30 Creative Ways to Pay for College that Don’t Involve Loans

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Are you wondering how to pay for college in this day and age of high tuition? We all know that a college degree doesn’t come cheap. Student loan debt in the United States now tops more than $1.3 trillion dollars, and the average student graduates with more than $37,000 in personal debt. Unless that graduate is extremely motivated, such a hefty debt can take up to a decade to pay off completely!

Most parents, students, and financial advisors agree that avoiding student loans makes for the ideal situation. That may seem like an intimidating scenario, but paying for college without tying yourself down to a high-interest loan is totally possible — you just have to be creative! Below, we’ve listed 30 creative ways to pay for college that don’t involve taking out loans.

1. Apply for Grants

Unlike loans, grants don’t need to be paid back, and are therefore an excellent source of funding for college. According to The College Board, most students receive grants from the college which they plan to attend, with private schools giving out more grants on average than public schools. Eligibility for grants vary, as do the maximum amounts that can be awarded. Most students are automatically considered for grants from their college upon their acceptance, though additional grants can be found through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or on scholarship websites.

2. Scholarships

There are millions of dollars in scholarships up for grabs every year for students wondering how to pay for college, but they take dedication and a little extra work to obtain. Scholarships.com, fastweb.com, and unigo.com are just three of the most popular websites where students can search for scholarships for which they are eligible. Scholarships are given for amounts big and small. They usually require an essay and/or letters or recommendation. Like grants, scholarships are gifts and do not need to be paid back.

3. Ask for More Money

It’s a little-known secret that when it comes to paying for college, haggling is totally acceptable. Financial aid experts suggest starting your appeal for more money with a letter to your chosen college’s financial aid office. The letter should explain your financial situation, as well as reemphasize just why attending that particular college or university is important to you. Your letter should be followed up with a phone call, and you should always remain sincere and polite as you find solutions to how to pay for college.

4. Get a Work-Study Job

Many campuses offer students the opportunity to work in exchange for the cost of attending college. These work-study jobs can include everything from filing papers in a department office to scooping food in the cafeteria. Work-study jobs can usually be found through the financial aid office. Some jobs pay the student directly, while others send your earnings right to whichever college employee is in charge of your particular finances.

5. Take Required Core Classes at the Local Community College

Every college degree includes a big selection of core classes that every student is required to take, regardless of major. That means even if you plan on studying art history, a class on biology or human anatomy is still required. The good news is that many of these basic core classes are transferable. This means you can take them at the local community college and transfer the credits back to your degree at your college or university. You’ll save a ton of money for the same exact credit.

an image of a group of students who live of campus

6. Live Off Campus

Many colleges require freshmen to live in on-campus housing, but moving to an off-campus house or apartment as soon as you are able has the potential to save you a ton of money. Aa certain amount of personal responsibility is required for it to be truly worthwhile. Living at home or renting a place during the school year will almost always be less expensive than $10,440 — the average cost for room and board at public universities. Find a roommate or two and the costs will shrink even more as you figure out how to pay for college.

7. Take Advantage of Employer Reimbursement Programs

There are a ton of different companies that offer to pay either half or all of an employee’s college tuition. This include IBM, UPS, Chipotle, Chrysler, and Starbucks, to name a few. In fact, for any employee working a minimum of 20 hours a week, Starbucks offers to pay half of their tuition through freshman and sophomore year, then full tuition reimbursement for their junior and senior year. Most of these companies don’t even require the employee to remain with the company after graduation.

8. Ask Friends, Family, and Even Strangers

For college students, money is always a helpful birthday, holiday, and graduation gift. But this year ask your friends and family to skip the birthday card and send you money via your profile on websites like Edulender or Sponsor My Degree. These crowd-funding sites allow students to collect money from family members, friends, and even strangers to put towards their tuition or student debt.

9. Sell Your Body — Legally, Of Course

It’s not uncommon to hear of students selling blood and plasma to make a little extra money. Though amounts vary from place to place, you’re not likely to make enough selling plasma to pay for your entire degree. If you’re up for it, fertility clinics often pay up to $100 for a sperm donation and $8,000 for an egg donation. Of course, these donations come with huge long-term outcomes, and should be thoroughly thought through before any commitments are made. Egg donors, for example, must go through a rigorous screening process which includes genetic testing, blood work, and even a psychological evaluation before their donation can be accepted.

10. Participate in Clinical Studies

If you attend college near a facility which runs sleep and/or medical trials, consider signing up to participate in their studies. Trials can usually be found on places like Craigslist or ClinicalTrials.gov, and sometimes pay as much as $750 per session. If your college includes a medical school or psychology department, they may also have opportunities.

11. Rent Out Your Possessions

Thanks to the latest “shared economy” trend, there’s good money in renting out your own things. If you live off-campus, consider renting out a spare bedroom on AirBnB, or make the whole place available when you head home on weekends or breaks. If you have a car, you can make that available for people to rent through apps like Getaround and Turo. If you live in a city and rent a parking space, you can even rent that out on JustPark.

An image of someone driving for Uber or Lyft as a creative way to pay for college.

12. Drive for Uber or Lyft

If your car is clean and dependable, you can become a driver for Uber or Lyft and make some good extra money. You’ll invest time, but both companies allow you to choose your own hours, an ideal situation for busy college students.

