how to pay for college
how to pay for college

The average cost of 1 year for an in-state public university is $10,388.

For out-of-state students attending a public university, the cost of 1 year is almost doubled. It’s no secret college is expensive, and tuition costs always seem to be on the rise. 

Some students are lucky enough to receive help from family members and/or private scholarships. Unfortunately, many students are left to figure out the finances on their own. 

If you’re wondering how to pay for college, check out the quick guide below. We offer plenty of useful tips and tricks. 

Consider Your Options

As you apply to different universities, it’s important to understand tuition costs and any additional fees. Consider all of your options before making a big decision.

Create a spreadsheet outlining all of your options, the tuition costs, and any associated lab fees. Note any offered scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities you’ve received with acceptances. 

Don’t forget to note the difference between your in and out-of-state options, in addition to public versus private schools. 

Now, think about your projected daily life. Make notes of your projected rent, utility costs, book costs, and groceries. Look at the different on-campus housing and dining options your school provides. 

Factor in the occasional extra spending, such as concert tickets, football game tickets, new outfits, etc. 

Look Into Community College

Do you have a safe, secure place to stay in your town? Consider staying at home for an additional year or two after high school graduation to knock a few basic courses out at your local community college. 

Students everywhere attend community colleges to complete their AA and other certifications. Completing your AA at home before transferring to a major university will save you loads of money down the line. 

If you’re able to stay with your parents or a friend during your time at community college, place the money you would’ve used for rent in a savings account. You’ll thank yourself later. 

Apply for FAFSA

Filing for FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is crucial for every student. While your current financial circumstances will affect how much money you’re eligible to receive, everyone can use the extra help no matter the reward amount. 

Filling this form out can be the difference between affording to be able to attend college or not! Who doesn’t love free money?

Apply for Scholarships

A great way to lower your student loans is by taking advantage of scholarships. There are tons of scholarships available to students. You just have to do the searching!

School Scholarships

Contact a financial advisor at your future university. You can typically find the contacts for the financial advisors by visiting your school’s website and locating a menu option mentioning financial services. 

If you’ve already been accepted into a university, there’s a good chance you’ve received a contact for financial services in your acceptance packet. Ask about available scholarships or the option to increase a school grant. 

Some departments even offer scholarships specifically for their students, typically funded by past alumni. Speak to your program coordinator about department-specific scholarships. 

Are you eligible to enroll in your university’s honor program? While honors programs come with extra requirements, many offer additional scholarships.

Private Scholarships

Hop online to search for private scholarships. There are scholarships for just about anything- everything from scholarships for women engineers to assistance for members of indigenous communities. 

Use sites such as,, and Many law firms and banks also offer scholarship opportunities. 

Double-check application requirements before submitting anything. It’s not uncommon for private scholarships to require an essay or project entry. 

Apply for Loans

Everyone shudders at the thought of a loan. Loans are part of the reality for affording college. 

Taking out a loan isn’t ideal, but there are ways to be smart about it. Always look into federal loans before resorting to private loans, and compare your lenders before making decisions on private loans.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that most loans come with a 6 month grace period. This means you don’t have to start making payments on your loans until 6 months after graduating or withdrawing. 

Don’t let your looming loan scare you, but treat it as a dear acquaintance. You don’t need to spend time with it or thinking about it, but don’t forget about it.

Before you even graduate, make a plan to pay off your loans. If you have room in your income, it’s helpful to pay even $100 a month towards your loans while in school.

Are you worried about missing loan payments in the future? Research different lenders to see how they’re able to help you with payment plans. Most loans offer deferment plans, under certain circumstances. 

Finding Employment

Plenty of students, especially those with children and other family members under their care, hold jobs while in college. This is difficult, but it can be done. 

Look for a job that works with you, not against you. 

Campus Jobs

Check out the jobs available on your campus. Jobs offered on your campus are oftentimes more flexible because employers understand their employees are students. 

Campus jobs include resident assistant positions, dining hall help, campus store clerks, office assistants, research assistants, and library staff. Some universities even offer paid positions in specialized departments, such as student government. 

If you’re needing help with lodging, applying to be a resident assistant is a great first step. While the selection and training process can be intense, those selected to be RAs are provided lodging alongside pay. 

Freelance Jobs

Do you have a lucrative talent? Take on freelance projects throughout your time at school to help pay for rent, groceries, and school materials. 

If you’re good at photography, advertise your skills for paid graduation shoots, sorority and fraternity group photos, professional headshots, etc. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to pay for high-quality photos!

