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How to Pay for College on Your Own: A Game Plan header image

How to Pay for College on Your Own: A Game Plan

Chances are if college is in your (or your son’s or daughter’s) future, you have thought about how you are going to pay for it. College is an investment, and it can come with a hefty price tag.

If you're wondering how to pay for college on your own, have no fear. We’ve created a guide to financing your future so you can feel confident you have your bases covered.


If you want to pay for college without going broke, scholarships are a good start. A scholarship is generally awarded to someone who shines in the classroom or on the athletic field. Scholarships are free money that doesn’t need to be paid back, and can be awarded at the local, state, national or school level. Students will usually need to apply (or be nominated) for a scholarship. There are literally thousands of resources for finding scholarships, but we’ve compiled a few of the best resources:

  • – This is a free site that boasts over 2.7 million scholarships in its database, and updates opportunities daily. The site lets you “favorite” and remove scholarship matches associated with your account.
  • – This site matches applicants with over 1.5 million potential scholarships based on academic information, activities, career goals and more. Scholarships are listed in order of application deadline.
  • The College Board – This is a very well-known scholarship source because it matches students with over $6 billion in scholarships every year. It is known for finding scholarships in unusual places.

See also: Unusual But Legit Scholarships

Free Money!

Yes, you read that right – there are organizations out there that are looking to give students grants to pay for college. If you’re trying to pay for college on your own, grants might be your best friend. Grants tend to be need-based, whereas scholarships tend to be merit-based. The best part is that grants don’t have to be repaid, and can often be put toward college expenses including books and housing. Students should look into all available resources, including local grants and scholarships, as well as some of the national resources. Though grant criteria varies based on the offering organization, we’ve listed a few that everyone who qualifies for aid should apply for:

Research, Research, Research

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that over 70 percent of students will borrow money to pay for school. Resources like will provide resources for students, including information about loan types and information about the repayment option.

Consider Community College

Local community colleges and technical schools can be one of the best ways to lower the cost of college. How? They offer credit hours for a fraction of the cost of state or private colleges. Students are often able to take general education courses and transfer the credits to a four-year college. These schools are flexible, offering summer, evening and weekend classes so students can fit them into their schedules. Class sizes are usually smaller, and have a better instructor-to-student ratio. Pro tip: It’s important to verify the credits will transfer to your four-year university before spending the time in the classroom.

While you’re there, investigate the degree programs offered by community colleges and technical schools. They’re making a resurgence, offering job-ready programs and certifications. Often students can complete programs and establish a career before their counterparts that achieve bachelor’s degrees.

Have Someone Else Pay Your Tuition

If you can’t earn scholarships or grants, this can be one of the best ways to pay for college without student loan debt. Several businesses offer tuition reimbursement programs, which are ideal for the non-traditional students who want to earn a degree while working. Not just for non-traditional students, companies like Starbucks and Chipotle require that students work minimum amount of hours each week in exchange for the company covering all or a portion of their tuition. Be sure to check out the requirements before applying for these programs. Some companies may require students to maintain a minimum grade point average and/or continue to work at the company after they graduate.

Roll Up Your Sleeves

Getting a part time job is a great way to off-set the cost of school, and reduce the amount of student loans you need to take out. Don’t think you need to settle for minimum wage jobs, either – there are several jobs you can do part time to earn some serious cash, including being an Academic tutor, Freelance Programmer, Fitness Instructor or Mystery Shopper. Check out other non-traditional ways to earn extra money on the side.

Complete the FAFSA

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the first step in securing financing for college. Families should try to complete this early – around Oct. 1 – if they will have a student attending college the next year. This form should be completed for both undergraduate and graduate students, and is completed annually. It’s the first step in determining eligibility for student aid. The FAFSA can be completed online, by phone (call 800-433-3243 to apply) or via paper application.

After completing the FAFSA, students will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which highlights the different types of aid available and gives a general idea of what a student or family can expect to pay.

Student Aid Package

In addition to sending T-shirts and swag, colleges will create a financial aid package to students who apply and submit FAFSA information. Colleges can offer several types of aid, including athletic scholarships[i], merit-based awards (that include academic scholarships and grants) and need-based aid (including federal loans and work-study opportunities). Many financial aid resources can also help students find school-specific scholarships, and can be your best tool for finding funding sources. Keep in mind: You can try to negotiate for additional funds with the financial aid office if the offer simply does not meet your need.

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has put together a comprehensive guide that helps students understand and compare financial aid offers, and shares strategies for repaying student debt.

College Savings Programs

If college is still a few years away, start saving today with college savings programs. Programs like the 529 accounts and Coverdell accounts allow families to progressively save for education expenses. These programs offer tax benefits to the contributor. The Coverdell account caps annual contributions at $2,000 per student, per year. The 529 plan allows more flexibility in saving and spending. Consult your Farm Bureau agent for more detailed information regarding your situation.

See also: Infographic: Find the Right College Savings Plan for your Family

Figuring out how to pay for college on your own can be a daunting task – with or without your parent’s help. Rest assured, your Farm Bureau agent can help you learn more about college funding options. Contact your agent today to learn more!

[i] Not every college is able to offer athletic scholarships, including schools in the NCAA Division III.


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