How to Fund College if You’re not Rich

For students of modest financial means, getting into college is only half the battle. Deciding how to pay for it can be just as tough. Wracking up a fortune in student loan debt isn’t a wise option, but neither is trying to work full time while in college. Luckily, there are a variety of ways you can boost your college funding so that you can focus on academics.

1. When you shop for a college or university, be sure you are getting a good value.

Let’s be honest; people who buy “name brand” products are paying more because of a name, not because of what they are getting. When it comes to a college education, brand name fever can become a financially deadly disease. A quality public university will provide you with the education you need to land the job you want, and you will pay a small fraction of the cost of a private school.

Also consider attending a community college for your first two years and then transferring. Academically, a community college education is generally superior for the first two years. Small class size and more access to services such as free tutoring mean that you will get a better basic education than you would at a university. Universities offer many opportunities that community colleges do not, such as undergraduate research programs, advanced courses, and honors programs, but these are all things that benefit upper level undergraduates, not students in their first or second year.

2. Be persistent and creative in your search for scholarships.

Some students, usually those with stellar GPAs and exam scores, are offered scholarships upon being accepted to a college. If you are one of them, then congratulations. If you aren’t, or if that scholarship is not sufficient to cover your expenses, don’t give up. There are many scholarship opportunities for students willing to look.

Consider all of your characteristics, from your race, gender, and disability status to your career goals and major. Some scholarships are so specific that even students with fairly average grades and test scores will be considered if they meet the other criteria. Some scholarships are intended to encourage women and minorities into fields where they are underrepresented. Other scholarships are given in order to motivate students into certain careers such as biotechnology or cryptography.

Once you have decided on a college, or have narrowed your choice down to just a few schools, start looking at the specific scholarships you can apply for at each school. Fill out as many applications as you can; you never know which opportunity will work out for you!

3. Look for an on-campus job.

Students with off campus jobs generally have lower GPAs and higher stress levels than students with no job. However, students with an on-campus part time job actually see a statistical boost in their grades. Having a job that keeps you connected to campus life will make you more likely to succeed and help you pay the bills at the same time.

4. Work during your breaks.

Many companies offer short term jobs for college students on winter break, and summer jobs are commonplace. By working when you are not taking classes, you can save up money to help meet your expenses over the semester. This means you can cut back on your work hours when you are taking classes. By focusing on learning, you can make sure to pass all your classes without having to drop or repeat any. That will help ensure you graduate on time, and it will save you money.

5. Limit your spending.

In a game of free-association, say “college” and you’re just as likely to hear “beer” or “pizza” as “class” or “professor”. While going out with friends may be part of the college experience, it can also be financially devastating if overdone. Take out food can also be hard on your wallet. When it comes to food and entertainment, decide on a budget and stick to it.

Never succumb to resignation. Many students seem to have an attitude of, “Well, I’m already in debt, so what does it matter if I spend a few more dollars?” The truth is, when it comes to tacking debt and maintaining control over your finances, small acts add up.