How to Pay for College Without Student Loans

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Trying to figure out how to fund your college education? While student loans may seem like the easiest solution to pay for college, there are alternatives. Especially considering that student loan debt is at an all-time high, you may want to try to minimize your debt as a new college graduate.

If you plan to graduate from college debt-free, you'll need to create a budget for college to help you manage your money and limit your spending. You'll also need to find creative ways to pay for tuition, books, and other necessities. Read on to learn tips on how to graduate from college debt-free.

Apply for Scholarships

The first way to pay for college without student loans? Actively look for and apply to scholarships. It is also important to realize that not all scholarships are based only on academic performance.

There are even scholarships designed for people entering specific years in college, so you should continue to look for scholarships once you have begun school.


You can apply for scholarships that are based on service work that you have performed, scholarships based on your major, your ethnicity, or where you or your parents work.


Another alternative is to pay for college is to pay out-of-pocket. This means that you work full-time in the summers and use that money to pay for the next year of college. You can also work during the school year part-time to help cover the cost of room and board, books, or other necessities.

You might even take steps to make your education more affordable, such as lowering your housing costs by living off-campus or choosing a different meal plan.


It's also important to consider the cost of tuition at different colleges. Going to an in-state public university will cost you less than going out of state or to a private college.

Tuition Reimbursement From Your Employer

You may consider working at a company that will pay for you to attend college, a benefit called tuition reimbursement. Some companies will pay for the classes upfront; others will reimburse the cost after you have successfully completed each semester.

Often, companies will have a time period that you must work for them after you graduate or else you will need to pay them back the difference. This can be a great way to earn your degree while avoiding debt. What's more, the work experience can make you more marketable when you graduate. 

Attend College Part-Time

You may also consider working full-time and attending college part-time. It means that your education will take a bit longer, but you will not need to sacrifice as much when it comes to lifestyle choices. This is a good option for someone who has decided to attend college later in life. Many programs are designed specifically for this purpose.

You will need to weigh how quickly you want to graduate against the debt you may take on. If you are doing this option, it helps to have a solid plan in place so that you can move forward as quickly as possible.

Take a Heavier Course Load

Many students will only take the minimum requirements each semester. But you may also choose to save money on college tuition by taking more courses per semester, thus shortening the amount of time you'll need to be in school.

You also may find that by attending classes in the summer, you save money since the cost of tuition is often lower. Some students also take summer courses at local community colleges, which can save money.


Students might also save money by staying in their college town during the summer. That way, they can keep their summer job and earn more money.

Graduate School

If you are attending graduate school, you may be able to find alternatives ways to pay for it. Most graduate programs work hard to find funding for the majority of its full-time students. This often means working as a research associate or as a teaching assistant.

When you are applying for the program, be sure to educate yourself on the opportunities that are available and find out what you need to do to apply to them.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Experian. "Student Loan Debt Climbs to $1.4 Trillion in 2019."

  2. Scholarship America. "Scholarships for College Students Exist — Here’s How You Can Find Them."

  3. SoFi. "How Does Tuition Reimbursement Work?"

  4. The Hechinger Report. "College students are increasingly forgoing summers off to save money, stay on track."

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