Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances. Although we receive compensation from our partner lenders, whom we will always identify, all opinions are our own. Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS # 1681276, is referred to here as "Credible."
The average cost of college ranges from $22,690 per year for in-state students at a public school and up to $51,690 per year for private colleges, according to the College Board.
If you don’t have this kind of money saved for college, paying for it might feel impossible. But don’t worry — you have plenty of options that could help.
Here are nine ways to pay for college with no money:
- Apply for scholarships
- Apply for financial aid and grants
- Consider going to community college or trade school first
- Negotiate with the college for more financial aid
- Get a work-study job
- Trim your expenses
- Take out federal student loans
- Find alternative funding sources
- Consider private student loans
1. Apply for scholarships
Scholarships are a great place to start when it comes to paying for college, mainly because they don’t have to be paid back.
A wide variety of scholarships are available for almost every type of student, ranging from $100 to a full ride that could cover most or even all of your college expenses.
You might find scholarships offered by local and national businesses, nonprofit organizations, and even your own school.
Students may qualify for a scholarship for merit, athletics, demonstrating financial need, joining a specific program, or other criteria. Most scholarships will require an application, which may include essays among other requirements.
If you qualify for scholarships but don’t have enough to cover your full cost of school, student loans could help fill the gap. But be sure to consider how much student loans will cost you in the future so you can budget for the added expense. See what your estimated monthly payment will be using our student loan calculator below.
Enter your loan information to calculate how much you could pay
With a $ loan, you will pay $ monthly and a total of $ in interest over the life of your loan. You will pay a total of $ over the life of the loan, assuming you're making full payments while in school.
Need a student loan?
Compare rates without affecting your credit score. 100% free!
Checking rates won’t affect your credit score.
2. Apply for financial aid and grants
If you’ve exhausted your scholarship search, applying for federal financial aid and college grants should be your next step. Like with scholarships, grants don’t have to be repaid.
Depending on the cost of the school you attend, your total financial aid and grants could add up to the full cost of attendance.
To apply for federal aid and determine your eligibility, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The information you provide in the FAFSA is used to calculate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the amount your family is expected to contribute to your education costs.
Your EFC, year in school, enrollment status, dependency status, and school’s cost of attendance will determine the aid you qualify for.
After you submit the FAFSA, your school will send you a financial aid award letter detailing what financial aid is available to you. You can then choose which aid you’d like to accept, such as grants and federal student loans.
Learn More: 5 Steps to Take if You Can’t Afford College
3. Consider going to community college or trade school first
You might want to consider going to a community college or trade school before attending a public university. For starters, you can take general education courses that will transfer over, allowing you to pay less for courses that you might take at a larger college. Also, trade schools typically cost less and take less time than a traditional four-year college degree.
Read More: Is Going to College Worth It? How to Decide
4. Negotiate with the college for more financial aid
If you don’t have enough financial aid to cover your education costs, you might be able to negotiate with your school for more.
For example, if you have financial need, have a unique background, or can show larger financial aid offers from other schools, your school could be willing to increase your financial aid.
While your school might not be willing or able to offer you more aid, it’s always worth asking. After all, the worst they can say is no.
5. Get a work-study job
Federal work study is a type of financial aid where you work a part-time job while enrolled in school to help pay for your education.
If you’re a part-time or full-time undergraduate, graduate, or professional student with financial need, you could be eligible for a work-study job. You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA to apply.
If a work-study job doesn’t fully cover your costs, student loans could help fill any leftover financial gaps. Federal student loans are typically a good place to start, but if you need more funding, private student loans might be another option.
Before taking out a private student loan, be sure to consider as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for you. Credible makes this easy — you can compare your prequalified rates from multiple private student loan lenders in two minutes.
Learn More: Bad Credit Student Loans
6. Trim your expenses
On top of tuition and fees, you might have to cover several other expenses while attending school, such as housing, transportation, groceries, and more. But you can also find ways to trim or even avoid these costs.
Just keep in mind that if you live at home or off-campus, you might need to pay for transportation or other expenses.
Learn More: On-Campus vs. Off-Campus Costs
7. Take out federal student loans
If you need to borrow money for school, federal student loans are generally a good place to start.
This is mainly because they come with federal student loan benefits and protections, such as access to income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs. You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA to apply for federal student loans.
Here are the main types of student loans you might be eligible for:
- Direct Subsidized Loans are available to undergraduate students with financial need. The government covers the interest on these loans while you’re in school, leaving you with less to pay off after graduation.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of financial need. Unlike subsidized loans, you’ll be responsible for the interest that accrues while you’re in school.
- Direct PLUS Loans are available to both graduate students and parents paying for their child’s education. Unlike other federal student loans, PLUS Loans require a credit check. They also generally come with higher interest rates compared to subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
8. Find alternative funding sources
You might want to also consider alternative funding sources for your education, including employer assistance programs and tuition assistance from the military if you’re on active duty.
- Employer assistance: If you’re planning to go to graduate school, you might want to consider tapping into an employer assistance program. Some employers offer tuition reimbursement while you’re attending graduate school, which could be a great benefit to take advantage of.
- Military tuition assistance: Some colleges offer tuition assistance to active-duty, Reservist, and members of the National Guard. Before seeking this benefit from your college, it’s best to explore your options from your arm of the military. Each one has its own eligibility criteria, required obligations, and application process.
See More: Student Loans Without a Credit Check
9. Consider private student loans
Once you’ve exhausted your scholarship, grant, and federal student loan options, private college loans could be a good choice if you need additional funds. You can use private student loans for a variety of expenses, including tuition, books, housing, and more.
Keep in mind that unlike most federal student loans, you’ll need to pass a credit check to potentially qualify for a private student loan.
If you aren’t eligible on your own, adding a student loan cosigner with good credit to your application could help you get approved.
If you decide to take out a private student loan, be sure to consider as many lenders as you can to find a loan that fits your needs. Credible makes this easy — you can compare your prequalified rates from our partner lenders in the table below in two minutes.
|Lender||Fixed rates from (APR)||Variable rates from (APR)||Loan terms (years)||Loan amount|
|4.62%+10||5.74%+10||5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20|
(depending on loan type)
|$2,001 - $400,000|
|4.99%+1||4.89%+||5, 10, 15||$1,000 - $350,000
(depending on degree)
||4.49%+2,3||5, 8, 10, 15||$1,000 up to 100% of school-certified cost of attendance|
|3.65%+||5.46%+||7, 10, 15||$1,000 to $99,999 annually
($180,000 aggregate limit)
|7.52%+7||6.89%+7||7, 10, 15||$1,000 - $200,000|
|4.37%+8||5.86%+8||5, 10, 15||$1,001 up to 100% of school-certified cost of attendance|
|4.89%+||N/A||10, 15||$1,500 or $2,000 up to school-certified cost of attendance
(depending on school type and minus other aid received)
|4.509 - 14.83%9||5.37%9 - 15.709||10 to 20||$1,000 up to 100% of school-certified cost of attendance|
your credit score. 100% free!
Lowest APRs reflect autopay, loyalty, and interest-only repayment discounts where available | 10Ascent Disclosures | 1Citizens Disclosures | 2,3College Ave Disclosures | 7EDvestinU Disclosures | 8INvestEd Disclosures | 9Sallie Mae Disclosures