Search for freelance writing opportunities if you’re good with words. Tons of SEO companies are looking for freelance writers to write weekly articles. If you’re not able to find a freelance writing job, check with your school’s newspaper about journalism jobs. 

Turn any creative hobby into a paid passion. Paint custom portraits, make jewelry, or knit scarves. Sell to other students, and open an online shop on platforms such as Etsy. 

Local Part-Time Jobs

Take a hard look at your class schedule. Note the times and days you’re available. (Don’t forget to block time out for projects and studying.)

Create a schedule of availability for local part-time jobs. Once you know your boundaries, search for jobs that can accommodate your student schedule. 

Check out local coffee shops and diners that need serving help, or pop into nearby retail stores to see if they need help with the shop. You can also ask local salons and spas about open receptionist positions. 

Other positions to check out include gas station clerks, office assistants, and babysitters. 

Work-Study Jobs

Work-study positions are part of a federal initiative that helps students pay for college expenses. Universities enrolled through the Federal Work-Study program receive the money to pay students from the government. 

Think of it as a government grant that you earn through a part-time job. The money comes from the government, and you earn it by working a set amount of hours per week. Work-study positions are only available to those eligible for work-study.

You can choose to spend the money however you’d like, and we suggest spending it on groceries, books, and rent. 

Many students also attempt to find work-study positions related to their field of study. You can earn money and improve your college experience!

Take a Personal Finance Course

Managing your money responsibly is important, especially in your college years. It can feel good to watch loans hit your bank account, but don’t forget you’ll have to pay back the borrowed money. 

Sign up for a free personal finance course through online resources such as Coursera or Clever Girl Finance. Courses that teach you about building your credit score, creating emergency saving accounts, and avoiding loan interest are great for college students. 

Listen to podcasts that chat about the importance of personal finances. Learn from those who’ve paid off mounds of debt and created a life of financial freedom. Financial mentors to research include Rachel Rodgers and Ramit Sethi. 

Remember it’s okay to splurge on the occasional latte. Everyone enjoys fresh coffee as they catch up on homework. The real issues come into play when you don’t put money into savings, let loan interest build, or neglect to pay back credit card debt.

Get Creative With Your Free Time

Too many students rack up debt and blow their loans during college by taking advantage of their newfound freedom. It’s fun to celebrate being away from family, but don’t lose sight of your bank account. 

Get creative about what you do in your free time. Instead of paying to eat out or travel, see what free things are available in your area. Explore a local public park, check out local art galleries, and cook homemade meals with new friends. 

Many universities offer free events on campus for holidays and sporting events. Students can even usually score free tickets to football games!

Also, you didn’t hear this from us, but many campus clubs offer free pizza and drinks at interest meetings. Plus, you may end up enjoying the club and joining in on the fun.

Save Money Where You Can

There are endless opportunities to save money around you. You just have to know where to look. 

School Supplies

Do you need new books for a class? Hop on Facebook Marketplace. Tons of students sell their used books. 

You can also check textbook resale sites, such as or Many university libraries also have textbooks used by professors that you can check out for a couple of hours at a time. 

If you need paper, pens, and binders, head to your local dollar shop. Many dollar and discount stores sell perfectly good office supplies for a much lower price than Target or Walmart. 

Apartment Furniture

Tons of students are lucky enough to have pre-furnished college dorms and apartments. If you weren’t able to find a place with furniture, there are ways to find affordable furniture near you. 

Once again, hop on Facebook Marketplace to see if anyone is selling used furniture near you. There will probably be some minor scratches and bumps, but it’s better than dropping hundreds of dollars!

Drive around to different thrift stores, such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. These stores oftentimes have plenty of used and antique furniture for sale. (Grab some cool sweaters while you’re there too.)

If you live in a major city, tons of people leave furniture and decor by dumpsters. Don’t be afraid to grab a free desk you see sitting on the street. Disinfect it, and it’s good to go. 

Adulting Is Hard: How to Pay for College

It’s no secret that college isn’t cheap. Unless you stumble upon a million dollars on the ground, learning how to pay for college is difficult. Luckily, there are plenty of tips and tricks to help.

Fill out a FAFSA form, and apply for any and all scholarships you qualify for. Use loans if you need to, and take a personal finance course to help you manage your money. Don’t forget to grab the free pizza you see on campus!

For more money help, check out the rest of our site. We have plenty of advice for those needing a financial boost in their college years. 

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