Nearly 65% of college seniors graduate with student loan debt. And with student loan debts reaching record highs—at the Fed's last count in 2019 Q2, $1.48 trillion—you may be searching for a more cost-effective way to attend college. After all, college tuition prices have only gone up in recent years.
But there are several options for you actually to get paid to attend college. Yes, really. We take a look at the most common ways students can get paid for attending college, including corporate tuition reimbursements, career-specific tuition benefits, college financial aid, no-loan colleges, even scholarships, and grants.
Corporate Tuition Reimbursements
Corporate tuition reimbursement is when your employer helps pay for you to attend college to continue your education or earn your degree. This option is only applicable to those already in the workforce—but it can pay off big.
You’ll need to meet your employer’s predetermined guidelines to be eligible for tuition reimbursement. Usually, you’ll have to:
- Maintain a certain GPA
- Be required to take courses or earn a degree in your field
- Have to stay at your company for a set number of years after receiving tuition reimbursement.
With tuition reimbursement, you’ll have to pay for the courses upfront, and your employer will reimburse you later.
Career-Specific Tuition Benefits
Depending on your career field, you may be eligible for grants or scholarships to help pay for college. For example, the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program covers up to 85% of your nursing-related education debt, as long as you’re working in the nursing field. At the same time, the National Institute of Mental Health Loan Repayment Program will pay up to $35,000 of your student loans each year.
Another well-known program is the Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives your Direct Loans (a federal student loan under the U.S. Department of Education) after you’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments.
No-loan colleges are another great way to go to college with minimal cost. These schools help students pay for college via grants and scholarships but no federal student loans.
These schools usually have a competitive acceptance rate, but if you can gain acceptance, can help keep your student loan debt to a minimum – or help you avoid student loans altogether.
Worth noting–no-loan colleges don’t prevent you from taking out loans. In fact, many require parental or student financial contributions. If that isn’t realistic for you and your financial situation, you may have to take out some loans to bridge the gap.
Financial aid is comprised of all the different financial avenues that help you pay for college. They can include grants and scholarships (more on that below), loans, work-study jobs, and federal financial aid. To apply for federal financial aid, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Keep in mind that grants and scholarships and work-study monies do not have to be paid back after graduation, while any loans you incur (both federal and private) during school must be repaid, with interest.
In this case, it’s usually better to pay for college with federal loans, since you have many repayment options available, including income-based repayment, plus you may be eligible for student loan forgiveness.
Another way to save money and stay out of debt while in college? Consider a part-time job or a work-study job on campus. It’s a great way to avoid debt, earn spending money, and get valuable work experience.
Scholarships and Grants
You can further offset incurring student loan debt while in college by applying for grants and scholarships to help cover your tuition. Start locally. See if your high school, your parents’ workplace, or other community business offers scholarships.
Then take your search online. There are countless scholarship opportunities out there. Try searching databases like CollegeNet.com to find scholarships that are a match for you. And remember, if you don’t apply, you can’t win—and no scholarship or grant is too small. When it comes to paying for college and avoiding student loan debt, every little bit helps.
The Bottom Line
Student loan debt may seem unavoidable. In fact, taking out loans with plans to repay them after graduation may seem like the norm. But with a little work and ingenuity, you just might be able to avoid becoming part of the nearly 65% of college graduates with student loan debt. Trust us, your future self will thank you.