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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

11 Ways to Finance Your Degree

There are so many ways to finance your college education. However, not all options are created equally. Most people need to use more than one strategy to fund their degree. It’s important to carefully explore the many options available to determine which you are eligible for and which will work best with your financial situation.

Finding different opportunities can be stressful and time-consuming. There are so many unique programs out there and different opportunities have different requirements. For instance, some are dependent on need whereas others are based on merit and personal accomplishments.

Here are 11 unique opportunities to explore when you’re trying to decide how to fund your degree.

1) Test Out of Classes

The first recommendation is something that you can do even before you start college. If eligible, you can take Advanced Placement (AP) courses during high school. At the end of the course there will be a test. If you pass that test, many universities will allow you to skip the associated course.

Say you take three AP courses during high school and pass all of the tests. Now, you won’t have to take three of the general education courses that other first year students will be required to take. The fewer classes you have to take, the faster you can graduate. The faster you graduate, the less money you spend.

2) Concurrent Enrollment

Another option is concurrent enrollment. Many states allow students to take some college-level courses during high school at a community college. Some of these credits may then transfer to the university you enroll in. In some states, these concurrent enrollment classes are offered at a lower cost.

3) Pick an Affordable University

It is much easier to pay for school if you are attending a more affordable university. This may mean choosing a public school over a private university. Or, it may mean starting your college education at a community college or even a technical school. It could also mean attending a school which offers you a generous financial aid package. Don’t just look at the sticker price. If one, seemingly expensive, school could offer you a full scholarship or a nearly-full scholarship, it may be cheaper than schools which initially seem less expensive.

Attending a community college has many benefits in addition to cost. For instance, classes may be at more flexible times, allowing you to maintain a part-time job while enrolled. Additionally, by transferring to another university after your sophomore year, you can still have the school of your dreams on your diploma.

4) Scholarships

Scholarships are a fantastic option because they don’t need to be repaid. This relieves a great financial burden for students. They are also a fantastic option because there are so many scholarship opportunities out there and plenty of scholarship search tools to aid you in the search. Some great resources are guidance counselors and financial aid offices.

No scholarship is too small. Each adds up to help make a dent in the amount of money you’ll have to repay (plus interest) in loans.

Don’t just look for scholarships at the university. Many professional organizations, charities, employers, and private companies offer scholarships for incoming freshman students. There are also athletic scholarships to explore.

It’s also important not to forget to apply for scholarships after your first year. There are scholarships which are specifically designed for those who are further along in their education.

5) Fill Out the FAFSA

This may seem like a no brainer but it is important to fill out the FAFSA. Even if you don’t think that you’ll qualify for anything, it doesn’t hurt to apply. Without it, you won’t even be in the running. It’s also important to apply early because some funds are awarded first-come, first-served.

By applying for the FAFSA, students may be awarded federal grants, loans, or work-study.

Every year over 150 billion dollars are provided to students in the form of grants, loans, and work-study.

Federal student loans can be a great option. For one, a cosigner isn’t necessary, nor is a credit check. Typically federal loans have lower interest rates than private ones. Additionally, there is typically more flexibility in regard to repayment.

Additionally, many states, private financial aid providers, and colleges, also use the data in the FAFSA to understand student eligibility for different opportunities.

6) Explore Work Study

By submitting the FAFSA, you can also apply for work-study. Students who qualify for work-study will clearly see it listed on their financial aid award. Students who qualify are able to search for a job on campus which is eligible for the program.

All work-study positions are part time which assists students in funding their degree. Additionally, students can gain valuable professional experiences while working.

Work-study is available to both part-time and full-time students.

7) Private Loans

Although federal loans are typically seen as more advantageous than private loans, private loans can still be a worthwhile option. It is important to shop around to see which loans have the lowest interest rates and the best protections. It’s often advantageous to have a loan that has no prepayment penalty.

Private loans do often require a certain credit score and many do necessitate a cosigner.

8) Grants

Grants are extremely advantageous because, like scholarships, they do not need to be repaid. Grants may be offered by colleges, private organizations, states, nonprofits, and more. As mentioned, the federal government also offers some grant options (like Pell Grants).

Unlike scholarships which are typically awarded based on merit, grants are typically awarded based on need.

9) Examine Options for Greater Affordability

Outside of financing your actual degree, there are many ways to lower costs during your college career. This may include living off campus instead of on campus, or even living with family while in school. Additionally, you may choose a cheaper meal plan, or cook all of your meals yourself. You could choose not to buy a car, and instead use campus buses. Additionally, renting instead of buying textbooks can save substantial funds.

10) Get a Job or a Paid Internship

Don’t discount the value of a part-time job while in school. It can be incredibly valuable to have some extra money coming in each week. Getting a job on campus can be very convenient and necessitate only a small time commitment. Having a job during the school year can also help guarantee employment over the summer.

Some employers even help you with the cost of tuition directly. For instance, Disney, Wells Fargo, Chipotle, and Starbucks all help with tuition costs for their employees.

Further, paid internships can provide valuable career experience while helping fund your degree.

11) Explore Options at Your University

Many universities offer select research assistantships and teaching assistantships for students. These positions are typically paid in exchange for part-time employment working with a professor on research or coursework. Further, most of these positions also include some level of tuition reimbursement.


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