How To Pay for College

Pay for College

Attending college is a significant time and monetary investment, but many people find that it pays off. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, people with a college degree can earn up to $18,000 more per year depending on their age and experience levels. Even if you cannot pay for your education up front, the long-term benefits to your income and career potential make getting a degree worth it. 

There are multiple ways to pay for college and getting an education might be more affordable than you think. Here are a few channels to consider along with the benefits and potential drawbacks of each. 

How Much Does College Cost? 

In 2023, the average student spent $31,000 to cover the tuition, supplies, and room and board for a four-year degree. The cost of a two-year degree was around $12,300. Tuition prices varied significantly depending on whether the student attended a private, out-of-state, or in-state school. 

College costs have risen significantly over the years. In the past two decades, the in-state tuition and fees at public national universities increased by 158% on average. This is why so many people find attending college daunting. The estimated cost can push many students away from signing up for classes. 

Paying for College By Yourself: How To Pay for College Without Loans  

Know that you don’t immediately have to apply for student loans to finance your college coursework. Here are a few ways to pay for college that won’t put you in debt. 

Download the Free Stock Loan Calculator

Your portfolio’s value can be unlocked even if you don’t sell a single share in the open market.

If you haven’t checked it out already, here is a free stock loan calculator to help you size out a loan for your shares.

Simply enter a symbol and the number of shares you own, and you’ll see a potential loan amount that we can fund quickly.

Download the free Stock Loan Calculator now

529 Plans  

A 529 plan through the Securities and Exchange Commission allows you to set aside funds for college. You can either start saving for college to cover your own tuition or to pay for your child’s education. Because you cannot use the funds for other things, like with a traditional savings account, this could be a good resource if you want to make sure you have enough money saved up. 

Investing in a 529 plan could prevent you from taking out student loans. This investment growth is also tax-free because you invest after-tax dollars

The SEC also has prepaid tuition plans that essentially allow you to pay for future credits now. When the time comes to enroll in your local university, you can pull from these funds. 


Grants are similar to scholarships in that you receive money to attend college and do not have to pay it back. Federal Pell Grants are given to students who have significant financial needs, and you can also apply for state grants, private grants from specific groups, and specialized grants based on what you plan to study. 

For example, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grants are awarded to students who intend to become teachers in elementary or secondary school. If you are pursuing a career in early childhood education, consider applying for one of these grants. 


Educational institutions, along with private and public entities, offer scholarships to help students cover coursework and other college-related expenses. For example, you could receive a scholarship from the college you plan to attend or a non-profit organization might provide a scholarship to cover part of your costs. You do not have to pay scholarships back.

There are multiple scholarship search engines online that help you find and apply for financing. Here are a few examples of scholarship programs you will find:

  • Scholarships for disadvantaged groups, like marginalized students, refugees, immigrants, or people from poor families.
  • Major specific scholarships, like funding for engineering students or art students.
  • Scholarships based on religion, like a program to help Jewish students cover their university costs. 
  • Scholarships to support military veterans or active-duty surface members who want to pursue higher education. 
  • Scholarships for working parents who need to cover tuition as well as childcare. 

Scholarships can be a few hundred dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the institution that issues them. 

Using a Loan To Pay for College

While grants and scholarships are useful for reducing the overall cost of attending college, they likely won’t be enough to fully cover all of your expenses. If you decide to take out student loans, know your options. Research the different loan types available and the costs that come with them. This will help you secure reasonable financing with fair loan terms. 

Using a Federal Student Loan To Pay for College

Federal student loans are some of the most common sources of financial aid for university students. The federal government issues fixed-rate loans and tries to offer competitive rates that beat private lenders. The goal of these programs is to help more people procure university degrees. 

You don’t repay federal student loans until you finish college; however, it is still important to track how much you owe. 

Using a Private Student Loan To Pay for College

If you do not qualify for federal student loans, you may be able to cover your college tuition with private financing. These loans differ from federal ones because you have to go through the underwriting process. This means the lender will look at the current state of your finances and determine how much they are willing to let you borrow. 

If you have a high credit score and your finances are in order, you should be approved for the loan. However, if you have poor credit, you might be approved for a smaller loan amount or have to pay higher interest rates. Shop around with different private lenders to ensure you get the best rates possible. 

Using a Parent Loan To Pay for College 

If your parents do not want you to take out student loans and fall into debt to earn your college degree, they can take out Direct PLUS loans for parents. With these loans, your parents take on the debt and use the money to cover your tuition. Biological, adoptive, and stepparents can take out these loans. 

You still need to meet the eligibility requirements for federal student aid and your parent needs to have good credit to receive the financing. 

Using a Personal Loan To Pay for College

You can also work with financial institutions to take out personal loans. These loans are usually unsecured, which means the lenders rely on your credit score and other finances to determine your loan amount and interest rates. 

Some lenders don’t allow borrowers to use personal loans for college tuition. However, you might be able to use the money to cover housing costs and other non-education-related expenses that you accrue while pursuing your degree. 

Using a Stock Loan To Pay for College

If you or your parents own shares in publicly traded companies, you can take out stock loans to cover the cost of your tuition. These are loans that use your stocks as collateral against the money you borrow. The value of the shares you own will determine how much you can receive and you still maintain ownership of your stocks — you are not selling them to the lender. 

Download the Free Stock Loan Calculator

Your portfolio’s value can be unlocked even if you don’t sell a single share in the open market.

If you haven’t checked it out already, here is a free stock loan calculator to help you size out a loan for your shares.

Simply enter a symbol and the number of shares you own, and you’ll see a potential loan amount that we can fund quickly.

Download the free Stock Loan Calculator now

This could be a good option if you do not qualify for federal student aid and do not want to apply for private, unsecured loans. By applying for secured loans that use your stocks as collateral, you might receive favorable interest rates that lower the cost of borrowing the money. However, this might not be a viable option if you do not have a lot of money invested in stocks. 

Use the stock loan calculator to see if you’re eligible for a loan and to determine how much you could potentially receive. 

Tips for Saving Money While Attending College 

Even with scholarships, grants, and student loans, college can be expensive. Fortunately, there are several ways to cut back on your costs. Here are a few options to consider. 

  • Live at home: Save on housing by attending a nearby university and continue living with your parents.
  • Complete your prerequisite courses locally: Community college tuition might be more affordable. 
  • Work while you learn: Cut back on your coursework and get a job while you are enrolled in college. You can use your earnings to cover tuition costs. 
  • Take advantage of student discounts: Many organizations help students save money, so you can lower your overall costs. 
  • See which course materials you need: Your professor might work with you if you can’t afford the necessary books. You might also be able to share with other students in your class. 

Attending college doesn’t have to be a dream. Instead, think of it as an investment in your future career. Look for multiple opportunities to receive scholarships, save money, and take out reasonable loans. This can help you make smart financial decisions while you learn. 


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