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How to Afford College when You’re Broke

College isn’t cheap — and I’m all for finding ways to make it more affordable. This guest post is by Andrew of shares a few great tips for saving on your educational costs. Meanwhile, you can check out his new blog for a host of scholarship opportunities (like this crazy one for Star Trek fans). Over to Andrew…

Every Fall and Spring, millions of college kids move back to school for the semester.  Move-in day is an exciting time, and it sets the stage for a semester full of class, homework, and fun.  If you are a part of this movement, then you most likely are looking forward to the semester with excitement but maybe also a little dread.  Why do you ask?  Your wallet might be able to tell you at the end of the semester.  

Long story short, the broke college kid stereotype exists for a reason.  Many college students are away from home for the first time in their lives which means they get to manage their own money for the first time.  Each semester essentially drains you of funds; in many cases, you are frugally getting by at the end.  There are many culprits; for instance, tuition, food, textbooks, fun, and more all subtract from your personal wealth.

With all this in mind, you can approach things differently to counter the onslaught of expenses.  After all, stereotypes are meant to be broken.  There are plenty of ways to tackle the many costs of college including tuition and everything else.  Here is a short list of some tried and true ways to get you through college while broke.

1. Student Loans

Federal government provides student loans to anyone who is eligible after filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online.  On top of this, there are many different private lenders on the market who are willing to lend financial aid to the creditworthy.  With these two options, it is entirely possible to cover the cost of tuition which leaves room for other living expenses.

Student loans come at an obvious cost.  While they can essentially fund your higher education, you are adding debt to your name every semester (every month actually) from building interest.  Affording college for today is important, but paying off thousands of dollars of debt down the road is a tough task.  With all that in mind, sometimes student loans are unavoidable if you need to get a degree, but statistically speaking, it is a worthwhile investment.

2. Live Off-Campus

Another distinct characteristic of college is the dorm experience.  Living with a bunch of other college kids in a dorm can be a ton of fun, but there is one aspect that may drag you down.  It is extremely expensive.  In many cases, you will find that a room and board plan costs thousands of dollars per semester, and many of them include an expensive meal plan.  Luckily, there are alternatives.

A classic solution to the expensive dorm option is to simply live off-campus.  Many colleges and universities are surrounded by towns that have an established rental industry.  This is perfect for you if you want to find a cheaper place to live in because almost all colleges have cheaper rentals in the area.  The idea here is clear.  You save money on rent, so you can afford other things.

3. Scholarships

Earlier it was mentioned that student loans are a great way to pay for college, but it was also mentioned that they put a price on your head.  If you want to avoid paying off interest and thousands in student loan debt, then you are going to be interested in student loan alternatives.  One of the most prominent alternatives happens to be scholarships.  These help pay college tuition which leaves you with more money to put elsewhere, and scholarships do not leave you in debt.

There are thousands of merit-based, unique, and random scholarships for all sorts of different demographics, ages, extracurricular activities, and more.  Scholarships are extremely valuable which in turn makes them extremely competitive.  The best way to secure a scholarship is to search online for as many quality opportunities as possible.  A few scholarships can make the difference between thousands in debt or no debt at all.

4. Federal Work Study

The government has created a few different ways to pay for college; in fact, they have started a program that helps students afford college.  The Federal Work Study program provides on-campus part-time jobs at universities, and you receive paychecks from the government for your work.  In order to sign up for this program, you need to fill out the FAFSA online which will tell you if you are eligible.

The whole purpose of this program is to help fund the overall cost of attendance, so the money can be put towards food, textbooks, rent, or tuition.  Overall, it is a solid option with a degree of flexibility since the aid can be put towards multiple expenses.

5. Buy Textbooks Online or Avoid Them

Long story short, textbooks are ridiculously expensive.  Pricing for textbooks have skyrocketed over the past decade, and they can cost you thousands of dollars a year.  In many cases, you are forced to buy these textbooks because they are required for the class.  Overall, it puts you in a tough spot from a financial standpoint.  There are ways to cut down on textbook costs.

First things first, avoid buying a new textbook at all costs.  You can almost always find a used textbook at a reduced price.  While they may be older, these books are normally 90% similar to the newer edition.  Where is the best place to look?  You want to search online using Amazon, Google, and any other useful websites.  You can compare multiple different prices on different sites in order to find the best deal.  On the other hand, you can always go to class and ask the professor if the book will be mandatory for the class.  In some cases, you can completely avoid buying the textbook.

6. Find Student Discounts

One of the less well-known perks of being a college student is the student discounts.  There are tons of companies that offer special discounts to college students; additionally, many of these companies have locations next to college campuses.  All you have to do is ask.  Many of these companies offer 10% or 15% off of a purchase when you present a student ID.  Think of it this way.  You can save 10% or 15% on all purchases if you find the right stores to shop at.

7. Work a Part-Time Job

When in doubt on how to afford college, work a part-time job.  Plenty of college students simply cannot make it through the semester without running short on funds, so the next logical decision is to replace those funds.  Finding and keeping a part-time job throughout college can be strenuous, but sometimes it is your best option.

Earning a paycheck every two weeks will let you enjoy yourself more when you decide to let loose, and this money can go towards the overall cost of tuition.  In short, you will have more financial flexibility and stability with a part-time job.  It may be the most effective way to break out of the classic broke college kid stereotype.  

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This post was written by a guest contributor. Money Nomad accepts high quality, informative, guest posts. If you have unique insight to share with the Money Nomad audience, then please email with your article idea.

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  1. Once I got accepted into college I didn’t search for anymore scholarships other than the ones offered by my school. The scholarships I did receive shaved $10,000 off my total bill, but, I still walked away with $50k in student loans. That money could have been used to buy a nice car, make a down payment for a small house, invest, etc.

    I followed #’s 1, 3, & 5 during school, but now I wonder if I could have qualified for more scholarships had I looked and realized money doesn’t grow on trees!

    1. I’m right there with you Josh! When you’re in high school and early college there are a lot of visions of $100k salaries right out of school (or a hugely successful startup). Unfortunately, when that doesn’t work out, you’re stuck with a bill as big as your salary (or bigger for some). Hopefully we can spread the word at help others avoid these same mistakes!

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