In an age where 70 percent of college students graduate with debt, you’d be forgiven for believing loans are your only option to pay for school. However, with a little creativity, you may discover ways to finance your education that your classmates haven’t thought of.
Apply for unusual or highly exclusive scholarships.
If you have a unique hobby, interest or talent, chances are there’s a scholarship for you. Niche scholarships may have fewer applicants, giving you a greater chance to win an award.
Take for example this scholarship for being funny. If you can make the folks at Unigo laugh, you could earn a $1,500 Make Me Laugh Scholarship.
Or maybe you’re a staunch vegetarian. The Vegetarian Resource Group is offering up to $10,000 to students who have promoted vegetarianism in their schools.
And if you’ve dedicated your life to improving the U.S. potato industry (we’re not making this up), look no further than the National Potato Council Scholarship! Your research could earn you $10,000 to help pay for college.
Scholarships.com maintains a list of unique scholarship opportunities. Take a look to see what you may qualify for and let your weird flag fly!
Exhaust ALL of the financial aid for which you qualify.
Incredibly, it’s estimated that Pell Grant-eligible students missed out on $2.6 billion in free financial aid in 2018 because they didn’t fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The most common reason given: Students thought their family made too much money to qualify.
The truth is that most families making less than $250,000 a year do qualify for some form of financial aid. That may be in the form of grants (which do not have to be paid back) or subsidized student loans (which typically have lower interest rates and more repayment options than private loans).
Even if you don’t think you’ll qualify, it’s always a good idea to fill out the FAFSA application. It’s completely free and could provide you with funds you didn’t know were available to help pay for college.
Additionally, because federal aid is disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s in your best interest to fill out the form as soon as possible. The FAFSA application for the 2020-21 academic year is already open. If you haven’t submitted your application yet, you’ll want to get started immediately!
Ask your employer if they’ll help pay for your education.
Some employers offer tuition reimbursement as part of their employees’ benefit package. Organizations offer this benefit as a way to invest in their employees’ continuing education. An educated workforce often provides the skill sets necessary for the organization to excel.
Generations, for example, offers tuition reimbursement after one year of service at the credit union. Several of our team members have used this particular benefit to help pay for college and complete their education.
Tuition reimbursement programs typically have a few criteria. These may include the program of study you intend to pursue, your grade point average, and a cap on the amount of money your employer will pay. If you’re not sure if your organization offers tuition reimbursement, or if you would qualify for this benefit, your Human Resources Department should be able to help.
Take less expensive classes at a community college.
According to data from the College Board, the average 2019-20 cost of in-district tuition and fees at Texas public two-year institutions was $2,750 (and $3,730 across the U.S.). By comparison, the average cost of tuition and fees at four-year institutions across the U.S. was $15,400, making community college a huge money-saving opportunity.
San Antonio boasts a wide network of continuing education institutions via the Alamo Colleges. These community colleges are located throughout the city and can help you earn an associates degree, college credit toward a bachelor’s degree, specialty certifications, and so much more!
If you’re already enrolled at a four-year university, you don’t have to drop out to reap the benefits of community college. Often, universities will accept college credits from a community college for certain core classes. These classes can usually be taken during the summer months or in the evenings. But before you enroll, make sure to meet with a counselor at your university to ensure that the credits will in fact count toward your degree! Otherwise, you risk wasting your time and your money.
Use your skills to make money (and possibly expand your portfolio).
Maybe you’re a Photoshop wiz, a video-making genius, or a graphic design artist. Or maybe you just have a voice for radio! Whatever your skill, chances are you can find freelance work to make some extra money on the side while attending school full time.
Websites like Fiverr.com make it easier to connect talented individuals with businesses who need help completing a job. When you register yourself, you choose which skills you would like to provide. As companies reach out to you, you have the opportunity to manage your own workload. By turning in jobs in a timely manner, you build your reputation and open yourself up to even more work. And you don’t have to limit yourself to just Fiverr—there are many freelance websites that can help you connect with businesses willing to pay for quality work.
Best of all, you may be able to use your freelance work as the foundation for a stellar portfolio. A portfolio that includes not only school projects but freelance work as well will position you as a strong candidate when you start your post-school job hunt.
Looking for even more options?
Let Generations help pay for college with a $1,000 Future Leader Scholarship. Every year, our credit union provides ten $1,000 awards to future leaders in our community to help them cover education expenses. Learn more about Future Leader Scholarship qualification requirements and start your application by visiting MyGenFCU.org/Scholarships.
Samantha Salazar is a University of Texas at Austin alum who has worked in the finance and marketing industry since 2011. She has a background as a CUNA Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor. She’s also a Class II graduate of the Latina Leadership Institute (LLI). True to her millennial nature, Samantha loves coffee, covers her home in hanging plants, lives a frugal lifestyle, and works hard so that her dog, Olive, can have the backyard she deserves.