When I was applying for college, I did some major research on each of the schools I was considering. From their facilities and surrounding areas to the professors teaching the classes — I left no stone unturned (or so I thought).
Turns out I overlooked a very important factor about my school of choice: the price tag.
I mean, I knew college was expensive, however, I was expecting my financial aid package to cover it all. But lo and behold, my numbers were off — by several thousand, in fact.
If you’re going through this exact situation, don’t fret. You still have options.
1. Apply for merit-based scholarships
There are two scholarships subgroups in this world: need-based, which are awarded to you based on your economic need, and merit-based, which are given to you based on your skills, achievements, or for belonging to certain groups.
The best part? There are merit-based scholarships for just about anything!
Here are some examples:
- Are you into gaming? There’s a scholarship for that.
- Like to play the piano? There’s a scholarship for that.
- Do you come from a Hispanic family? There’s also a scholarship for that.
Where to find merit-based scholarships
- Scholarship search websites, like MeritMore, ScholarshipOwl, Fastweb, and College Board’s Big Future.
- Community organizations, and nonprofits.
- Associations related to your field of study. For example, if you’re majoring in accounting, you can check for scholarships at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
Additionally, some scholarships can be renewed each year, and awards can range from a few hundred dollars up to the full cost of tuition, so there’s really nothing to lose by applying.
2. Ask your school for more money — seriously
You probably think I’m joking, but I’m actually dead serious. Yes, you can absolutely ask for more aid.
Jill Desjean, a policy analyst at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), says that you can always request your school to reconsider your financial aid award if your economic circumstances have changed (i.e. you or your parents are earning less) or if you think your aid package was based on incomplete information.
“The FAFSA is based on two-year-old income, and a lot can change in that time. So, if a student’s financial circumstances are very different from what was reported on the FAFSA, they should indicate that to their school’s financial aid office and provide documentation.”
If you think this may be your case, put your writing skills to good use and write an appeal letter to contest your aid package. If you’re unsure of how to do this, you can talk to your school’s financial aid advisor, or check out our guide.
3. Split your tuition bill
Tuition payment plans are the buy now, pay later of higher education. Instead of paying your entire college bill in a lump sum, these plans allow you to split the bill into equal monthly or quarterly installments.
Although you’ll have to pay an enrollment fee, which can range from $100 to $200, most schools don’t charge any additional interest on these plans, making them more affordable than student loans.
On the downside, they tend to be limited to tuition and fees, plus the school’s room and board program. So, if you need money for books, materials, and other living expenses, you’ll have to find another way to pay for these.
If you’re interested in enrolling in a tuition payment plan, simply contact your school’s bursar’s office, cashier’s office, or financial aid office before classes start, and ask them what’s required.
4. Get a work-study job
One of the things that you’ll notice when you receive your financial aid award letter is that it will tell you whether you’re eligible for work-study, which is a form of federal aid that entails working part-time on- or off-campus.
But why get a work-study job, which, on average, pays minimum wage when you can just apply for a part-time job elsewhere that pays more? Good question!
Well, for one, your earnings from a work-study job won’t affect how much you receive in need-based aid from your school or the Department of Education, whereas if you work a regular part-time job that income could potentially reduce your aid.
Besides that, work-study jobs offer more flexibility than regular part-time jobs as they take into account your class schedule.
If you’re interested in learning more about this program, you can check out this page from the Department of Education.
5. Check employer tuition assistance programs
Many companies, like Starbucks, Target, and Walmart –just to give you a few examples – offer tuition assistance programs to help their employees cover the costs of college.
Read more: How To Find Employer Assistance To Pay Off Your Student Loans
The only caveat is that these programs are usually limited to partner universities, and some come with strings attached, such as staying at the company for a specified period of time.
Still, it’s worth giving it a shot.
If you have a job, you could ask your employer to see if this is something they offer. If you’re not employed, talk to your parents to see if the company they work for has an assistance program for relatives that you could apply for.
6. Pick up a side gig
I know it’s hard to juggle school and work, however, there are some side gigs that don’t require you to put in as many hours and still allow you to earn decent money.
