10 Financial Strategies to Cover Your College Costs

If you have a student heading to college or in college now, you know the cost of a college education can be a heavy lift for a family. You probably know the basics about how to pay for college: save as much as you can, apply to colleges offering the best financial aid, complete the FAFSA to receive financial aid, apply for scholarships, and if necessary apply for student loans.

Aside from the basics, are there other strategies parents and students can use to pay for a college education? With a little ingenuity, creativity, information, and perseverance, you and your student can take advantage of other financial strategies to pay for a huge chunk of their education.

Here are ten financial strategies to help you cover your college costs:

1. Utilize college payment plans

Some colleges offer tuition payment plans to help families spread out the cost of college. Tuition payment plans split tuition out into installments, allowing you to pay over time instead of in one lump sum payment. The plans will either split the college fees into equal monthly or academic term payments carrying a low fee or finance charge.

If the college does not offer a payment plan, ask the college’s financial aid office to recommend a company that can provide alternative financing. According to the College Board, several organizations make these types of plans available.

2. Earn money by doing freelance work or side gigs

While many students take minimum wage jobs to earn money for college, there are many other options available that can provide substantial funds:

    • Freelance work: Platforms like Fiverr and UpWork allow students to do freelance work and even set their price for the job. Students can take on as many projects as they can complete. From logo design to web design, to voice-overs, to writing, to social media and more, your student can earn money for college. TaskRabbit gives students the chance to help with furniture assembly, gardening, moving, delivery, heavy lifting, and more.
    •  Delivery service: If your student is older than 18 and has transportation, delivery services like UberEats, Grubhub, and DoorDash are always looking to hire food delivery drivers. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a shortage of drivers since many are still only ordering takeout.
    • Craft skills: If your student has a craft skill, they can sell their creations on Etsy to make some extra money. Etsy shop owners often make hundreds of dollars a month selling items like handmade clothing, original artwork, t-shirts, and more. If your student has a flair for design, sites like CafePress and Zazzle make it easy to set up a shop and sell logos on items like t-shirts, mugs, aprons, hats, and more.

3. Take advantage of community college

One or two years at a community college will save you and your student a substantial amount of money. The average yearly tuition for community college is roughly $3,500 per year while the average yearly tuition for four-year in-state college is $9,500 per year. Every college degree includes a selection of core classes that every student is required to take regardless of major. After completing the basics at a much lower cost, they can transfer to a four-year college and graduate. Many of these basic core classes are transferrable.

Even if your student still wants to attend a four-year college, consider taking summer courses at your local community college at a cheaper rate than their college. Just be sure to verify that the credits are transferrable.

4. Take advantage of employer reimbursement programs

Many companies offer employees tuition reimbursement programs. Students who participate, however, will still have to pay for out of pocket expenses. When the course is over, the employer will reimburse the student for the tuition expense. At some institutions, students with financial constraints may qualify to defer payment until their coursework is complete.

Some employers choose to go above and beyond tuition alone, and reimburse other expenses associated with higher education. Some companies not only cover tuition but also cover the cost of books and other expenses.

Starbucks, for instance, offers working part-time or full-time partners the benefit of receiving 100% tuition coverage for a first-time bachelor’s degree through Arizona State University’s online program offering over 80 diverse undergraduate degree programs. Chipotle offers a unique opportunity with its educational assistance program. Employees can qualify for up to $5,250 in annual tuition assistance and also receive up to $15,400 in college credit for on-the-job training.

5. Work for a college that offers tuition exchange or tuition remission benefits

“Tuition remission” means that the cost of tuition has been waived by the university for its employee or dependent. Most colleges that offer this benefit require a minimum of service for the benefit to become effective for the employee and a little longer for it to expand to cover the dependent. Almost 90 percent of colleges and universities offer tuition remission benefits to their employees and employees’ dependents, according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR). Some colleges provide 100 percent tuition remission to employees and their families, and many provide lower levels of discounts. Additionally, many colleges and universities participate in exchanges that allow employees’ children to attend partnering schools at a discount.

Tuition Exchange is a reciprocal scholarship opportunity for the dependents of eligible faculty and staff at over 677 member schools.  To find out if your student might be eligible, you can visit their website and find a list of member schools.

6. Graduate in four years or less

You might be surprised to learn that most students take more than 4 years to graduate from college. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, just 41% of first-time full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, and only 59% earn a bachelor’s in six years, driving up the cost of attending college significantly. On average, a college degree takes six years. That’s two years more of college costs, not to mention two years of lost income. Plan to pay for four years and make a plan for your student to stay on track.

Imagine the money you can save if your student graduates in three years instead of the 4-6 years required by most college students. Do a little research to discover if the tuition you’re paying is based on full-time status. If it is, find out how many credits are considered “full time”. While most college advisors recommend students take 3-4 academic classes per semester, you could add an extra class for the same amount. Getting classes done sooner rather than later can save you from paying for an additional semester further down the road.

7. Consider outside private scholarships  

Every student can supplement their college funding with outside private scholarships after pursuing merit scholarships from the colleges. Unearth local scholarships in your own community. You will be surprised at the local scholarships that are often overlooked and no scholarship money is dispersed.

When searching for local scholarships ask your high school counselor, check local high school websites, watch the news and read local newspapers, ask friends and family who work for local companies, research past winners in local news sources, and check with school and volunteer organizations.

These scholarships are typically not as large as the national ones, although some are; but the odds of winning are so much greater. And ten small scholarships can add up to the amount of one large one. Start the search early in high school so that when senior year comes around, you will have a list of available local scholarships.

8. Consider your ROTC and military options

While the military may not be for everyone, if your student is interested in joining the military, they will receive GI Bill benefits that pay all of their tuition and fees at a public university (or up to $25,162 at a private university). It requires some military service, but the tradeoff can be well worth the time investment.

If your student wishes to attend college first before joining the military, they can participate in the ROTC program at the college and receive sizable scholarships, including room and board. After graduation, he or she may enter any branch of service as a lieutenant and will be required to serve for four years.

9. Attend college for free

If your student is open to attending one of the few tuition-free colleges in the country, they could receive a quality education for free. There are stipulations, of course, but the trade-offs are well worth the benefits.

For instance, The College of the Ozarks provides free tuition for the 1,400 students that attend each year. Funded by generous donations, the college can offer students a full ride to their rigorous program. However, students must work at least 15 hours every week through their campus jobs to be eligible for free tuition.

10. Take dual credit courses in high school

Dual enrollment or dual credit can not only prepare your student for college-level courses but can save you money on college. These courses are offered in conjunction with local colleges and students take both high school courses and college courses at the same time. Not all colleges accept these credits, however; students should check with prospective colleges before committing to them. Enrolling in these courses in high school can net substantial savings when paying for college.

Any or all of these strategies should help you pay for your student’s college education. They can ease the financial strain on your family’s college budget.


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