Paying For College Without Student Loans

Learn how to pay for college without student loans. Discover other options like scholarships, grants, work-study programs, reimbursement and many more alternatives which will help you to pay your college tuition and fees.

Updated by Jason Joy Manoj on 18th November 2019

Are you wondering if paying for college without student loans is possible? You must also be thinking that with consideration of the obvious case of student loan debt skyrocketing will there ever be a chance to get a decent education without putting a hole through a student's pocket?

It's very clear that education at colleges is getting more expensive year after year. Federal student loans are an excellent way to get students to pay for their college and school fees. However, it doesn't cover the total cost and varies, based on the college that you go to. Thousands of students complete their graduation with a huge debt on their back with no clue on how to repay back the loan. 

Private student loans have a high-interest rate as compared to federal student loans. They charge fees for delayed payments, prepayments, and origination fees making them less favorable.

The student loan might look like a simple option but in reality, it is difficult to pay off a student loan debt. It might even take several years to clear a single debt generated from a single borrowed student loan. 

Let's look for alternatives available out there which can help you in attending college without the burden of a student loan. 

Some statistics on debt

According to the Federal Reserve, it is reported that America owes a total of $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. Average student debt per graduate is estimated at $37,712

70% of the graduates have borrowed money for their education.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the average period for a graduate degree holder to pay back the loans is around 21 years.

That's right, an average time taken to repay the loan is almost 2 decades. Debt seems to be normal but the duration that it takes to mature is much more than what we expect. 

There are ways to get debt free degrees with well-planned options. Let’s run by them.

Ways to pay college tuition without loans

There are several ways through which you can pay for college without loans. You can opt for getting other financial aids such as scholarships, grants, and work-study, among others. 

Pay your tuition with your savings 

Paying for college tuition fees with your savings is a thoughtful and useful process. It is good for students and parents to pay the college fee as you don't have to depend on any financial institution and can be debt-free. Parents must lookout and start saving for their future education.

Getting financial aid 

People who want to get into college can apply for financial aid which is provided by the Federal Government. For applying you are required to fill a form known as Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form figures out how much money can they offer for your attendance cost along with supportive aid.

  • You need to complete filling FAFSA each school year

  • The duration which takes place for filling out the form is around an hour

  • It covers all types of Federal Aids such as Federal Grants, Work-Study Programs, Loans, and Scholarships.

  • The deadline for applying is 06/30/19 for the 2018-2019 school year

  • For corrections and updates of 2018-2019 can be done till 09/14/19

  • To apply for the 2019-2020 school year it opens on 10/01/18

  • Fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1.

Here are some of the sources of financial aid 

1) Scholarships

Scholarships are the best way to help you to stay away from loan debt. It is a process where the school fee is covered without any help of loans, as it is funded by the school or organizations. There is no need to repay it. Scholarships are a great way to go for college without taking any loans.

The money is received in the form of an award letter from the committees. People interested in the same spend time on their summer breaks and weekends to fill out every scholarship opportunity. Here are the types of scholarships available - 

Local Scholarships

This option is very easy to approach. For this, you have to contact the guidance counselor and then the Chamber of Commerce, communities group and finally your employers to get information on it.

National Scholarships

The internet is filled with information on people and parties who provide college scholarships. You can get a scholarship from any category you think you are suitable for. Look into trusted and reputed websites to get the right one. 

Military Scholarships

If your parents served in the military, are currently still serving or are planning to serve then you can make use of the active duty member benefits to veterans and their families. It provides scholarships to the veteran's family members.

School-Related Scholarship

Before getting admission to the college of your choice get in touch with the admission office or the financial aid office or even the department head of the major or the athletic director if you need sports-based or academic-based scholarships. There are a lot of scholarships out there based on various categories athletics, cultural and community experiences, majors and accomplishment.

2) Grants

Grants for college are held for students who show a certain amount of financial requirement. It is provided by the state and federal government and even by private organizations too. Some times grants work great for a group of students like first-generation college students, based on the area/state of admission.

These are given in the form of awards by the organization and other federal assistance programs. To qualify for these, you are required to fill the FAFSA form. With a little research based on what all options are available for you. Still, if you cannot get any aid you can contact the state grant agency for further possible aids for you.

If you have received a grant then you are qualified for the financial aid award letter from the school. Sometimes you get it along with the acceptance letter or later along the timeline.

According to the last year's data, an undergraduate at a public college gets an average of $5,000 in the form of grants and students from the private college get an average of $16,700. The larger grants usually come from within the college.

3) Work-study options

 It allows you to work part-time as you study in school. You can know it through the FAFSA letter whether you are eligible or if the school permits you to do so. Work-study jobs are from the campus ( not necessarily). You can manage both work and job together to earn for your living cost and tuition fee. 

