Keep Calm and College On: How to Pay for Your Dream College

Don’t Go Crazy with College Debt

What can you do to ensure you receive an outstanding education and a well-deserved degree at a reasonable price? There are a few different routes to help lower the price of your tuition before, during and after school.

Maybe you are naïve like I was, as a senior in high school. At 17 years old I thought “it doesn’t matter how much college costs, I’ll just take out a bunch of loans and pay them back right out of college when I have my awesome dream job.”

A few years older and wiser I realize taking on a loan for $160,000 with interest is a frightening thought, especially when my salary right out of college will most likely be around $35,000 a year.

Getting your self into that much debt is not a good idea, especially with our economy…even if they say it’s getting better.

Choice of College

The college or university you decide to attend makes a big difference. Do your research to see what the college offers and what tuition includes.

For example, a student at DePaul University claimed she was in the fashion-designing program. There is not a fashion-designing program at DePaul. Another example, at Western Michigan University a degree in aviation costs $10,000 more than regular tuition.

If you want to go to a state school in Texas, but you are a resident of Illinois your tuition will be significantly more than if you went to a state school in Illinois. However, some colleges do offer lower rates for out-of-state students. For the sake of student loan debt, make sure it is worth it to go to a state school outside of your state.

Private Universities may seem more costly, but many have the ability to give more grants and scholarships due to their private donors. Ask about what they can offer you. The cost may be lowered similar to a state school’s tuition.

Attending a community college or junior college for your first two years can cut costs drastically. Every degree begins with basic requirements. In the end, if you choose to transfer, your diploma will have the name of the University and not any other place of learning.

U.S. News complied a list on where colleges rank. This obviously is not the definitive list, but it is a suitable reference.

Last but not least just keep an open mind, because your dream school could be one you might not expect.


It’s one of those “everybody does it” situations. It is probable you will still have to take on some sort of loans, but the less the better.

Pay attention to the interest rate if nothing else, because it effects how much you actually pay back. If you have a $10,000 loan at 7% fixed rate compared to the same loan with a variable rate; the amount you pay back can be profoundly different. Naturally, a higher interest rate means more money you will ultimately need to pay back.

There are various options of obtaining student loans. Banks, private lenders, corporations, credit card companies, and your school are few that offer loans. Please, READ THE FINE PRINT! I know it’s annoying, but you need to know what you are signing your life away to. It’s a real contract, no joke. Sorry, no takesie backsies.

Most student loans offer a grace period of about 6 months to a year until you must start paying back your loans. It’s a pretty nice offer, but if you have a job and are able to make a payment- do it. The longer you wait the longer it will take to pay off…not to mention the added interest.

Here is a tip- for those unsure about abilities to make the payments right away. Set up a bank account and put the money you can pay into there, until your grace period is finished. This will allow you to start budgeting and ensure you can make the first couple of payments no problem.

Making a larger payment instead of the minimum payment will help minimize your debt. I know you want to buy an awesome Michael Kors watch, but I promise if that money towards your student loan instead you’ll be better off.

You can use an interest rate calculator to figure out what you are getting yourself into.


What are Grants? Are they just kind, generous guys named Grant that just give you a bunch of money to go to school? Unfortunately, no. They are still relatively generous though, Grants are funds that you usually do not pay back. These funds come from the federal government, state government, colleges, and private or nonprofit organizations.

Students receive these funds for various reasons; you just have to apply. Applications for each year start in early January, but you can still apply now. Usually the earlier you apply means you will receive more aid. Amounts of these funds vary. If you are unsure how to apply, ask your college’s financial aid department to help you. After all that is what they are there for!


More funds for college you are not expected to repay! Scholarships are pretty similar to Grants, yet scholarships can come from a wide variety of places for countless reasons. The amount of money awarded can vary from hundreds to thousands. Even if you earn a scholarship for $500 it could possibly pay for your books.

Why would somebody give you a scholarship? Mainly that person or organization has an interest in helping make your education dreams possible. The scholarship provider is usually interested in the topic or type of scholarship.

For example, a local bank may have a $500 scholarship for academics. All kinds of scholarships are available including bowling (like Melissa), basketball, football, Native American heritage, music talents, height, religion, interests, blogging, and many more!

How do you receive this awesome thing called a scholarship? There are several ways to receive scholarships. Some scholarships are simply entered by inputting your name, email address, DOB, and year in school. Other scholarships may require more information, an essay, and maintenance. Maintenance may consist of upholding your GPA, employment, or position on a team.

Apply to as many of them as possible, because it is no guarantee you will receive the first one you want. It can be a frustrating and time consuming process, but it is well worth it.

Here are a few website to help get you started:

  • This scholarship search tool is offered by the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Bigfuture offers search options based on keywords or a profile.
  • offers scholarships after creating a profile.
  • CollegeNET offers search options based on keywords or a profile.
  • First offers scholarships specifically for science and technology.
  • ScholarshipPoints offers drawings for scholarships based on earning points.

*Be careful of scams. Never pay money to look or apply for scholarships.


Many students hold an employment position within their college or somewhere near campus during school. Just ask your advisor where and when to apply. Students who work as they attend school can help pay for books and tuition. Paying for some things will help reduce the debt of years to come. Employment also has the opportunity to open up other available scholarships.

529 Plans

A 529 plan is a growing fund specifically for college education. If it is not used towards education you must pay taxes on it. On the up side, if it is used for qualified higher education expenses (QHEE) then it is tax deferred. This type of fund requires planning ahead. A 529 plan is usually something set up years ahead of time by a parent. This is a fund intended to grow and it is tax deductible throughout the years. This is a great option if you have the time and the willpower not to withdrawal from it. If you are interested in learning more about 529 plans one of our FatWallet members wrote a great forum post about it.

Gift Card Rebates

A FatWallet member bought items and received free after rebates, then re-sold the item. Free after rebates usually come in the form of gift cards. Therefore the item he sold was free to him, which meant money in his pocket. By doing this he was able to pay a noteworthy portion of his tuition. If you are still wondering how he made it happen, you can check out the details of our past blog.

Shop Smart

If you can purchase items with cash back, coupons or discounts, that is more money you can put towards your college funds. So shop at FatWallet! 😉

Overall Cost of Your Degree

If you are still unsure on how much your education will cost you, try a online net price calculator. It is not a guarantee, but it is a decent guess.

Earning your degree is important, but if you can do it for less money why not? There are countless people drowning in their student loan debt, do your best to avoid becoming one of them. Now that I am a few years older, I realize being able to eventually afford a house mortgage after college is something important to me.

Yet, remember your education is an investment in yourself you will have for the rest of your life. With that said paying for college is not an unfortunate cost.

Best of Luck,

Additional College Resources

  • Back to School Checklist for College
  • Budgeting for Going Back to College
  • Don’t Get Hustled by Your Student Loans
  • 3 Money-Saving Tips for College Students
  • Textbook Deals Cheat Sheet
  • Cool Gadgets Every College Student Needs

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