5 Nontraditional Ways to Pay for College

By Neelam H. Vyas on Monday, September 16, 2013

That piggy bank college fund won’t last long as your college expenses start to stack up. College costs more than ever, and you may have to get creative to walk away four years later with money still in your wallet. While some students might turn to the usual ways of making a little cash, here are a few not-so-obvious ideas to think about:


When that four-year college sticker shock hits you, consider starting off at a community college. Tuition and fees at a community college are usually much less than at a traditional four-year school. According to College Board, the average annual price tag at a community college is $2,963. That’s nearly a third of the $8,244 average price tag for a year at a public four-year college.

Many students will use community colleges to take cheaper general education classes and then transfer their credits to a four-year college. This route allows you to graduate with a degree from a four-year college knowing that you’ve saved thousands of dollars.

FYI: While the traditional, residential college experience starts a little late, you’ll also save money by avoiding those room and board fees and staying at home for two years.


For a secure job that works around your academic schedule, try work-study. Federal work-study jobs are federally funded, part-time jobs, and the amount of dough you can earn from one depends on your financial need as determined by your FAFSA.

If you are eligible for the federal work-study program, a school official will work with you to put together a schedule that fits you and your academic commitments. Work-study jobs can be found on campus, in public agencies and sometimes with nonprofit and for-profit private organizations. You will earn at least federal minimum wage for your work.

FYI: Along with federal work-study jobs, some colleges also offer institutional work-study jobs, which are on-campus, part-time jobs that are not federally funded and that are available for all students, regardless of financial need. These jobs are usually found in different campus departments or offices. Contact your school to see what options are available to you.

A word of advice: If this is something you’re interested in, don’t forget to choose the federal work-study option when filling out your FAFSA at FAFSA.gov.

For more information about federal work-study, visit StudentAid.ed.gov.


Resident assistants, called RAs for short, are responsible for everything from mentoring younger students to managing conflicts between roommates or neighbors. The responsibility of being an RA also comes with some pretty sweet benefits. Although these benefits vary from college to college, they can include things like free housing, free or reduced meal payments, tuition discounts and free parking passes.

FYI: At most campuses, students must have completed a semester or two in order to apply for an RA position.

A word of advice: Don’t become an RA just for the perks. This job puts some serious responsibilities on your shoulders and will require your full commitment.


If you have a particular degree in mind from day one, check with your school to see if it offers an accelerated degree program in your discipline. These programs can put you on a fast track to earning your degree and save you thousands of dollars.

How’s that possible? Depending on the particular program, classes may all be online in mini-semesters or they may be on campus with fewer or shorter breaks.

Some colleges and universities even have programs where students can take courses at the undergraduate level that satisfy requirements for graduate-level degrees. These programs allow students to obtain a master’s degree in fewer semesters.

FYI: The bottom line is: Less time spent on earning your degree = less money spent on schooling.

A word of advice: Make sure an accelerated degree is something you’re passionate about. It can be challenging to complete and hard to balance with other obligations


Whether you decide to enter college or join the military first, there are plenty of military programs that offer financial support for your higher education dreams in exchange for a period of service. A number of scholarships are available for degree-seeking students — from ROTC cadets to veterans. As a bonus, many of these scholarships have benefits like monthly living allowances and money for books.

A word of advice: See our military story, Boot Camp Benefits.


Opportunities for money come in all shapes and sizes, so always keep an eye out for ways to earn a little extra cash.

For example, CollegeNET.com offers weekly scholarships worth $300 to $1,000 based on your involvement in its discussion boards, which pose questions on everything from global issues to personal beliefs.

Or, you may find opportunities to earn money at school by participating in research studies or holding a student leadership position.

With a little bit of creativity and an open mind, you can find ways to earn that degree without going into debt.