It’s the 21st century’s catch-22. In order to get a well-paying job, you need to have a college education. In order to afford a college education, you need to already have a well-paying job.
For parents of traditional college students, as well as adult students returning to school, it may seem as though a degree may be out of financial reach. This is especially true if you don’t already happen to have a fat bank account or a well-funded 529 plan.
But there are still ways of paying for college, even if you don’t have money saved:
1. Investigate tuition-payment plans with your university.
College expenses can often seem insurmountable, because they’re all due at once. Traditionally, universities send you a bill for the entire semester’s tuition and room and board at the beginning of that semester — and it’s pay up or get out.
But many colleges are starting to offer tuition-payment plans (also known as tuition-management programs). These programs allow you to pay for a year’s worth of tuition in monthly, interest-free installments — along with some modest fees. It’s much easier to budget for these monthly installments than to find the full amount due at the beginning of each semester.
2. Find a scholarship or grant.
There are more scholarships out there than you can imagine. While we can’t all be star quarterbacks or future Einsteins, that doesn’t mean there isn’t grant money available for you. FastWeb is a great resource; there you can find grants for lefties, vegetarians, unusually tall students, and other out-of-the-ordinary characteristics.
3. Get your room and board paid for.
One way to reduce your college expenses without missing out on the college experience is by volunteering to become a resident assistant. On most campuses, these jobs offer free dorm living in exchange for your duties. If you’re able to also hold down a part-time job, that money can go straight to tuition rather than being tied up in living expenses.
4. Delay a year or two.
While it’s hardly ideal to have to wait for college when you (or your child) want to go right now, finishing an education without debt will probably be a better option than instant gratification. Taking a year off to work and save up money can really pay off in the long run.
5. Work for a university.
If you or your child is able to get a job at a university, the school may pick up the tab for your education. Most schools offer free tuition to their full-time employees, and many will extend the offer to dependents and part-time workers, as well. This means that working for the school you want to graduate from can be a savvy move.
College may be expensive, but it’s only out of reach if you’re unwilling to find creative solutions. From juggling work and education to applying for the right scholarships and jobs, it’s possible to go to college even if you have no money saved.
What are your tips for making college more affordable?