How to Pay for College on Your Own: A Game Plan header image

How to Pay for College on Your Own: A Game Plan

If you're wondering how to pay for college on your own, have no fear. We’ve created a guide to financing your future so you can feel confident you have your bases covered. Determining how to afford college starts with research. Resources like the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid provide resources for students, including information about loan types and repayment options.

Colleges can offer several types of financial aid options, including athletic scholarships, merit-based awards (including academic scholarships and grants) and need-based aid (including federal loans and work-study opportunities). Many financial aid resources can also help students find school-specific scholarships and provide strategies for repaying student debt. Consider these options as you get started.

  1. Search for Scholarships

    Scholarships don’t need to be paid back and can be awarded at the school, local, state or national level for things like academic achievement, athletic prowess and involvement in extracurricular activities or community service. There are thousands of resources for finding scholarships, but we’ve compiled a few of the best ones:

    • – This is a free site that boasts over 2.7 million scholarships in its database and updates opportunities daily. The site lets you “favorite” and remove scholarship matches associated with your account.
    • – This site matches applicants with over 1.5 million potential scholarships based on academic information, activities, career goals and more. Scholarships are listed in order of application deadline.
    • The College Board – This notable scholarship source matches students with over $6 billion in scholarships every year. It is known for finding scholarships in unusual places.
  2. Apply for Grants

    Grants don’t have to be repaid and can often be put toward college expenses, including books and housing. Students should look into both local and national resources. Though grant criteria vary based on the offering organization, we’ve listed a few that everyone who qualifies for aid should apply for:

  3. Have a Strategy to Pay for Living Expenses

    A long-term strategy for reducing your living expenses and cultivating responsible financial habits requires you to draw up a budget that works for you. Consider living at home to save on room and board costs. In addition, working to pay for college through a part-time job is a great way to offset the cost of school and reduce the student loan debt you need to take on. Some lucrative part-time jobs include being an academic tutor, freelance programmer or fitness instructor.

  4. Have Your Job Pay Your Tuition

    Employer tuition reimbursement programs can be one of the best ways to pay for college without student loan debt. Companies like Starbucks and Chipotle require that students work a minimum number of hours each week in exchange for the company covering all or a portion of their tuition. Be sure to check out the requirements before applying for these programs. Some companies may require students to maintain a minimum grade point average and/or continue to work at the company after they graduate.

  5. Complete the FAFSA

    The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the first step in securing financing for college. Try to complete this early — around Oct. 1 — if you’re attending college the next year. This form should be completed annually for both undergraduate and graduate students. After completing the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which highlights the different types of aid available and gives you a general idea of what you can expect to pay.

  6. Claim Tax Credits for College Costs

    You can claim a tax credit for certain qualified education costs, including college tuition, fees, books and supplies, through either the American Opportunity Tax Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit.

  7. Open a College Savings Program

    If college is still a few years away, start saving today with a college savings program. Programs like 529 accounts and Coverdell accounts allow families to progressively save for education expenses. These programs offer tax benefits to the contributor. The Coverdell account caps annual contributions at $2,000 per student, per year. The 529 plan allows more flexibility in saving and spending.  

Know Your Options

Your Farm Bureau agent can help you learn more about college funding options. Contact your agent today to learn more!

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