How to Pay for College Without Loans

How to pay for college without loans Graduating from college is a dream for many students. Yet, the rising cost of higher education can be a barrier to reaching this goal. In 2023, College Board found that the average cost of tuition and fees at public four-year institutions is two times more than thirty years ago. While many students rely on loans to fund their four-year education, there are other ways to pay for your studies. Read these 14 tips to help you cover college expenses and secure your academic future.


1. Seek out scholarship opportunities

Scholarships are one of the best ways to fund your education. There are many different scholarship opportunities available to students, such as the 1st Financial Bank USA Financial Goals Scholarship. By dedicating a few hours each week to applying for scholarships, you can reduce the amount of student loans you need to take out. Abigail, a student from Stanford University, shares her insight on scholarships:

Coming from a rural school, I was not given much information on how to pay for an expensive out-of-state education, so most of my information came from the Internet. I immediately started applying for as many scholarships as I could find. I used scholarship search sites, googled local scholarships, and followed a bunch of scholarship accounts on social media. Now I have a whole Excel spreadsheet of information about scholarships that I have found including due dates and information required. Scholarships will be a huge part of paying for my education.

Abigail G

Abigail G.

Stanford University


2. Apply for financial aid early

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allocates aid on a first-come, first-served basis. Completing the FAFSA can lead to grants, which are a form of free money that you don't have to pay back. You might also be eligible for a work-study program, which could lessen the amount of loans you need to borrow. Both grants and work-study programs are highly competitive, so the sooner you submit your FAFSA, the more financial aid opportunities may be available to you. The FAFSA typically opens each year on October 1st.


3. Work while attending school

Working a part-time job during the school year (or a full-time job during the summer) can help you earn money to put toward your degree. Not only does a job allow you to pay for your college expenses independently, but you’ll also gain experience and transferable skills to help you later in life. Boise State student, Brady, shares his advice on working to help pay for college without loans:

Over the past few years, I have worked hard to secure my future and save as much money as possible. I have seized every opportunity to earn money, including picking up extra shifts at the number of jobs I've had over the years, helping my grandparents with landscaping and housework, umpiring at local baseball games on weekends, and even driving 2-3 hours away to set up popup photo booths for celebrations. I am determined to succeed and make the most of my college experience without putting undue pressure on my family.

Brady K

Brady K.

Boise State University


4. Earn college credit in high school

One of the best ways to reduce your college costs is to begin your higher education in high school. Taking a dual credit class–a class that counts towards both your high school and college degree–can allow you to complete your college degree at a faster pace. Whether it’s in person or an online class, earning college credit in high school will help you save money if the course transfers to the college or university you’re planning to attend.


5. Start saving as early as possible

Every dollar you save for college is a dollar less that you have to borrow. Contributing to a dedicated savings fund, like a 529 College Savings Plan, could help you avoid unnecessary loans. A well-kept college savings plan can also give you more flexibility to choose a college. Hear from a Meredith College student on how a 529 college savings plan is helping her attend college:

When I was born, my parents asked for only two categories of gifts: diapers and donations to my college fund. That was the start of my 529 plan. From that day forward, my parents contributed a set monthly amount to the fund…It is surprising how much those monthly contributions have added up to the current balance in the 529. I have often heard of the magic of compound interest. My parents savings plan was an illustration of this and demonstrated how important a regular savings plan can be, particularly with a long term goal in mind. Without this disciplined saving, my choice of college would have been severely limited.

Kathryn A

Kathryn A.

Meredith College


6. Research the best housing options

Some colleges require freshmen to live in the dorms their first year of college, while others may leave it up to the student. No matter the situation, you should shop around for the most economical housing situation. Through your research, you might find that it’s less expensive to find housing off-campus with roommates, select a more affordable dorm, or live at your parents’ house. Taking the time to research your housing costs could help you lower the amount you need to borrow to pay for college.


7. Start at a community college

There are many reasons to attend a community college, like smaller class sizes and direct interaction with your professors. However, one of the most significant reasons is the reduced cost of college. Read how Matthew is cutting down his college expenses by taking his general education courses at a community college:

A further step that I have taken in my attempt to graduate debt-free is attending a community college for the first two years of my undergraduate program. I am glad to announce that I will be graduating next month with an associate’s degree in engineering sciences. What brings me even more joy is that I will be graduating from community college debt-free! Having paid my tuition with both the scholarships I received and my savings, I can now continue my education without a single loan on my back."

Matthew F

Matthew F.

