9 Ways to Pay for Your College or University Tuition

A piggy bank wearing a mortar board and a glass jar labelled 'tuition' standing on a white table against a blue background

The cost of higher education has many asking the question: should I go to university? Indeed, anytime a younger person complains about paying for college, there will always be at least one Generation Xer or Baby Boomer who replies with: ‘Back in my day…’.

He then goes on a tangent about how he worked every summer to pay for his university degree. With the leftover cash, he purchased a used Porsche, a two-bedroom bungalow and his wife’s diamond wedding ring. Well, bully for him, you might say. But if life were only like that today.

Let’s be honest: college and university are getting harder to afford as the years go by. This is leaving a growing number of kids unable to attend postsecondary institutions. Tuition rates are surging, textbook costs are climbing, and the whole host of fees that a higher-learning facility will charge you are getting more egregious.

So, what are the solutions? Well, there are ways to pay for college – and it’s more than just taking out a potentially crippling student loan from the government. Let’s find out how to pay for college, shall we?

1. Go to Work

Many students finance their studies by working full or part time throughout the year in industries that will pay the bills and put groceries, primarily your favourite brands of noodles and soft drink, on the table. These jobs may only help with textbooks and a semester or two, but anything you can contribute without a loan is great.

Unsure what jobs you can take that can balance your studying? Here are a few ideas, and they all pay well:

  • tutor
  • childcare worker
  • call centre representative
  • warehouse associate
  • home health aide
  • rideshare driver
  • administrative assistant

Yes, there are options for paid internships, but these are difficult to attain in any field. That said, if you can find one, then seize the opportunity.

It is important to remember, too, that there are many valuable benefits of working part time while you’re in school. Who knows? You could very well kick-start your career by being employed on the side.

2. Search for Employer Sponsorship

Since many businesses, especially in the technology sector, are clamouring for the best and brightest talent they can find, there is a new trend developing that benefits companies and students alike: employer sponsorship programmes.

This is an agreement whereby a big firm will extend an amount of money to students to pay for tuition fees and living costs. But you need to be aware that these scholarship programmes will only target specific degrees and at specified institutions. For example, Google may sponsor a student from Biloxi, Mississippi to attend MIT to earn a degree in computer engineering.

It should be noted, too, that some companies may provide an income-sharing agreement, or ISA. Rather than hand out money, a company may finance your four-year degree in exchange for taking a portion of your paycheque.

3. Consider the GI Bill

In 1944, the US government instituted the GI Bill. This is a policy that extends education benefits to returning members of the US military and their families, designed to cover the costs associated with obtaining an education or job training. It was a successful programme for millions of Americans coming home from foreign combat.

While the UK does not have a GI Bill equivalent, the nation’s military does provide benefits to veterans, though they have been criticised as ‘piecemeal’ and ‘crumbs’.

That said, a growing number of high school graduates are enrolling in the military just so they can receive free education or finance a huge portion of it. This move does have its advantages, such as gaining real-world experience, seeing every corner of the globe and learning new and valuable skills. But the cons are being away from your family, enduring the risks of combat and perhaps giving up your initial goal and instead serving in the armed forces as a career choice.

4. Apply for a Grant

A simple visit on your government’s website – federal, state/provincial or local – and you will inevitably come across a myriad of grants. Or you may notice that businesses in your big city or small-town community are offering grants to nearby students.

But you oftentimes don’t get money for free. Instead, you may need to write an essay, have excellent grades or do many hours of volunteer work. There is always a catch – nothing in life is free.

Whatever the case, grants are a great way to at least pay for a part of your four-year degree. Remember: as you will learn, every little bit counts.

5. Ask Your Parents about Tax Credits

Depending on your location, your household may be eligible for tax credits, which can be used by your parents to reduce their taxes after paying for common expenses like tuition, fees, books and board.

For instance, in the US, households can claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This slashes Mum and Dad’s taxes by up to $2,500 per year per child if their modified adjusted gross income does not exceed $90,000 – or $180,000 if filed jointly.

If your parents hate paying taxes, then you should ask them about utilising tax credits for your tuition.

6. Consider Alternative Schools

For a lot of students, one of the reasons why tuition might be so high is because of the school they have chosen. Costs may be higher than the national average because it is a world-renowned university or an out-of-state college. Therefore, you may need to consider alternative schools – ones that are closer to where you live or institutions that are not so Ivy League.

Adrian Ridner, the CEO and cofounder of Study.com, recently said it best: ‘Most employers today aren’t as focused on which university you graduate from. Employers care more about your actual degree and ability to learn.’

7. Research Discounts on Credits

Depending on where you live, some jurisdictions permit students to get a college credit or two for classes taken during high school. If you have the acumen to keep up with higher standards, then you can earn these credits before you set foot in college at a lower cost. It is unclear as to how many places do this, but states or provinces provide discounts of as much as 50% on credits if you are a high school student working towards your college degree.

8. Take Out a Student Loan

In today’s economy, experts say that taking out a student loan should be your last resort. When you have exhausted all other possibilities, you may need to turn to federal aid and apply for student loans. Years ago, that was the go-to option, but with the innumerable horror stories prevalent in the western world, there is a bit more apprehension, which is understandable.

That said, if you have no other choice at your disposal, then a federal student loan may be the solution.

9. Consider Private Loans

The private lending market is ballooning for student borrowers. Since it is becoming more competitive, potential applicants may discover lower interest rates than those that are attached to federal student loans. But there are caveats, as is typically the case:

  • you will be required to meet strict credit requirements
  • you will likely need a co-signer to qualify
  • you may not have the same protections, like a deferment or forbearance, should you have trouble repaying the loan
  • you could have a variable interest, meaning rates will fluctuate over the life of the loan.

In the end, this could be the best way to afford university or, at the very least, one of the ways to pay for college.

For the next few years, you must watch your pennies by establishing and maintaining a budget. This applies to students who have loans or individuals who worked and saved.

Student loan debt is crippling the younger generation, leading millennials and Generation Zers to delay adulthood. This means millions are not buying homes, getting married or having children. While these people are often met with scorn and mockery from their older counterparts, it is a dire situation for many to be in once they leave school. Knowing that you owe tens of thousands of dollars to the government to finance a degree that has yet to offer you real opportunities is a distressing realisation.

If this is a real fear, then you may need to consider other avenues to explore to fund your education. A diploma is critical in today’s economy, and you cannot survive without one. So, whether it is working every waking hour or finding employer sponsorship programmes, you must find ways to pay for college.

How did you pay for college or university? Share your stories with us in the comments section below.