Traditional and Non-Traditional Ways to Pay for College

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Extra Money for CollegeFinancial Aid Options from Grants to Educational Investments

While high school seniors are anxiously awaiting admissions decisions, many parents are also waiting to see how much college will cost them come time to enroll.

Higher education in the US is expensive, but it’s also an investment that has great returns long-term. Many colleges are known for their great ROI, but those with a college degree, no mater where it’s from, will earn $1 million more over their lifetime than those with just a high school diploma.

There are many ways to fund your college education, both traditional and a little non-traditional. Here are some ways that students and parents can help pay for college.


There’s no such thing as a free lunch…but grants come pretty close. The following types of aid are the most common form of “free money” to help pay for college:

  • Federal Pell Grants: Take up to $5,645 off the cost of tuition!

  • Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant: And an extra $4,000 off for families demonstrating serious financial need.

  • Institutional Grants (offered by the school itself): Several schools offer grants as well to students whose parents earn under a certain threshold. Princeton University has a “no loans” policy, meaning they agree to meet each applicant’s demonstrated need.

  • State Grants: What’s your state’s policy on aid? Look it up today!

Figure out whether you qualify, and for how much, by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Fun Fact: “Free money” (scholarships and grants) now pay for 30% of college costs, up from 25% four years ago.



There is more than $3 billion in scholarships out there. By using online tools, such as, Sallie Mae, Federal Student Aid, and, you can determine which scholarships align with your background and abilities. There’s even one for the best duck call and best duct tape prom outfit

You can also qualify for merit scholarships by scoring high on the PSAT and/or attending a college that grants them to top performing students. National Merit Scholarships, determined by the PSAT, can earn winners up to $2500. You should also have your parents ask their employers about corporate sponsorships, or look into opportunities with companies doing work you are interested in pursuing.

Many schools themselves offer scholarships. Some schools grant additional aid to qualifying students, regardless of their need. Additionally, high performing athletes can receive additional aid from interested schools.

Fun Fact: The University of Rochester awards $3,000 just for reaching out to the financial aid office for a serious conversation, and $2,000 for coming from out-of-state.


AP Courses/Exams for College Credit

AP courses and exams may not be free, but they are significantly less expensive than college courses. Earn enough college credit in high school, and you can graduate a semester or two early. This could mean cutting college costs by up to 25 percent!

College Board also offers exams through its College-Level Examination Program(CLEP), where students can earn college credit by taking any one of the 33 exams on a variety of subjects, including calculus, government, literature, and others. There are currently 2,900 colleges and universities who grant credit for CLEP, with each institution setting its own CLEP policy.

Check out the AP and CLEP credit transfer policies at the schools you’re applying to in order to plan strategically.

Fun Fact: AP exams cost $89 and CLEP exams cost $80. How much do you pay per credit at college? At a private four-year school, it works out to about $900 for each.


Federal Work Study

The Federal Work Study program provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. The program encourages community service work and/or work related to the student’s course of study.

Check with your school’s financial aid office to see if they participate, and be sure to fill out the FAFSA.



Through services like, parents and students can register their 529 college savings plan with the service and invite friends and family to donate. You can even host fundraising events to boost participation! Registration is free.


Student Sponsorships and Education Investment

Following their popularity in Europe, student sponsorships and investments through companies and organizations like Lumni are finally catching on in the US. Through a sponsorship, private benefactors sponsor students from the local community, providing money for college under the agreement that students will commit to pay a fixed percentage of income for 120 months after graduation. 


Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)

This one requires a little more commitment, but it also offers higher reward. Yes, after graduation, you have to join the Army, Navy, or Air Force, but before then, ROTC will have helped pay not only for your tuition, but for other school fees as well. They even help pay for books and clothes, and provide a monthly stipend.

Are you counting on scholarships, grants, or other forms of aid to finance your college education? Tell us in the comments below!  

Related Topics

Financial Aid

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