How to Pay for College Without Loans

by Ryan Yates

Long before our little peanut was born, I found myself worrying about how we would get him through college (starting in 2028!) without huge student loans.

Considering the fact that the average college graduate leaves school with $19,000 in student loan debt these days-and the cost of college is rising far more quickly than inflation-it’s understandable that I’m already worrying about our son’s education.

However, it is possible to send your child to college without taking out student loans, even if college is a lot closer than 2028. Here are some ways to avoid the monster of student debt:

Scholarships to Pay for College

While most of us think of athletic scholarships when it comes to getting someone else to pay for Junior’s education, there are many more opportunities than just football and basketball scholarships. Within athletics, becoming a phenom in a less popular sport like fencing or bowling can be a way for student athletes to go to school for free.

In addition, there are scholarships available for academics, community service, future educators, etc, etc. Do some research and it’s likely you’ll find that both your future college and many local organizations have some money set aside for a student like yours who can now afford that social work degree they have been wanting.

These scholarships can be either merit based or need based-so your child has several opportunities to prove that she is a worthy candidate.

College Courses in High School

Many high schools have partnered with local community colleges and universities to give motivated students the chance to take entry-level college courses while still enrolled in high school.

In addition, most high schools offer Advanced Placement courses that allow you to test out of freshman level classes while still in high school. If your student works hard in these courses while still in high school, she could potentially enter college with sophomore standing, saving a lot of money, including a year of tuition.

Work and Save

This may seem like a no-brainer, but Mom and Dad taking on a second job or having your student work and put away every penny toward college will certainly help the bottom line. Since your second job or Junior’s work after school will not be needed for your regular bills, this money can add up fairly quickly.

Let Uncle Sam Pay

If your child is willing to give the military a couple of years, she will reap the benefits in being able to attend college on the military’s dime. In addition, your student will have the opportunity to learn career skills during her time there.

Choose the School Wisely

Going to the local community college for two years before transferring to a university will save a great deal of money, meaning that tuition may be within reach without taking student loans. See this community college ranking. Having your student live at home during that time will save even more money.

Put Off School for a Year or Two

If your student has his heart set on an expensive school, a compromise that could make that tuition easier to handle would be for Junior to live at home and work full time for a little while so that he has enough money for Big Bucks University.

Despite what “everyone” does, it is certainly possible to get a great education without graduating with debt. I know that when my peanut is ready for school, we will work together as a family to figure out how to keep his education from financially constricting him after graduation.

Photo by JMRosenfeld


Steve MoneyPlanSOS Stewart July 10, 2011 at

Thanks for the post Jeff (and Emily). I did not get a 4 year degree and paid for the college courses I did take out of my own pocket, so this is probably the one financial subject I am NOT qualified to teach to my clients about other than to save up and pay for it.
But I have a pre-teen daughter, so I am beginning to see the need to learn more about college than just “where do you want to go”. I guess I will be looking for more posts about course selection, cafeteria food selections, and the value of the education vs the school’s cost of tuition & dorms.
Zac Bissonnette, Author of Debt Free U, has agreed to be a guest on my podcast and will probably be released in the MoneyPlanSOS Podcast Episode #24. I am CERTAIN to learn more about paying for college without loans when I interview him!

Jason@LiveRealNow July 10, 2011 at

My kid’s on the AP math track in school. They warned us that not all colleges accept all AP credits.

Rob July 13, 2011 at

I just did a post on 10 things I wish I new before college and this is fits in perfectly with the one on paying for your education. Oh, how I wish I would have figured this one out first!

Becky July 20, 2011 at

One big thing is go to community college for 2 years and then transfer to a university. You knock out the classes that everyone has to take, i.e. basic college math and english for a fraction of the price. Plus if your folks let you, living at home will be a cheaper option than a dorm or an apartment. Yes, you have to give up a few things to do this, but in the end the savings are great.

Mike September 13, 2011 at

Good point that not all scholarships are athletic based, for example, our county offers full scholarships to individuals who serve the volunteer fire fighters for 5 years. Thank you for the article.

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