Here are some of them:
- Ridesharing (if you have a car, obviously). Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft allow you to make your own schedule, and if you happen to live in a big city, you could make big bucks working only a few hours a day. Here is how you can get started as a rideshare driver.
- Pet-sitting. You may think of pet-sitting as pocket change, but did you know that you could make about $28K a year just by doing that? I mean, money + fluffy animals, it doesn’t get any better than that!
- Caption/subtitle editor. I actually made a living of this while I was in college, and then a few years more after that. This job only requires you to have excellent grammar, a computer, and a stable internet connection. The best part? You get to watch shows for a few hours. Learn more about how to get started.
- Become a brand ambassador. According to Indeed, brand ambassadors make about $18 an hour, and it’s a flexible job you can do in your spare time.
For more ideas on flexible side hustles, check out our article: 7 Side Gigs That Pay Well And Let You Set Your Own Hours
7. Get creative
They say that creativity is the mother of invention — and they aren’t wrong.
Here are some out-of-the-box ideas to pay for college:
- Crowdfunding. Many students are hosting fundraisers on sites like GoFundMe to cover the costs of tuition.
- Sell plasma. If you’re not afraid of needles, you could make money and save lives by selling plasma. According to CSL Plasma, you could make over $1,000 in your first month of donations.
- Participate in clinical trials. Although pay varies depending on how many visits are required for the clinical trial, among other factors, you could make several thousand dollars participating in these.
- Tiny dorm concerts. These bite-size musical appearances are the latest trend on TikTok, and students are hosting these in exchange for tips via Venmo or Cash App.
8. See if your school offers institutional loans or ISAs
Institutional loans are those offered directly by the school. Not every school has them, but if yours do, they’re a better alternative to private student loans.
Because they tend to offer lower-fixed interest rates and more flexible repayment options. You also don’t need to have good credit or a stable income to qualify, just demonstrate financial need.
Income share agreements
Income share agreements (ISAs) are financial contracts that allow you to get money to pay for school upfront in exchange for a fixed percentage of your future income.
ISAs don’t require a credit check or a cosigner, and don’t accrue any interest while you’re in school, making them more affordable than other types of educational loans. However, very few schools offer these and there are only a handful of private companies that issue them directly to students, so this is something to consider.
Read more: Are ISAs A Good Alternative To Student Loans?
9. Apply for PLUS loans
Just like Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized loans, PLUS loans are a type of student loan issued by the federal government.
You can apply for these loans yourself if you’re a graduate student. However, if you’re an undergraduate student, these loans are available to you through your parents.
With a parent PLUS loan, you can borrow an amount equal to the cost of attendance, and they currently have a fixed interest rate of 6.28%. On the downside, these loans are issued based on creditworthiness and income, so if your parents don’t have good or excellent credit, they may not qualify.
10. Check out private student loans
If all else fails, you can always apply for private student loans to help cover the costs of college. However, Castellano, from Sallie Mae, points out that you’ll often need a co-signer to qualify, and one that has excellent credit.
Private student loans don’t offer the same protections as federal student loans and can have variable or fixed interest rates that can be as high as 16%.
Desjean, from NASFAA, says that before applying for a private student loan,
“borrowers should consider interest rates, repayment plan options, lender reputation, the need for a co-signer, whether the loan provides for a co-signer release, and options for reducing or temporarily suspending repayments for future education or for periods of economic hardship.”
If you’re unsure of which lender may be the best, you can always use a rate comparison website like Credible, which is free, to evaluate your options.
Read more: Best Student LoansCredible Credit Disclosure - To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Credible or our partner lender(s) conduct a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, when you apply for credit, your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies will be requested, which is considered a hard credit pull and will affect your credit.
Going to college when you don’t have enough money to pay for it can be stressful and frustrating. However, you shouldn’t let that discourage you, it’s all about exploring your options.
There are tons of options out there, you just need to know where to look. Start with scholarships and grants (you don’t need to pay that back) and work your way down to other loan options.