How to Pay for College: 9 Tuition Hacks

College is important, but paying for college can be a challenge. Here are 9 tuition hacks to help you pay for your college education.

There is no doubt that further education is important. According to The Price of Knowledge, “over the course of 40 years, a college graduate will earn $394,000 more than a high school graduate. A bachelor’s degree holder will earn a premium of $745,800 over the course of 40 years.” However, at the same time, education is also becoming expensive. According to College Board, the average tuition and fee price for full-time in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities is $10,440 in 2019-20. The number increases to $36,880 for private schools. The huge financial burden and potential debt that can come along with education makes saving hacks so much more important. Today, I am going to show you nine different hacks that you can employ to pay for your college tuition.

Try your best to get good grades

Having a respectable transcript can open so many doors for you, not just a good job after school. In fact, you can earn money with your transcript, in the forms of college scholarships and bursaries. The university administrators and donors love good students. They have financial assistance programs in place to help you achieve your goals. These people are more than happy to support you to pay for your college tuition.

Take myself for example. When I was in first-year university, I was working two part-time jobs in order to support myself. Of course, as a 19-year-old, I was earning barely above minimum wage. Additionally, as a result of more than 30 hours of work a week, my grades were slipping.

Being a math student who felt burnt out with work and academic workload, I did some calculations on a piece of scrap paper. I quickly realized that if I stopped working as much and spent more time studying, I could very likely earn just as much money from scholarships and bursaries as working part-time waiting tables and cleaning the kitchen.

I decided to give it a try and quit one of my jobs in order to focus more school. My grades improved significantly in the second semester. When the second year rolled around, I secured some scholarships totalling a few thousand dollars to pay for my college tuition. It would have been hundreds of hours sweating in the kitchen scrubbing floors to get the same amount of money. What was better, as I soon found out, was that the scholarships and bursaries were actually tax free!

Trying your hardest to get good grades pay dividends in the long-run.

It is really worthwhile to get as good of a grade as you can. If you find your grades suffer as a result of over-working, I recommend you that, if at all possible, to try to work less, and spend more time studying. Honestly, schools reward you for good grades and your hard-working attitude towards schooling. It is earning with your brain vs. earning with your hard labour. If you can choose, you should prioritize the first one.

You do not have to be the top 1% of students to benefit from financial assistance

One myth I’d like to debunk, which could be a reason why students don’t try hard to get free money from school, is that you don’t have to be the top 1% to have access to those opportunities to have others’ support to pay for your college tuition. While it is true that some scholarships and bursaries are only awarded to the top 1%, there are many more that cater to a broader student population. At the end of the day, your school wants you to succeed, and they can’t just rely on the top 1%. There are resources available, and your school is always willing to help you, as long as you can demonstrate that you are trying your best at school.

Leverage your uniqueness

Are you a senior, a stay-at-home mom looking to reignite your career, a veteran, a minority, or a first-generation college student? There are a lot of resources, including financial assistance, that target specific segment of the population.

If you are none of the above, chances are you may still be unique enough to qualify for some assistance through some diligent research. Never consider yourself to be “generic”, or “average”. You’d be surprised how many resources are out there. There are even bursaries in my school designed for people graduated from specific high schools, or people who grew up in a specific area. Think about all your life experiences, and research, research, research!

Claim all tax credits available (through your parents)

As a student, you may be eligible for some tuition tax credits, both at the federal and provincial/state levels. Make sure that you investigate and understand what tax credits are available to you.

If you are a student, you may not earn enough to have to pay income taxes. Even if you do, your income tax will typically be within the lowest bracket. If this is the case, you may consider transferring the tax credits to your parents, if your government allows it. Since your parents normally earn a higher income, they will most likely be taxed at a higher tax bracket than you. By having them claim the tax credit, your family can receive a bigger tax refund overall.