13. Start Freelancing

Freelance writing is a fantastic opportunity for the college student who loves to write. Websites like Upwork are constantly posting new opportunities for writers, who can then apply for each job. Best of all, you can take on as many projects as you can successfully complete.

14. Become a Paid Note-Taker

You’re likely already attending class, paying attention, and taking notes — so why not get paid for it? At many colleges and universities, the disability resource office buys students’ notes for those unable to attend class regularly and/or who cannot take notes for themselves. If your school doesn’t offer such a service, consider launching the side hustle yourself.

15. Join the Military

Not only does joining the military allow you to serve your country, it’s also a great way to pay for college. If you serve before attending college, you’ll receive GI Bill benefits that pays all of your tuition and fees at a public university (or up to $17,500 at a private university). You can also obtain sizable scholarships by joining your college’s ROTC program with the intent to serve after graduation.

16. Get Crafty

If you have a craft skill, consider selling some of your products on Etsy in order to make some extra money. Etsy shop owners often make hundreds of dollars per month selling handmade clothing, original artwork, and just about anything else you might be able to think of.

And  image of student taking as Many Credits Per Term as Possible to help save money on college

17. Take as Many Credits Per Term as Possible

Do a little research to discover if the tuition you’re paying is based on full-time status. If it is, find out how many credits are considered “full time”. While most college advisors recommend students take 3-4 academic classes per semester, it’s possible you could add an extra class for the same amount. Getting classes done sooner rather than later can save you from paying for an additional semester further down the road.

18. Complete Classes During the Summer and Winter Terms

Many colleges offer a limited number of classes during the summer and winter terms, and while these classes are often more intensive due to fewer class weeks, they are also cheaper. Spending less on a class or two that you will need to take anyway can save you big bucks in the long run.

19. Get Paid for Your Opinion or to Surf the Internet

You’re a college student, so chances are pretty good you’ve got strong opinions and like to spend time online. Turn both of those things into money-making endeavors! Websites like Survey Junkie offer multiple opportunities per day to fill out surveys in exchange for instant money, while companies like Swagbucks pay people to search the internet. Both companies are reputable, and while you may not get rich, they’re a great resource for extra money.

20. Take Advantage of Rebates

There are a number of apps that allow you to claim rebates for the things you purchase. One of the best of these is Ibotta, which essentially pays you to purchase certain items. The list of stores and products is extensive, allowing you a ton of options. To make the most money, scan the app before you shop so you know which products and brands will get you the biggest rebates.

21. Deliver Food

Taking on an evening job delivering pizza or other food through an app like Uber EATS is a great way to not only earn an additional wage, but make some great tips. Most delivery drivers earn somewhere around $15 per hour to drive around, and can work during the busy evening and night hours when classes aren’t in session.

22. Hang Out with Kids

Thanks to websites like care.com, finding nannying jobs or the occasional babysitting gig is easier than ever. Not only can you screen potential clients through the website, but you can also set your own rates and hours.

An image of student walking  dogs as a creative way to pay for college

23. …or Pets

If kids aren’t your thing, rover.com is a similar website, but for pets. Sign up and find clients who will pay you to walk their dog or watch their pets for a day or during their vacation.

24. Teach _______ Lessons

If you have a particular skill, consider offering lessons either on campus or in the local community. Ideas might include dance, language, or soccer lessons, and you can set your own rate and hours for each client.

25. Set Up a Tutoring Service

College students are always in need of tutoring, so if there’s a particular subject in which you art especially talented, consider offering your services. Not only does tutoring allow you to work your own hours, you can also set your own rates.

26. Sell T-Shirt Designs

CafePress, a popular website, allows users to design t-shirts, tote bags, tumblers, and other products, then sell them via the website. When someone orders your design, CafePress makes the product, sends it out to the customer, and sends you a slice of the profits. This can be especially lucrative if you belong to big fan groups or have a sizable social media following.

An image of a girl selling at a Farmers Market as a creative way to make money in college

27. Sell at the Farmers Market

If you can spare a few hours on a Friday afternoon or evening, bake up some tasty treats to sell at a Saturday morning farmers market. Pies, cookies, dog treats…the possibilities are endless, and there’s big potential to make a tidy profit.

28. Pick Up Some Paid Tasks

Paid tasks are an excellent way to earn some extra money for college, as they can often be done quickly and on your own schedule. Join apps like Task Rabbit or CashApp to find local tasks that fit your lifestyle. Tasks include everything from painting a living room for a neighbor to playing a new mobile game for an hour. Simply choose the tasks you have the time to complete, and make some money! If you have more time to spare, check out the website Outsourcely, which offers temporary virtual assistant jobs to students and other hustlers.

29. Computer Repair

When you live in an environment in which every person is extremely dependent upon their computer (i.e. a college campus), there are tons of money-making opportunities for tech savvy people. Advertise your computer repair services with flyers or a listing on the college community website, or get a part-time job with the on-campus IT department.

30. House Sit

No matter where you live, there is always an opportunity for house sitting. Join a website like care.com, or advertise your services throughout the local community. Not only does housesitting give you a comfortable place to stay while your clients are out of town, it often pays quite well, too.

This concludes our feature on how to pay for college without taking out loans.

Bambi Majumdar

Melissa Anderson

Julie McCaulley