There are several ways to pay for college without resorting to college loans. Loans are a type of financial aid that must be repaid, with interest. College loans leave you with a financial obligation after completing college. This strategy can be a great path into careers that have the possibility of lucrative paychecks. But for many of us, it’s not the best option.
Therefore, in the information below we are concerned only with methods of paying for college that will not accrue debt.
These more advantageous types of financial aid include: tax-advantaged savings plans, high school dual credit programs, various types of scholarships, employer tuition assistance, other sources of financial aid, a pay-as-you-go plan, and some thought-provoking suggestions to define a satisfying career path.
529 tax-advantaged college savings plan
A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings account to be used for higher education costs for a designated beneficiary, typically a child or grandchild. The earlier the plan is started and the longer the funds accrue, the greater the possible savings. Here’s how a 529 plan works:
Contributions to 529 plans are not tax-deductible. However, interest accrued on the account is not taxed when the funds are withdrawn, as they are with similar types of accounts such as health savings accounts.
The plans are defined in Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code and are administered by state agencies and organizations. For more information on 529 plans, go to College Savings Plan Network and Saving for College.
In Washington State, the 529 prepaid college tuition plan is called the Guaranteed Education Tuition Program or GET. With GET, you prepay for your child’s college tuition today. Your account is guaranteed to keep pace with college tuition and you can use it at almost any public or private college in the country.
Washington State K-12 Dual Credit Programs
Dual Credit programs allow high school student to earn college credits. These programs are administered by the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
These programs allow high school students to take college-level courses. Upon satisfactory examination, students can earn up to one year of college credit by the time they graduate from high school.
These programs include Running Start, College Success Foundation, and other programs. For more information, visit Dual Credit Programs at OSPI.
Seattle’s free community-college program
Seattle Promise gives all Seattle high-school graduates two years of community college tuition-free. The program will phase in over two years and is funded by the City’s Education Levy for a period of seven years.
The program is open to all students of eligible Seattle Public High Schools regardless of GPA, income, or background. Students who participated in Running Start and/or who earned college credits while in high school are eligible for the program if they have earned fewer than 90 credits and have not yet completed their first associate degree.
Class of 2019 seniors at Ingraham, Garfield, Chief Sealth, Cleveland, Rainier Beach and West Seattle high schools can get two years tuition-free when they graduate (due to a pre-existing program that paid for one year of college tuition, then the Seattle Promise program kicks in).
Class of 2020 seniors at the remaining Seattle high schools get two years tuition-free of when they graduate: Ballard, The Center School, Franklin, Interagency, Middle College, Nathan Hale, NOVA, Roosevelt, South Lake, World School and Lincoln.
Eligible students must complete the application process (deadline is February 15) and then attend required events to prepare them for educational and institutional success.
There are many other financial aid and funding sources available to assist students if they do not qualify for Seattle Promise. Contact the financial aid office at one of the following colleges for more information about your options:
- North Seattle College Financial Aid
- Central Seattle College Financial Aid
- South Seattle College Financial Aid
College scholarships, grants, and fellowships
Scholarships, unlike student loans, is a type of financial aid you do not repay. Rather, you earn the money by meeting certain qualifications and then applying successfully for the funds. Most people are aware that there are scholarships for academic, athletic, or artistic talent, or for those who demonstrate financial need. However, there are also thousands of scholarships available for many other reasons. Scholarships are available for students who are interested in certain fields of study, who live in certain areas of the country, or who are members of an underrepresented group.
Grants are a type of scholarship, being money awarded to students meeting various criteria to cover education costs. The main difference is simply the terminology used by the organization or institution awarding the scholarship or grant.
Fellowships are another type of scholarship. Like scholarships and grants, fellowships can be awarded for many different reasons. There are fellowships for undergraduates (pursuing a Bachelor’s degree), for graduate students pursuing doctorate degrees (Doctor of Philosophy aka PhD), for post-doctoral studies or research, for visiting students, for professionals already working in certain fields, and many other criteria, including academic achievement and underrepresented students, among others. Some fellowships require service in return, such as teaching or research. It’s worth examining fellowship opportunities to think about how you might use this resource in your overall pursuit of a career. Maybe a fellowship is not available now, but could be in the future if you are considering a career in certain fields.
Washington State College Bound free scholarship program provides state financial aid to low-income students who may not consider college a possibility due to the cost. The scholarship covers tuition (at comparable public college rates), some fees, and a small book allowance. Eligibility for the scholarship is a two-part process. Students in 7th or 8th grade whose family meets the income requirements must submit and complete an application by June 30 of the student’s 8th grade year. Then students must meet the College Bound Pledge requirements and income-eligibility as determined by the student’s financial aid application (FAFSA or WASFA) in their senior year of high school. Note: Foster youth in grades 7–12 (up to age 21) who have not graduated from high school are automatically enrolled. They are considered to have a complete application for the College Bound Scholarship via a data exchange between the Washington Student Achievement Council and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). Get more information at https://www.wsac.wa.gov/college-bound
Search for all possible scholarships, grants, and fellowships to ensure that you find any and all scholarships for which you qualify. Here’s some ways to do that:
How to find college scholarships, grants, and fellowships
A full scholarship from one source tends to be available only to a select few, often those with the highest academic, athletic, or artistic talent. For the rest of us, receiving most or all direct education costs through scholarship might be achieved by receiving funds from multiple sources. You can only find available sources if you search thoroughly and then apply for all possible funds.
