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5 Creative Ways to Pay for College or Get It for Free

Unless you want to take out thousands of dollars in student loans, college can seem out of reach. Tuition rates continue to rise faster than inflation, yet college is still a good investment. According to a research study by researchers at Georgetown [3], those with a high school degree only earn $1.3 million over their career lifetime, while those with a bachelor’s average $2.2 million and those with a Ph.D. earn $3.6 million. A nearly one million dollar difference in earnings between those with a high school degree and those with a bachelor’s degree make college an attractive option despite the cost.

However, if you are creative, you can get your degree without paying a fortune or taking out thousands of dollars of loans.

1. Work at a university. Have a university you want to attend or a local one in your hometown? Why not take a year off school and work at the university first. Many schools will pay their full-time and part-time employees tuition. You may be left to pay the fees, but that total is less than $1,000 a semester, typically. Choosing this option may take you longer to earn your diploma, but you will graduate debt free.

2. Attend a university where your parent works. My aunt and uncle had 9 kids and definitely didn’t have money to pay for their children’s college. Instead, my aunt worked at a university, and all of her children attended for free. My husband plans to work in a university, and we are hoping our kids will want to attend the university where he works so they can get a free education.

3. Join the military. This option isn’t for everyone, but if you join the military, your education will be funded either while you are in the service, or ideally, after you complete your commitment. Each branch of the military has their own program, but in general, your tuition and fees will be paid. You will also get a housing allowance and a book stipend.

4. Attend a free college. Sounds too good to be true? It is not. There are a handful of colleges [4] around the United States that offer free tuition. Most are specialized or have stringent requirements for students. For instance, Deep Springs College requires its students to work on the ranch in return for free tuition, and Alice Lloyd College in the Ozarks prefers students who reside within the 108-county central Appalachian area.

5. Attend a high school that guarantees free college tuition. A few years ago, Kalamazoo, Michigan announced a program called the Kalamazoo Promise [5]. Students who reside in the Kalamazoo school district and have attended Kalamazoo public school’s continuously for at least 4 years are eligible for the scholarships. (And ALL students who meet these requirements are eligible.) The amount of free tuition they are eligible for is prorated. For instance, if the student attends a Kalamazoo public school from K-12, they will get 100% of their tuition paid for. If they only attend during high school, they will get 65% of their tuition paid. In addition, students must attend a Michigan college or university and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA.

College is costly, but if you are creative, there are still ways to get your college education for free or nearly free.

How do you plan to pay for your child’s college education?