Getting a college education in the US is getting more and more expensive with each passing year. Fortunately, there are now options for students who hope to study tuition-free, get paid to go to school, or at the very least graduate without the burden of crushing student loan debt.
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The more college-educated citizens there are in a country, the more highly skilled workers, managers, and executives there will be to raise the country’s economic value.
Also, giving middle-class and poor students the chance to go to college without going too far in debt can give them a chance to get out of their class and aspire to a higher income for themselves.
If you want to pursue higher education but feel constrained by your financial situation, take a look at the options available to students to get paid to go to school.
5 Ways to Get Paid to Go to School
It’s unlikely you’ll find someone to just straight-up pay you cash to attend your classes.
But here are the options; go through them and find out which one fits your situation best:
1. Tuition Reimbursement from Your Employer
Those of you who decided to work after graduating from high school could still change paths, especially if you discover that your employer has a tuition reimbursement program.
Not sure if they do?
Check your benefits package. This is often included in the document you signed when you joined the company.
Corporate tuition reimbursement policies can vary significantly between companies.
Some employers allow you to take any course you want, while others would only shoulder a degree that could improve your skill, which will eventually help you do your job within the company more effectively.
The amount a company pays for will also differ. Rules, such as the GPA you need to maintain or if you need to stay at your company for a number of years after receiving the reimbursement, will also be different between companies.
The good thing about tuition reimbursement is that you can ask around if they offer this perk before joining a particular company.
But a disadvantage is that you’ll have to pay for your college courses upfront first and you’ll get reimbursed later, meaning you’ll have to have some cash in your pocket first before they pay you back.
2. Join the U.S. Military
The U.S. Military isn’t for everyone, but if serving your country or joining volunteer services is something that appeals to you, you have a couple of options, including:
- GI Bill – Depending on when you served, service members and veterans can take advantage of either the Montgomery GI Bill for active duty military members (MGIB-AD), Montgomery GI Bill for reservists (MGIB-SR), or the Post-9/11 GI Bill. They all provide up to 36 months of educational assistance, but the amount varies depending on Congress approval. Check out the US Department of Veterans Affairs has a Comparison Chart and Payment Rates on its website.
- Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program – Veteran family members can get tuition reimbursement through this program.
- The Peace Corps – Aside from the training you receive from a 27-month assignment, those who volunteer to join the Peace Corps also get a stipend and $10k payment upon completion. The local counterpart (AmeriCorps) also pays a living expense stipend and potentially help you pay for college if you spend up to 12 months volunteering.
Also, the military has tuition assistance of up to $4,500 per year, if you’re qualified.
Be sure to check your eligibility and other benefit details for the particular branch of the military you’re in.
There are obvious associated risks if you go this route, but if you’re planning on joining the military anyway, getting a free education out of it is a very good perk.
3. Look Into Tuition-Free Schools
Yes, surprisingly, these exist.
There are tuition-free colleges and universities that give you a chance to earn a degree without paying if you meet certain criteria.
You might have to be from a specific state, be from a family that earns below a certain threshold, or work for a certain amount of hours on campus.
Check out these lists of tuition-free colleges and universities all over the country:
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4. Find Scholarships
Scholarships are called “gift aid” because unlike student loans, you don’t need to pay it back and it’s one of the few ways you can actually get paid to go to school.
They are very similar to grants, but scholarships are given to students based on merit.
There are plenty of scholarships available and the qualifications will vary based on your record of achievement.
For example, those who excel in sports, such as basketball or football, are actually discovered by different colleges and offered scholarships so they could play for the colleges’ sports teams.
Aside from athletes, those who have a special gift in mathematics, technology, or other subjects can be awarded scholarships relevant to their fields.
State scholarships are also available to those who excel in high school, but these are often called “state grants” as well. Check with your state agency to see what scholarships are available.
5. Win a Grant
Grants are need-based financial assistance, which is essentially free government money.
Like scholarships, those awarded with grants do not need to repay them.
It is offered as either full or partial tuition coverage and given by the government, private companies, associations, non-profit organizations, and so on.
- Federal grants – Handled by the US Department of Education, the government awards about $150 billion to more than 12 million students. You have to fill up the federal financial aid form—the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)—to be considered. This isn’t just a single grant though, you’ll find hundreds of public grants, such as Pell Grants (pays an average $2,500) and a lot more that’s usually named after a politician.
- Private grants – Companies like Pepsi give grants to the children of their employees, or even the spouses and employees. These grants are usually under the company’s foundation and are publicly available on their websites. Coca-Cola’s Scholars Program, for instance, has a budget of over $3 million annually for the scholarships of 1,400 college students.
- Professional associations – If you’re studying to become a nurse, or a computer programmer, you can find industry-related associations that may be willing to support your studies through grants. You do have to research a lot more to find these associations, but they exist.
- Institutional grants – These types of grants are given by private universities. You can find information about these grants on the enrollment pages of these colleges. Or better yet, ask someone from the school in person when you get a chance to visit.
These grants can even go beyond “skill” and may be offered based on a student’s gender, ethnicity, physical condition, and so on.
There are grants for students who are hoping to become a teacher, grants for students who are interested in in-demand science and math subjects, grants exclusive to a specific university department, and more.
How Much Can I Get Paid to Go to School?
The amount you can get paid to go to school varies depending on the aid you’ve chosen to apply for.
Scholarships and grants can give you as low as $1,000 to over $35,000 each year with an average of $5,000.
The amount of cash that students receive varies on a case-to-case basis.
But it’s good to know that there is ALWAYS money available for students in need of assistance.
Students assume that getting grant money is impossible that not enough people try their luck. In fact, in 2014, almost $3 billion in federal grant money wasn’t rewarded to anyone because of the lack of applications.
Do You Have a Chance to Get Paid to Go to School?
Honestly, if you don’t apply, then there’s zero chance that you’ll be accepted.
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Anyway, there’s nothing to lose.
This is your future, your dreams we’re talking about, so apply to every applicable scholarship, grant, and financial aid you can find.
To sum it up, apply early and apply yearly.
Most of these funding sources have been doing this for decades, so expect them to have calendars already put in place.
Scholarship applications have fees and deadlines that you need to meet. In most cases, grants should have been already awarded to students at least 3 months before the start of the school year or before the start of the semester.
Which one of these options seems like a good fit for your situation? When do you plan to enroll? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!