Financial Planning Paying for College

Can You Work & Pay For College? How To Afford Tuition Without Parents Help

college student in blue sweater standning in front of chalk board with flexing muscles drawn on it
Written by Tenesha

In a perfect life, your parents would be rich or you would get a full scholarship that also covers living expenses. Hence, you would have absolutely no worries about your college tuition. However, in reality, financing college is one of the toughest challenges facing many college students globally.

Student loans have become a refuge for many students who would not have been able to attend college due to lack of financial support. Still, starting life with a hefty student loan hovering over your head can be quite a struggle. If you don’t believe me, ask someone who’s had to put off buying a home and starting a family because they can’t clear their student loan. For many, student loans have turned out to be a sentence for life in debt.

There was a time when people used to brag about working their way through college. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for students to work and pay for college. Studies have shown that tuition in the U.S. has skyrocketed to thousands of dollars more than what it cost ten years ago. The U.S. Education Department has confirmed that there was a 34% increase in tuition cost from the 2005/2006 academic year to 2015/2016. Hence, the average annual cost for college tuition in 2015/2016 for a four-year college was around $17,000 for public colleges and a whopping $43,000 for private colleges.

Working and paying for college looks pretty steep currently. However, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible. Paying your way through college all come down to careful planning.

If you are determined to graduate from college debt free, here are some tips and tricks that you can try to work and pay for college.

1. Choose an affordable college

A well-renowned college does look nice on your résumé. However, when you are trying to get through college debt-free, you have to ask yourself; how important is brand name to you? Are you willing to spend thousands of dollars more to be associated with a popular name? Or is it better to pay less for a college degree or diploma that is equally accredited and has an equal value to those offered at famous colleges? I am by no means recommending that you choose a college that offers the cheapest tuition matched with the poorest quality education. That would be a total waste of your time and money. However, you should research the most affordable colleges in the U.S. that offer quality education and better suit your budget.

2.Stick to your budget

After you’ve done your research on the college program that is most affordable and suitable for you. Then it is time to make a realistic budget and stick to it. Knowing what college will cost can help you to set realistic financial goals. For instance, you can decide how much money you need to earn within a specific period to finance your college fees and expenses. Hence, you can decide whether you’re going to get a different job, earn some extra cash online or even have a yard sale to earn the money you need.

Setting a realist budget also helps you to find innovative ways to make your living expenses as lean as possible. For instance, you can consider: buying second-hand items, getting a roommate to share rent and bills and getting coupons to offset the price of food and other necessities. Hence, you can maximize on saving money on campus and reducing the need to get into any debt whether credit cards or medium or long-term loans.

3. Manage your time wisely

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of working and studying that you start to operate like a robot instead of a real person. However, you must be careful to manage your time wisely to make sure that you still maintain a healthy balance between work and school. Make sure that you set a realistic schedule for both work and school so that you do not perform poorly in either of them.

Set your priorities and make sure that you can adjust your work schedule to find more time to effectively do more challenging college assignments. Besides working and attending college, you have to set aside time for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This could mean ensuring that you: have healthy meals, go to the gym, enjoy your social life and find time to relax. Don’t allow yourself to suffer from burnout or mental breakdown by putting too much pressure on yourself. Be realistic or all your efforts could turn out to be a big waste of time and money.

4. Find jobs that pay well

There is value in the quote that says, “You should work smart not hard”. Working and studying at the same time is certainly more work but you can work smarter to earn more without doing much more work. For instance, I encourage college students to find jobs that offer more earning potential within the same time limits. Research the best-paying jobs for college students and find the one that best suits your skills with the least demands and the most earning potential.

If you are a very outgoing person with superior persuasive skills, go for sales jobs with unlimited earning potential. However, I would say to be on the safer side, select a sales job that has a basic income plus commissions. That way, you can be sure that even a minimum income is secure and there is no cap on your income at the same time. Another great option is to become a server/bartender and use your charm to tap into an unlimited amount of tips. Also, capitalizing on online earnings is a great way to go as you instantly cut out traveling expenses and other associated costs of working outside of your home.

Don’t forget that your bottom line is to pay for college and graduate debt free. Hence, make sure you choose jobs that pay well without compromising your ability to perform well in college. You can also check out part-time jobs that offer great incentives for college students. No one knows your priorities better than you do. There are a variety of options available to help you finish college debt free. However, you have to decide what works best for you.

5. Get financial aid

While you will try your best to work and pay your way through college, you should never underestimate the value of financial aid. The federal government has a variety of financial aid for college students and you should see how these can be of benefit to you. Life comes with unforeseen disasters and accidents and that is why insurance is so important. Applying for financial aid is your insurance plan if things go wrong. You need a safety net if working and studying spirals out of control and you have to stop working. Additionally, many federal student loans are accompanied by free grants and scholarships.

You could take that free money without paying a dime of interest on the student loan. All you need to do is to maintain a healthy work and study balance and aim to pay off your tuition in full during the interest-free repayment period.

Many people claim that paying your way through college these days is almost impossible. But, almost means there is a small window of opportunity to beat the odds. So back to the question, “Can you work and pay for college?” Yes, you can! You can work and pay your way through college by planning your journey carefully.

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About the author


Edmonton Canada based freelance copywriter & College Basics contributor.