College isn’t cheap — and the price continues to rise year after year. Student loans are the first place most prospective students look to, but they are not always necessarily the right option.
Federal student loans can cover the bulk of college costs, but they may not foot the entire bill for some students. And when private student loans require a credit check or a co-signer for some borrowers with no credit history, students may not be able to utilize that option too. (You can get your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and get your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)
Here are some ways you can pay your tuition bills without taking out loans as you work toward your degree.
1. Picking the Right School
The price tags on colleges and universities can vary greatly, so you can save yourself some money by choosing wisely. In general, public schools are cheaper than private institutions. There are also schools that provide financial aid based on need, some that offer free tuition based on your academic record, and some that are free altogether. You can also consider attending community college for the first few years of school then transferring to a four-year institution, saving thousands of dollars.
Grants are essentially gifts typically (but not always) reserved for students who demonstrate financial need. They can be awarded by the government at the state and federal level or come from private organizations and universities. Many grants target specific segments of student by major and interest or some other defining trait (like first-generation students). You will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA to be eligible for a federal grant. It’s also a good idea to do some online research to find others.
Student employment through the university can help fund your college expenses. The Federal Work-Study Program offers these opportunities at more than 3,400 schools, so make sure you tick the box on your FAFSA indicating interest in student employment. These are usually part-time positions that likely align with your field of study, giving you an additional resume boost.
There are all sorts of scholarships out there that you may qualify for based on your academic, athletic or community-oriented experiences. Some are highly competitive, and it’s a good idea to look for and apply to as many as you can. Qualifications may be based on background, ethnicity, location, desired area of study or something you have accomplished. Most will require a writing sample so you can prepare early by writing a few different essays that you can customize for specific scholarship offers and keep track of the key information for each one with a spreadsheet. Like grants, these do not have to be repaid.
5. Side Jobs
If possible while maintaining your studies, you can always look into leveraging your skills and work ethic into an off-campus gig. Look online and at job boards across campus or in your college town for some easy ways to earn more cash. These can range from waiting tables, working on a construction crew, acting as an administrative assistant, getting a paid internship, tutoring kids in the local community, or even freelancing your writing or design skills.
The newest way students are finding financial help for college education is through online crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe, DreamFund, Indiegogo and more. You can ask family and friends to pitch in any possible amount for your education and even inspire strangers by sharing your personal story. The more compelling your degree pursuit is and the better an investment you can sell yourself as, the more successful this strategy is likely to be.
7. Employer Reimbursement
If you have a job before earning your college degree, you may be able to get help funding higher education with your employer. Many will reimburse employees for part or all of college tuition costs — especially if the course or major is directly related to their current field. Check with your employer if you are looking into colleges and see if you can reach some sort of arrangement. You could even seek out employers or companies that offer this benefit if you are just starting your job search.
The cost of higher education can be overwhelming, but there are avenues you can take to afford college and enter “the real world” without carrying too much (if any) debt. All it takes is some research, a little creativity, and a lot of hard work.
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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.