA application can seem as intimidating as doing your own taxes. It’s long and there is so much information being asked. But it’s worth the time and effort. A study done by nerd wallet showed that $2.3 billion in federal grant money was left on the table for the 2016-2017 school year. That’s BILLION with a ‘B’. Completing the FAFSA allow you access to federal aid such as the Pell Grant (amongst others) which, according to studentaid.ed.gov , “The maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $5,920 for both the 2017–18 award year (July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018) and the 2018–19 award year (July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019).”
FAFSA is also a necessity to get access to federal student loans. But the goal is to graduate debt free or with as little debt as possible so we won’t get into that. Nonetheless, Complete the FAFSA application for every year that you’re in college and try to complete it sooner rather than later.
What is Work Study?
Work Study can be a great way to earn money and gain real experience in your respective field/major. It’s essentially a federal aid (so you need to have submitted the FAFSA in order to qualify.) that provides part-time jobs for eligible undergraduate and graduate students.
How does Work Study Pay?
Since work study is a federal aid, there is a cap to how much you can work and get paid. It all depends on the federal award. The amount you earn can’t exceed the total Federal Work-Study award you were given for that semester. Once you’ve reached that cap, you cannot work (at least not for a wage) anymore. Typically, you’ll get paid an hourly wage, which will be min wage or more depending on the skills needed to perform the job. However in some cases, graduate students may get paid by salary. Even though work study is a financial aid, you get paid directly, meaning the money is sent to your bank account. And unlike grant money that’s paid once at the beginning of the semester, the school must pay you at least once a month.
Where can I work?
The cool thing about work study is your employer or your school’s financial aid office will work around your school schedule. Work Study jobs can be on campus or off campus. If you work on campus, you’ll be working for your school. In some cases, you get to choose where you work. Going back to what I mentioned about gaining real experience in your respective field/major, I was lucky enough to get work study and my job was coding and updating a site for one of the schools business department. If you work off campus, your employer will usually be a private nonprofit organization or a public agency, and the work performed must be in the public interest.
Scholarships should be your best friend when it comes to paying for college. A lot of students stop searching for scholarships beyond the first semester of college. This is understandable since so many scholarships require that applicants be a high school student. But there are thousands of private scholarships out there from companies, nonprofits and community groups.
A good plan is to try to get some of the low hanging fruit. Many people know of the bigger scholarships, like Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Gates Scholarship. So naturally there will be more applicants/competitors for those scholarships. On top of applying to these larger, more well-known scholarships, you aggressively pursue the smaller less competitive one’s that a lot of people don’t know about. Fastweb, Collegexpress and scholarships.com are a few good sites for scholarship searches. Here are a few small less competitive scholarships.
Don’t be afraid of the scholarships that require a little effort to complete the application, i.e. the ones that require a couple page essay. US News says “Prospective college-bound students can even receive scholarship money from recycling their application essay. Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications, a Connecticut-based educational consulting company, said via email: ‘A lot of schools offer their own presidential scholarship. If a student wrote an essay for another school’s application, why not reuse that essay? But this time for a different school’s scholarship application.’ ”
It’s also a good idea to check with the career center at your college also. Often times, the career center will have posts of private scholarships that are offered exclusively to enrolled students.
The one thing to always remember: NEVER PAY ANY AMOUNT MONEY TO APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP.
Paid Summer Internships
Some students use the summer to chill and take a break from classes. Some students take more classes over the summer. One thing that is often over looked is a paid internship during the summer. This can a great way to gain experience i your field and pay for college. Like work Study, you can knock out 2 birds with one stone by earning money and gaining experience in your field before graduating, increasing your marketability to employers.
Depending on your field, it could be difficult to find a PAID internship. The field of study you’re more likely to find paid internships are generally engineering and computer science. But don’t be discouraged. Again, your university’s career center can a great asset to you. Another way to go about finding a paid summer internship is talking to your professors. Some professors may have some spots open for a research assistant. You’ll be surprised at how much you can receive by just asking.
Not to sound like an English paper quoting all these sources, but according to CNN money, The American Opportunity Tax Credit allows you to reduce your taxes after paying for tuition, fees, books, and room and board — up to $2,500 a year per child. Parents can claim the tax credit if their modified adjusted gross income is no more than $90,000, or $180,000 if filing jointly. The money that parents are saving with this tax credit can go towards paying for school.
Bonus: This is pretty unconventional and not a lot of people think of this (because it may be a bit of a reach). Look to be an extra in a commercial. If your college is in a smaller town, this option may not apply. However, if you attend college in a large market area like, Miami, California, New York, or Chicago, being an extra in a commercial may be more plausible.