Sunday, March 31, 2013

College is costly: 7 innovative ideas for funding

For some, the hardest part about going to college is not deciding whether college is right for you, the admissions process, or the workload you have once you get there.  For many the hardest part about going to college is paying for it. Regardless of where you go to school, College costs a lot of money.

For students who choose to go to college, here are some ideas for great places to turn for funding.

1. Your Community
Your community undoubtedly has at least a few civic and booster groups that offer scholarships. These scholarships might only be for modest amounts but every little bit helps, right? Beyond this, there are private organizations and businesses that also have scholarships to give out. Spend some time calling around to local businesses and asking about opportunities for scholarships or school sponsorships.

CAVEAT: most local scholarships require that the recipient attend a local or in-state school. This is probably not the best option if you want to go to school out of state or abroad.

2. Third Party Scholarships
Tracking down third party scholarships is time consuming. These are scholarships that are offered by independent businesses, groups, foundations, etc. They don’t always publicize themselves well so you have to be willing to put in the “leg work” to track them down. Before you simply start calling every corporation you know of, spend some time searching through the scholarship databases like FastWeb.There are also sites that have scholarship contests. You can try this one here.

3. The Government                                                                      
Fill out the Free App for Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s annoying and the first time you do it. It is time consuming but it’s the quickest way to find out just how much you can get granted to you via Pell Grants, etc. It’s also how you start the student loan process. You don’t have to agree to your loans right now, but it’s good to know how much you will qualify for if you need them.

4. The School Itself
The school you want to attend has a financial aid department. Contact them and ask them for scholarship and grant applications. Some schools will offer promising students a full ride. Others will give grants that cover as much as 50% of tuition and housing.

5. Start college when you are high school age
Many states allow students to start college while you are high school age and the local school district will pick up the cost for at least a few courses. For example in New York City there is a program called College Now for youth that are in school or home educated and are of the age of 11th or 12th graders. The classes you take are paid for as part of public education and participants who pass their classes receive college credit.  Students like Rylie VanOrsdol skipped high school all together and went straight to college with the local school district footing a part of the bill for her college courses.

6. Credit by exam
Students like Alexandria Potter suggest considering credit by exam allows you to study at your own pace, using whatever resources you can find, for however long it takes you - you take an exam at one of many testing centers and you get college credit. There are so many classes available this way. It cuts the time, the cost and allows you so much flexibility. It allows you to actually take the time to learn in a way that suites you. And once you are comfortable that you know your stuff, you take the exam.

7. Tuition Reimbursement
It’s worth noting that there are a lot of companies out there that offer tuition assistance programs for employees or their children. Sometimes these programs are only available to current employees so consider getting a job there and going to school part time. If you are more interested in going to school full time, there are some businesses out there that will agree to pay for a student’s tuition if that student agrees to work for the company for a few years after he or she graduates. This helps you pay for school and lines up your first post-collegiate job all at the same time (which will save you a lot of stress and hassle as you get closer to graduating).

These are some sources of college funding (outside of your own bank account).  The work involved in paying for school is huge, but taking the time to get part of the bill covered, will pay off in the long run.


  1. May I also recommend taking classes at a community college to avoid the higher cost of general education classes with your major classes? I took 10 gen-eds at community college. Not only did I not have to pay for them at the university, I also received a transfer scholarship from the university. Probably saved me nearly @12,000!

    Lee P. Wygant

    1. You are right. That's such a smart idea that is overlooked by many. Taking it further, I'm also thinking, move to a state where you want state tuition and go to their community college so that by the time you go to that college you're in state. Does that make sense? What do you think?

  2. Hi Lisa,

    With all due respect, I'm not sure I understand how most these constitute "innovation." I'm almost 15 years past applying for undergrad, and all of these were options then and were before that. In fact, most colleges have long recommended these methods for financing education when you're accepted and considering enrollment.

    Don't get me wrong. They're good ideas. They're just hardly new or "innovative."

    1. @Jappling,
      While these may be old ideas to you, I can assure you that for many of the students and families I speak with, many never realized several of these options exist.

      How many students do you know that skip high school and go straight to college? Not many.

      How many home educating families knew their children can get college funded if they are high school age? This is new news for quite a few.

      How many students know you can CLEP out of courses? Many don't.

      I think it is interesting though. What is so obvious to you truly is unknown to a huge number of people. When you introduce ideas / ways of doing something that people never thought of or knew excited, that's innovative.

      It reminds me of a saying, "Technology was only technology to those born before it."

      Perhaps similarly, "Innovation is only innovation to those who have not been exposed."

    2. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Lisa. You have a point, and I do like the closing quote.

  3. I agree with you Lisa since many students do not apply for finaid since the process can get complicated. The long lines, the forms, the misinformation - people (especially students ) should be continually reminded of various alternatives they can use for funding their education.