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What Are the Different Ways to Pay for College?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Figuring out how to pay for college is a concern for many would-be or continuing college students. College is pricey and many schools, even those run by states or countries have high tuition fees. These are not the only costs; books, school supplies, and living expenses may be prohibitive for some students unless they can get some type of financial help. The ways students may typically get help to pay for college is to ask for assistance from parents and apply for grants, loans and scholarships. Students may also work part or full-time while in school to meet expenses or work in a specialized field that guarantees payment of college tuition, like in the armed services.

It should be noted that college fees, requirements and financial aid can be structured differently at each college, at the state level, and by country. Some countries offer free or near free college education at country-run universities, including Brazil, many of the Nordic countries, Ireland, and Libya. These may not be entirely free and there can be some fees or payment for books required, but these expenses are usually well within a student’s reach if they work part-time. There may also be requirements that must be met to be accepted to a college, but this tends to be true in all countries.

In places like the US, college is assuredly not free, and even people who get the maximum amount in student aid may need to take out loans or plan to work too. There are very few scholarship or financial aid programs that offer a true “full ride.” Eligibility for federal or state financial aid in the US is also partially and sometimes fully need based, and for students living with parents, the main consideration is parental income. This has been considered greatly unfortunate by many kids who would like to attend college because financial aid awards are smaller if parents make a reasonable income, yet parents may not have the will or the wherewithal, and they are not obligated, to pay for a child’s college education.

At the federal level in the US, students may qualify for a Pell Grant, which may help pay for college or at least for part of it. There are also state grants that may help assist if an independent student (living on his or her own) or if a student’s family financially qualifies. Students usually fill out one financial aid application through their high school or a college financial aid office to see which awards they may receive, and this application has a deadline, which must be met to qualify for the most aid. Applications of financial aid often will usually qualify the student for student loans too.

Scholarship applications to pay for college are generally separate from financial aid applications. Each scholarship must be applied for separately, and may or may not have a “financial need” component. Websites like Scholarshipinstitute.org are among one of the many helpful resources students can use to learn more about where to find the best scholarships. Students may also find once they receive an offer of financial aid, they must work too. Depending on skill level and experience, it may be better to work on campus or to work off campus.

Usually, a student who lacks the immediate funds for education must pay for college with a combined package of grants, loans, scholarships and work. Students may reduce overall costs by spending the first two undergraduate years at a local community college. People living at home with parents may especially benefit from this if they can continue this arrangement. These students will have reduce living expense and will pay much lower fees for each class taken at community or junior colleges. These students may have a further advantage because if they work part time or more, they may be able to pocket most of their earnings to pay for college in junior and senior year.

Deciding where to attend college is important too in helping to pay for college. When finances are very tight students should be probably not consider high tuition colleges or colleges outside of the state that charge higher rates for “out of state” students. In general, private colleges are much more expensive than those run by the state, and this may mean a heavy burden of student loans when a student exits college.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By RoyalSpyder — On Mar 01, 2014

@Chmander - Yeah, I can definitely see where you're coming from. It's amazing how much the tuition fees at my college have gone up in these past few years. Four years ago, when I was a college freshmen, I estimate that it cost about five thousand dollars for me to afford college. However, now, it's more than twice as much. Imagine how expensive educational institutions will be in the next ten years. Will most people even be able to afford college?

By Chmander — On Mar 01, 2014

After reading the article, I'm actually quite surprised that college is free in some countries. It's something I've never heard of in my life. It's funny how in the United States, it's all the exact opposite. Between the costs of books, tution, dining, and room & board, a lot of people can't even afford an education. It's actually quite sad.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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