- FastWeb scholarship search is a scholarship search tool that will help you compare your qualifications with all available scholarships. Simply fill out a profile and awards that fit your qualifications are identified as possible sources of financial aid. To use this tool most successfully, search thoroughly and apply for every available award.
- In addition to searching the FastWeb scholarship database, students can also search other Free Scholarship Search Sites (scroll about halfway down the page to see these and more scholarship search sites).
- Finally, you may not realize that financial aid is something you should re-apply for every year. Even if you don’t qualify one year, many factors can affect who is offering aid, to whom, and how much. A change in any of these circumstances might affect your eligibility for student aid from one year to the next.
Employer tuition assistance
Another way to pay for college is to find a job in a company that offers tuition assistance. A few companies with locations in Washington State that offer tuition reimbursement include Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Starbucks, UPS, and Verizon. But there are many, many others.
However, there are often caveats to employer education benefits:
- Employer tuition assistance is typically available only to employees who have worked for the company for a minimum period, typically at least one year.
- To receive the benefit, usually you must pay for and complete courses out of pocket, then apply for reimbursement of the tuition upon successful completion.
- Textbooks and other costs are often not included in employer reimbursement programs and these costs can be substantial ($200-$300 per term,).
- There are restrictions on how much reimbursement you can get per year, which may not be enough to cover tuition costs. So this may require that you stretch out a degree program longer than the typical two years (associate degree) to four years bachelor’s degree).
- There may also be restrictions on the types of schooling or college degrees that qualify for an employer’s program. For example, a company may reimburse only for business degree but not arts courses, or a law firm may only reimburse law courses.
So how can you best take advantage of tuition reimbursement? Start with companies you think you’d like to work for and see if they offer tuition assistance. Then explore entry level positions based on your current skill set, determine possible career paths, and see if any of them appeal to you. And, if you think achieving success isn’t possible this way, think again. Here’s some real-life inspiration:
- 21 billionaires who grew up poor (from BusinessInsider.com)
- How three leaders worked their way up from the (very) bottom (from Reuters.com)
- 14 Tactics for Getting Ahead At Work – No Matter What Your Job Is (from thesimpledollar.com)
- 16 People Who Worked Incredibly Hard To Succeed (from BusinessInsider.com)
- 12 Famous People Who Failed Before Succeeding (from wanderlustworker.com)
- 101 Inspiring Quotes From the Most Successful People in History (from Inc.com)
Other sources of financial aid
There are a few other sources for financial aid. These include: federal and state government aid, military benefits, study abroad programs, and several other specific sources.
For information about these other sources, visit FinAid – Other Types of Aid. This page includes some forms of financial aid we’ve already mentioned, such as tax benefits and employer tuition assistance. FinAid also provides information about many more aid options.
It’s in your best interest to research all other forms of financial aid and leave no stone unturned. If you qualify, you have nothing to lose by finding and applying for all available aid.
Another option is to simply pay for college tuition and books as you sign up for each term. It sounds radical today, but this is the method used by many students for most of the twentieth century.
The following list offers several ways to reduce your overall college costs that can make the pay-as-you-go option doable.
- Work for a few years after high school and postpone college until you save enough to pay for most or all basic education costs (primarily, tuition and books).
- Attend college part-time while you work fulltime, taking longer than the usual two to four years to complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
- Attend college fulltime during the academic year (September-May) and work fulltime during summer (June-August) to accrue money for college costs.
- Attend a two-year community college for the first two years (which has lower tuition costs), and then transfer to a four-year university for the third and fourth year. One key here is to research which college and courses are transferrable to your university of choice. Note: In November 2017, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an executive order issuing a mandate for a free college tuition program to be put in place by 2020. For the most up-to-date information and whether or not you quality, speak with a high school counselor.
- Attend college via an online university, which often have lower tuition costs.
- Attend a state college or university rather than a private university.
Any of these can be combined with partial scholarships or tuition reimbursement programs.
We think these pay-as-you-go options are preferable to completing a college degree saddled with student loans that will take you many years to pay back.
Explore career options
If you’re not sure college is for you, or you are unsure what career path you want to take, you might simply postpone the decision. Instead of going to college right out of high school, plan to get a job and work for a year or two (or more).
During this postponement, you can explore different types of jobs, work at different companies, and think more in-depth about what type of higher education is right for you based on the type of work and career you desire. Then use the above suggestions to embark on the necessary degree path.
The articles in the links below offer more ideas for career alternatives that don’t require a college degree. Explore these options in your quest to define a satisfying career path.