Financial Aid

10 Ways to Pay for College that You May Not Have Considered

There are many ways to pay for college. Get creative and create a plan with these options.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

June 05, 2024

10 Ways to Pay for College that You May Not Have Considered
There are multiple ways to pay for school.
Paying for college is one of the largest investments you’ll make in your lifetime. Fortunately, you’re investing in a pretty great product – yourself. Like any investment, though, you may need to “diversify your portfolio.” That means you should explore multiple avenues in order to pay your tuition bill each year. However, you need to know where to start.

10 Ways to Pay for College

At Fastweb, we can help you break down multiple ways to pay for school. You may utilize two or three of these options – or all 10!


Scholarships are free money that you can apply for and win to pay for college. At Fastweb, we specialize in helping students find scholarships — that they qualify for — from our database of over 1.5 million opportunities. Aside from checking Fastweb each day for new scholarship matches in your account, we keep students up to date on the newest, and sometimes easiest, scholarships to apply for. Check out articles like 10+ Scholarships You Can Apply for Today.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is money from the federal and state governments that can help students pay for school. It comes in many forms, like grants, scholarships, work study, or federal student loans. To apply, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for every year that you plan to enroll. Once you have applied for financial aid through the FAFSA, you will receive financial aid packages from each school that you apply to. This will give you a bigger picture of how much you can afford to pay for school and how much you still need to win through scholarships or borrow with student loans.


Like scholarships, grants are free money that students can receive. They can be attained by either filling out the FAFSA or by applying individually. Grants can come from the government, colleges and universities, or public and private organizations.

Income Sharing Agreements

Income Sharing Agreements (ISAs) are a relatively new option in paying for college. Students are able to borrow money to pay for school and then must repay the debt with a certain percentage of their income over time after graduation. If there is a balance after the contract has expired, students do not have to pay the remaining balance.

College Savings

Like any big purchase you plan to make, another way to pay for school is to simply save money. Some parents begin saving for their child’s education when they are young, through a 529 Savings Account. These plans allow parents to invest in a tax-free earnings growth account that offers tax-free withdrawals. Students and their parents can also save the more traditional route, especially if college enrollment is a year or two away. After all, a dollar saved for college is one less dollar you’ll have to borrow to pay for school.

Work Study or Part-Time Job

Work study is a form of financial aid (granted through a FAFSA application) that students can qualify for to pay for college. Through work study programs, students can get a campus job and their paychecks either help to cover their tuition bill or they go directly to the student to cover other expenses. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education announced an expansion to this program. Now, off-campus jobs can qualify as work study opportunities. Students are also able to work longer hours to make money. Finally, apprenticeships, externships, and clinical rotations can now count as work study jobs so that students can not only earn money but receive on-the-job training for a future career. Students that do not qualify for work study can look for part-time jobs close to their college campus. A steady paycheck can help to alleviate the cost of college and cover everything from tuition to books to late night pizza delivery. Many well-known companies are now offering employee perks like tuition reimbursement.

Enlisting in the Military

The U.S. military offers amazing education benefits to service men and women, and there are a variety of ways to join and pay for school. First, you can join the military and take college classes on the base. After four years of military service, you could very well enter the civilian world with a college degree. Other students may opt to attend college and join the military through Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Throughout your college career, you will take classes on your campus while attending off-campus military training. After graduation, you will become a commissioned officer in your specified military branch. If you’re not ready to commit to full-time military service, you can join the National Guard or Reserves and attend college while receiving on-the-job training. Reservists and Guard members are called on to help the nation in times of crisis and receive education benefits to help pay tuition. Finally, students can apply to one of the five prestigious military academies across the country. Tuition at these institutions is $0, but the admissions process is quite rigorous. A minimum service of five years is required after graduation.

Tax Credits

Every year, students and their parents can claim higher education tax credits. The first is the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Students can claim up to 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified education expenses, plus 25% of the next $2,000. The maximum annual credit is $2,500. The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit is available to students who may not be eligible for the American Opportunity credit. This tax credit maximum is $2,000.

Student Loans

You may have exhausted all of the above options to pay for college and still do not have the amount you need in order to pay for school. At this point, it’s time to look into student loans. They can help bridge the gap between what you can pay and how much college costs. As a rule, students should always borrow federal first. Federally funded loans have the lowest interest rates, meaning you’ll pay less over time after graduation. Some students that demonstrate financial need may qualify for subsidized student loans, which has the interest paid by the government while the student is in college. Any student, regardless of income, can qualify for unsubsidized student loans. These loans accrue interest while the student is in college and must be paid back by the student after graduation. In some cases, you may need to borrow money from a private lender to pay for college. You can find expert help on how to find the best private loan here on Fastweb.

Strategizing Where to Attend College

If the cost of attending college is still overwhelming, it may be time to reconsider where you are applying and strategize how and where you should enroll. For example, many students opt to start their college career at a community college. Here, they can take general courses for a fraction of the cost of a public or private college. After the first two years, they can transfer to a four-year institution to specialize in an area of study. You can also look for special programs that will pay for college and guarantee you a job after college. For instance, if you’re looking to earn a STEM degree, check out the Department of Defense’s SMART Scholarship program. This is a full-tuition scholarship, with a yearly stipend, health insurance, AND more. You’ll also be guaranteed a job after college graduation. Students can begin strategizing how to pay for college as soon as they enter high school. It’s not too soon to look ahead and make a plan. During the first years of high school, students and their parents can have frank discussions about who is paying for college and how much. Equipped with that knowledge and with the above options to paying for school, students can realize their higher education dreams with minimal financial stress.

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Kathryn Knight Randolph

Associate Content Editor

Kathryn Knight Randolph is the Associate Content Editor at Fastweb. She has 17 years of higher education experience, working first as an Admissions Officer at DePauw University before joining Fastweb. In b...

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