Apart from working on campus there also many off-campus options available where they can make better credit through it. The options that are available for you can be a customer service job that goes hand in hand with your college schedule. Working on waiting tables, Parking cars or working at the mall can bring you money. Streamline your search to look for office-related jobs so that it helps you in your career.

a) Employer reimbursement programs

 There is a difference in the jobs of the old days. Now companies like Chipotle, Starbucks, and Chrysler provide expansion and addition to their employee's tuition reimbursement every year.

For example, Starbucks pays half of your tuition fees for their freshmen and sophomore. If you go to the college in the junior year they will offer you reimbursement of full tuition fee for the senior and junior year. To qualify Reimbursement in Starbucks employees need to work for a minimum of 20 hours a week. You can move out after completing your graduate there are no hooks attached. Similar to Walmart it announced that it will subsidize 1.4 million employees' college fees.

b) Choose the right schools

 While considering a school the following should come on your list. First, even though it's not the core important factor the recognition associated with the college name, the dorm size, and the co-curricular programs. The only relevant question from this point is Can I afford the tuition without a student loan?

Down the lane, the only question is to find a school that you can afford. Adjusting expectations and the dream with a good inclination to practicality.

Alternatives to the traditional part to jumping straight to college after high school

1 - Directional Schools

Every state has a flagship school where all the academic research happens unlike several other schools focus on teaching. Directional schools don't focus on classroom experience and have cheaper tuition fees. To understand better check out how funding works for State schools. 

2 - Trade Schools

The Trade school option where people work on all kinds of practical skills from electrical works, Mechanics, Plumbing and home inspections with high-value training from experts. Its a cheaper and shorter than a bachelors degree. And you get a hands-on practical experience at the end of the course duration which most academic programs are devoid of.

Take community college as an option

 All around America there are acknowledged community colleges. This allows people to get college credits with a degree, that is cheaper than a 4-year school right after high school. After 2 years of getting information about the basics, you might transfer for a 3 year or 4year school which provides a bachelor's degree.

Taking a personal loan from parents or other relatives

 The benefit of taking a personal loan is that you can pay it back to them without any additional interests and also the third party's financial burden is eliminated. And more importantly, as the Godfather said ‘ the business stays within the family’.

How do I secure the right scholarship?

Here are a few points to keep in mind while looking for the right scholarship and how to increase your chances of securing it.

1 - Check for the competition for securing that particular scholarship. It should help you set realistic insights on whether you can bank on that particular scholarship program.

2 - Your application is key so try and try and tailor it to each program your applying to. With the limited funds in each program when you get selected for the scholarship you are basically an ambassador for that particular program so show genuine reasons why you should represent them.

3 - Try and emphasize on yourself through self-branding. Show an additional interest to the subject by maintaining a blog, research papers, a personal website stressing on a particular topic, and more. 

How do I secure the right grant?

Apart from the grants awarded from the US Department of Education like the Federal Pell Grant, Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants, and more, there are grants students can receive from state governments, private organizations, and non-profits. There are even institutional grants where the colleges and universities have a limited amount of money to award.

Locating and securing grants might sound tedious but here are a few steps to help you secure the right grant.

  • Fill the FAFSA form as early as possible. The forms are released in October and due dates vary from one institution to another.

  • Some state grants have a separate application. Watch out for these applications and get on it immediately.

  • To avail and get better information on institutional grants, go to the financial aid office and get the required information for you to apply and find out about the grants available.

Worried about college fee? Learn about student loans

What are the other options available?

We’ve covered scholarships, loans, grants, and work-study programs. You must be thinking, is there anything else to look out for? The answer is Yes, there is. 

Crowdsourcing is quite an unconventional source to get funding to attend college. But it has gained a lot of popularity in the past 20 years. Startups and charities use this technique to help raise a large amount of money through a number of small donations. 

Now college tuition campaigns appeal to the people and students can use the money raised to fund their tuition.

For example, the GoFundMe campaign has raised over $60 million since 2014. These campaigns appeal a lot to parents, peers and to all kinds of people in the society.

Here are a few tips to run a successful college tuition campaign 

  • Build a strong network within your community/ society

  • Develop a captivating campaign that people can help relate to and can identify the need to donate and support

  • In this digital day and age take advantage of the internet and spread awareness as much as you can about your campaign. Try to even go viral.


College is great, learning is great, advancing your skillset is great but having a monetary debt over your head isn’t great. In fact, some of these burdens even inhibit your growth by unwanted pressure. But at the same time, the cost of debt must not cost you the opportunity to grow.

Hopefully, you can implement one of our suggested ways to pay for college tuition without any consideration to student loans.

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