University of Illinois at Chicago


8. Check out tuition reimbursement programs

When you’re looking for a job, you may find that some companies offer tuition reimbursement. Working for an employer who supports your college education can be a great way to gain valuable experience while reducing your out-of-pocket costs. When you accept this employer-paid funding, you will typically have to complete your part of the agreement. Often, your obligation is to work with the company for a specified period of time after you graduate. 


9. Choose the right college for you (and your budget)

When selecting a college, you shouldn’t choose a school based solely on which has the lowest sticker price. Instead, you should consider the total cost of attendance, location, size, extracurricular activities offered, and more. Carter, a student at Kansas State, explains how the location of his college influenced his decision and budget:

After researching schools carefully, I had 3 solid choices for colleges…Ultimately I chose Kansas State University to attend in the fall. Although the least expensive school was Mississippi State University, it was 11 hours away and additional travel expenses and possibly having to upgrade my older, high mileage vehicle helped me choose the college in my hometown. I plan to live on campus initially, but having the option to live at home in order to avoid taking on additional student loan debt is beneficial.…I am excited to have found an affordable college option at a school I love. By continuing to make smart and informed financial decisions I feel confident I can achieve my dreams without going into excessive debt.

Carter O

Carter O.

Kansas State University


10. Start saving a down payment for a house

 You should put your best effort into everything you do, but hard work is especially necessary in school. Your effort and attitude towards your education can influence your grades. A better academic record may put you in a more favorable position for scholarships. The more scholarships you receive, the less student loan money you will have to borrow. When you’re able to pay for college with just your income and dedicated savings, you’ll be able to better appreciate the times you chose to attend your 8am lectures instead of sleeping in.


11. Become a resident assistant (RA)

Becoming a RA could help you gain valuable experience in conflict resolution, event planning, and communication. Not only will you gain skills that can be beneficial in any future career, but working as an RA will help you reduce your college costs. Many times, students receive free room and board for their efforts. Explore how Alejandra from Butler University plans to reduce her debt from her residence hall:

“Once I am in college I plan on applying to be an RA for at least two years, which would greatly help lessen my debt. Paying for my room and board, and being a resident assistant at Butler sounds like an excellent way for me to shave off money owed to the school. I also would like to do a work-study, perhaps as a barista in the bookstore or as a clerk within the library.”

Alejandra S

Alejandra S.

Butler University


12. Do your best to graduate on time

While there are some circumstances beyond your control, you should do your best to graduate on time. A helpful approach is to plan your course schedule from orientation to graduation. You should meet with your advisor to see how often each class is offered and if any courses have prerequisites. Additionally, try to explore internships related to your major as a freshman or sophomore. Experiencing your chosen career path earlier can help you avoid changing majors later in your academic journey. Usually, students who graduate sooner tend to have less student loan debt as they avoid paying for extra semesters or classes unrelated to their major.


13. Keep an eye on your spending

College is full of new experiences. Because your college years often mark the first time you are responsible for your finances, it's easy to get caught up in spending. Cutting out unnecessary expenses can help you put more money towards your total college bill. A student from UCLA explains how he makes adjustments to his college budget:

In an effort to become more aware of my spending, I have transitioned to keeping a running list of all my purchases and expenses, and I break down my costs at the end of every month to understand what I am buying. I use this information to reflect on my spending habits and where I might improve;for example, I have learned to bring snacks with me to school everyday after noticing that I buy snacks at school several times a week. Being aware of my spending has allowed me to be more intentional with my money, and has improved my financial responsibility by encouraging me to stay conscious at all times and avoid haphazard, wasteful spending.

Vishnu P

Vishnu P.

University of California, Los Angeles


14. Pick up a side hustle

While adjusting your budget and avoiding late-night food runs can help cut costs in college, there are limits to how much you can save. Sometimes, increasing your income may be necessary, like with a flexible side hustle. A side hustle allows you to work around your regular student commitments, giving you the freedom to set your own hours. For example, if you like animals, offer to pet sit after classes for cash. If you have a nice camera and know how to use it, you can advertise your photography services to students on campus. These side hustles will help you bring in extra money each month to put towards your tuition or savings goals.



After reading these student tips for ways to pay for college without loans, you may now realize that graduating without student loans is within reach. However, despite your best efforts, there may be certain situations where taking out loans is necessary to fund your education. When dealing with student loans, only borrow the amount you need, opt for federal student loans over private ones, and focus on repaying your student loans quickly after graduation. Before long, you will hold up your diploma proudly, recognizing all the hard work and dedication that went toward achieving your dream.




🚩While scholarships are a great way to reduce your college debt, beware of these Common Scholarship Scams (And Learn How to Avoid Them).

📓 Improving your GPA can help you be a better candidate for scholarships and internships. Read these 7 Study Tips for College Students Preparing for Finals to potentially lower your total college bill.