Take classes through online learning platforms

What if you just want to gain a specific skill, or take some French lessons for fun? Well, nowadays, you don’t necessarily have to pay a hefty sum to get the education. Coursera, Udemy, or even YouTube, are all wonderful platforms for you to learn something online. Most classes are free. Even if you decide to pursue a certificate through any of these platforms, the tuitions are significantly less than those from a brick-and-mortar institution. The quality of the education there is quite high, as many of these classes are taught by professors from top-notch universities, or business people with ample industry experiences.

When it comes to taking online classes through these platforms, self-discipline is really critically important. I personally find it most helpful to set aside a specific time on a recurring basis (e.g., Wednesday 6-9pm).

Of course, there is still a long way to go for credibility of your certification via online platforms to be recognized. Therefore, if you are looking for some universally recognizable designations like your CFA or CPA, I recommend that you still go through the traditional route. However, if you are just trying to get some exposure to a certain discipline, or are exploring out of pure interest, these online platforms are a fantastic gateway.

Take online versions of in-person classes

Now, what if you want a globally recognizable designation, such as a CFA or a CPA? I personally am pursuing a CPA designation because I think it complements my career well. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a Coursera version of the program. This means that I have to pay a fairly sizeable tuition. However, just because you are looking for a professional certification, doesn’t mean that you can’t save money. One route to accomplish that is to take the courses online.

Many programs nowadays offer an online version and an in-person version of the same class. The online version is usually significantly less expensive. For example, for my CPA prep courses, the online version is almost 30% less expensive than the in-person version, even though the contents are identical. The online classes are also less expensive to run for the institutions, because they don’t require a physical classroom, and the class size is not limited to the physical space available.

Take classes through your community centre or library

Many local community centres and libraries offer classes or educational programs. My local library, for example, offers more than 300 courses across 50 different branches. It even offers classes like 3D printing, oil painting, and yoga. Some of these classes are free. Others do cost some money, usually in the low hundreds. This is still significantly less expensive compared to >$1,000 per course through universities or colleges. Take advantage of these opportunities if you can. Lifelong learning does not have to be expensive.

Take advantage of your employer’s tuition policy to help pay relevant college courses

What if you are already working but still wanting to pursue further education. Well, first of all, congratulations for securing a job, and kudos to you for wanting to continue your study!

Many employers offer tuition refunds or support to help their employees pay for college courses that are relevant to their positions. Check with your human resources department to find out about your company’s tuition policy. Even if they don’t have a formal policy, you should still make a case for yourself. If what you plan to study is relevant for your job and you have proven yourself to be a good employee, then your employer may consider providing you some financial relief. Even if they can’t reimburse you, they may give you a few days off to study for your exams. Any perk is good, isn’t it?

Take advantage of your alumni status

If you are considering pursuing further education after your bachelor’s degree, you may want to take courses through your alma mater. For example, upon my graduation, my university offered college tuition credits that could be used to pay for courses through the its own continuing education programs. Even if your university doesn’t offer free money, they may offer better discounts on course fees for alumni. It never hurts to give your alma mater a call to understand their policies.

If you can’t find anything, just ask.

At the end of the day, you may not have all the answers, but you can always ask. Ask people you know, ask on online forums, or the call financial assistance office at your school. Although I have been told “no” many many times, I have also been surprised by how many times I got something I wanted, simply by asking. At the end of the day, there are people who are willing to help you navigate your financial life as a college student, and they may point you to ways to pay for your college you have never thought of before.

Final words

I hope you find the above tuition hacks helpful. Leave a comment down below to share your experience, or to share any additional methods!

Of course, going to college is not the only path after high school. My friend Todd at Invested Wallet has a great article on alternatives to college.

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2 thoughts on “How to Pay for College: 9 Tuition Hacks”

  1. The scholarships I’ve seen have been so specific that anyone can find something to help them. Also That tuition reimbursement is a big one. If your employer has it, use that. That’s how I’m planning to find my MBA online. Every little bit counts in this race to the top.

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