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Finding the resources to pay for college can be a challenge and if you’re embarking on this journey alone, it may be stress inducing. These strategies and ideas could help you craft a plan that allows you to pay for college. As mentioned, a combination of these ideas may be required based on your unique financial situation.
Choosing the Right College
The best college for your situation lies at the intersection of ones that provide the programs you need to achieve your career goals and the ones you can afford.
Decisions you’ll need to make include:
• Living at home or in a dormitory or other housing by the college
• Choosing between a public or private college
• Picking between in-state and out-of-state colleges
Living at Home
If you can live near the college, rent-free, or at low cost, then this is likely the most cost-effective choice. Perhaps you have family members who, although they can’t otherwise help you with college, will allow you to live with them while you pursue your education. Or maybe you could rent a cost-effective apartment near a community college or other school that doesn’t require freshmen to live in a dorm.
Considering Private vs Public Colleges
Public colleges are, generally speaking, less expensive than private colleges. According to The College Board, for the 2021 to 2022 school year, the average cost for tuition and fees at four year private institutions was $38,070, compared to the public college average which was $27,560 for out-of-state students attending a state school.
Prices get even more reasonable if you attend school in your home state and receive in-state tuition; The average cost of in-state tuition and fees was $10,740.
In general, in-state universities are more affordable than going out of state. But the difference between out-of-state and in-state students can vary widely, so check into your colleges of choice for confirmation. Factor in traveling costs for out-of-state options and also consider online college programs where you can take classes no matter where you are located.
Starting at a Community College
Completing your first two years of study at a community college is another option that could dramatically reduce the overall cost of college. In addition to less expensive courses, it may be possible for you to live at home, another financial benefit of attending community college.
Applying for Relevant Scholarships
Because scholarships don’t typically need to be repaid, they are a valuable tool to help fund your college education. If you’re finishing high school, talk to your guidance counselor about possibilities. There are often local scholarships provided by businesses and civic groups that you can apply for.
These days, you can also find a lot of scholarship opportunities online. There are often major-specific opportunities and more general offerings. It’s worth investing a bit of time in researching and applying for scholarships — a couple hours could really be worth it when those scholarship offers start rolling in.
As you’re researching scholarships, be sure to find quality opportunities and be wary of scams. Don’t shy away from smaller scholarships. While it would be nice to have one large scholarship to cover your cost of college, smaller scholarships can add up, incrementally chipping away at what you need to afford college. Some scholarships may be location-based. Check out SoFi’s state-by-state financial aid guides for more information on scholarships local to your home state.
When you find a college scholarship of interest, check the guidelines carefully to ensure you qualify and to make sure that you apply in exactly the right way. Fill applications out thoroughly, as early as possible within a scholarship timeline.
Proofread before turning in your applications and note that, although you can often reuse parts of one scholarship application to complete another, each opportunity has unique requirements, formats, and deadlines.
Obtaining Grants to Help Pay for College
Grant funding can come from multiple sources, including state agencies, local organizations, corporations, and more. And as with scholarships, this is money you don’t typically need to pay back. The biggest source of college grant funding comes from the federal government, with one of the best known is the Pell Grant .
Federal grants come in different categories, including:
• Need-based grants which are based upon financial hardship.
• Merit-based grants awarded to students who exhibit exceptional scholarship and/or community involvement.
• Grants awarded to specific groups, including students with disabilities, those from under-represented groups, veterans, National Guard members, foster care youth, and those who select certain careers.
Obtaining federal grant funding without help from your parents can be challenging, though. That’s because most federal grants require students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), which, if you are a dependent student, will be considered incomplete without parental information. In the event that your parents are unable to fill out their portion of the FAFSA , you’ll have to contact your college’s financial aid office and show appropriate documentation that verifies that your parents cannot fill out the form.
In certain circumstances, you can obtain independent student status and complete the FAFSA yourself, but parental refusal to help with FAFSA completion might not be enough to gain this status.
Even if you fully support yourself financially and are no longer claimed as a dependent on your parents’ tax forms, this status may not necessarily be granted. See your guidance counselor if you want to explore obtaining this status.
Applying for Student Loans
As mentioned, students that fund their college educations without assistance from their parents often need to craft a financial aid plan that consists of funding from multiple sources. In certain circumstances, students may have found funding from both the federal government and private lenders.
Applying for Federal Student Loans
Federal and private student loans are available, but most federal loans require a portion of your FAFSA to be completed with parental information, unless you have independent student status.
Effective with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 , college financial aid departments can offer students unsubsidized Stafford loans even if their parental section on their FAFSA isn’t completed, as long as they confirm that parents are not willing to financially help the student or fill out the FAFSA.
Applying for Private Student Loans
You can also apply for private student loans, although, if you don’t have a built up credit history, you may need a cosigner. Private lenders generally evaluate a potential borrower’s credit history, among other factors, as they make their lending decisions. Adding a cosigner with a strong credit history could potentially help secure a more competitive interest rate. If you aren’t able to find a cosigner, it is possible to apply for a student loan without a cosigner.
Another important note is that private student loans may not offer borrower protections like those offered to federal student loan borrowers, such as the option to apply for Public Services Loan Forgiveness. For this reason, private student loans are generally borrowed as a last resort option.
With determination and a willingness to seek out and accept help, students do find ways to fund their college educations without assistance from their parents.
Cutting Costs While Attending College
Smart budgeting and careful spending can help you stay in line with your means as you pay for college. Cutting costs when possible could allow you to save or funnel more money toward college tuition.
If, for example, you plan to rent a room in a house near your college of choice, you can furnish it in funky, eclectic ways using stylish and affordable finds from thrift stores and garage sales. If you’re handy, you can even build your own loft bed and other furniture, with plenty of instructions available online.
Food gets expensive quickly. If you’ll be on a college meal plan, choose one that doesn’t include waste. Or if you’re living somewhere where you can cook your own food, plan thrifty meals in advance and shop in bulk. Watch for a slow cooker at rummage sales, and you can cook plenty of delicious soups and more.
Another considerable expense: textbooks. Do your due diligence and shop around to see if there are any used options you can purchase at a discounted rate. If the book you are buying is directly related to your college major, and you plan on saving it for reference in the future, it could be worthwhile to buy the book. If it’s a textbook for an elective class, you could consider renting the textbook which can often be cheaper than buying it brand new.
Working While Attending School
In addition to potentially helping you qualify for financial aid, your FAFSA may qualify you for federal work-study programs. Of course, finding a part-time job that isn’t associated with work-study is also an option.
You will need to determine how many hours per week you can work and still do well in school. And you’ll also need to find a job that is willing to accommodate the work-school balance you require. For example, it’s important to find an employer who will offer flexibility in scheduling during, for example, midterms and final exams.
Students who are planning on paying for college without their parents’ help can start by choosing an affordable college option, applying for scholarships, getting a part-time job, and applying for federal student aid. As a dependent student, applying for federal aid may be challenging without your parent’s support, because the FAFSA may be considered incomplete without their information.
In the event that other avenues of funding have been depleted, students may consider private student loans. Note that as previously mentioned, private student loans don’t always have the same borrower protections as federal student loans. This is why they are generally considered an option after all other sources of funding have been evaluated.
If private student loans seem like an option for you, consider SoFi. Private student loans at SoFi have no hidden fees and the application process can be completed entirely online. Potential borrowers can find out if they pre-qualify, and at what rates, in just a few minutes.
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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here . SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
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This article is originally on SoFi.