No Money Saved? You Can Still Go to College

by Emily Guy Birken · 8 comments

High costs of college

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?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    Back in my last year at the University of Miami – 1964 / 1965 , the tuition was $ 1000.00 a YEAR . It now is $ 39,000.00 a year . That is obscene . I do believe that a good part of the problem is schools promoting sports such as football , baseball , basketball , the swim team , etc. This is all extremely expensive especially when you consider that many of the kids that are recruited because of their superior skills in sports have their tuition , food , room , etc. paid for by the school , of course this adds to the cost of the average students tuition costs. Add insult to injury many of these sportlers are not qualified intellectually to enter a college . And yet …………. damn the cost , all for the glory of the school. I find it interesting that in Europe tuition is about 1100 Euros [ $ 1430.00 ] a year per student . # 1. Only higher I.Q. students are allowed to go to a University , the rest are encouraged to learn a trade . # 2. The schools adhere strictly to educating the students to be the leaders of industry and government . There are no school sponsored sport teams , swimming pools on campus , fitness centers , high paid coaches , ad nauseum . Their Universities promote EDUCATION .
    Here in the U.S. , after 4 years of schooling , the kids graduate with HEAVY DEBT before they even find a job . They are already indentured servants to the Banksters . In the past 50 years this country has been corrupted , money and power is now the name of the game .

  • @pfinMario says:

    #4 is a bigger deal than people get. That going to college (and perhaps grad school) has become the norm rather than the exception is a bit vexing. However, I’m more upset that we as a society haven’t totally gotten on board with the idea of taking a year (or ten years) off to save some money, and perhaps more importantly, get a better handle on what you want to do with yourself. I don’t regret my decisions, but it would have been nice to have considered a gap year as an option.

    • M says:

      Or make university heavily subsidised by government via taxation like every other western democracy.. an idea based on the principle that no one should be left behind because they are broke.

      I often wander about how many fantastic disocveries are trapped in the head of someon

    • Arminius Aurelius says:

      I agree with you 100 % . I have always said it would be a good idea for a H.S. graduate after 12 years of school to take a break and work in industry for a couple of years , save some money and by then they might have a better idea as to what they want to do in the future . Could also start by working during the day and taking a course or two nights to get your foot in the door . After I graduated from High School , I joined the Navy for 4 years to sow my wild oats so to speak. I then worked in the restaurant business and finally at the age of 27 I started at the University of Miami . I had saved money over the years and had it invested in an electronics company that the broker recommended . By my 3 rd year in college the stock lost 80 % of its value , this was my money for tuition and room and board . I dropped out of school for my 3 rd year , worked full time in a restaurant as a Chef and went to night school for the next year June 1963 thru August 1964 [ 15 months ] I was able to keep up with my class and then finish my last year 1964 / 1965 with my school mates and graduate on schedule. If you put in the extra effort , anything is possible.
      My 3 rd year at the Uni

  • Jose says:

    Don’t forget Pell Grants, I know of folks that have had moderate incomes and have still had Pell Grants awarded to them because of their individual circumstances. It’s not huge but it would definitely offset some of your costs. The other area not to forget is that many U.S. companies have a tuition reimbursement policy as part of the benefit plan. Take advantage of that if you have one available to you.

    • Arminius Aurelius says:

      Speaking of Pell Grants , I read not too long ago that Pell Grants are given to students in 3 rd rate schools to students who are intellectually inferior and should have never been encouraged to go to school . AS it turned out only about 20 % of these students eventually graduate . Hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted in an obvious lost cause.

  • Brian @ Luke1428 says:

    Great suggestions! If possible live at home and commute. I also realized I didn’t have to pay full price for books. Get them used or rent them. You won’t refer back to your textbooks after college anyway.

  • Emily says:

    There’s something you don’t hear very often!

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