How Can You Pay for College on Your Own?

Paying for higher education on your own can be stressful, but there are plenty of ways to finance your way through college yourself.

5 min read

If you’re heading off to college this coming year, you probably have a lot on your mind: from roommates, to picking the right major, to grants and student loans. The question of paying for higher education can be particularly stressful if you’re handling the financial side of things without any help from your parents or family members.

Fortunately, there are many kinds of scholarships and grants available to help you through your time in school, ranging from government-backed loans to academic and athletic scholarships. There are plenty of ways to make it through college on your own, and we’re outlining a few options below:

Getting a scholarship

Scholarships are grants or payments that don’t need to be paid back, meaning once the money hits your bank account, it’s yours to help finance your studies. As a result, scholarships can be one of the best ways to pay for college on your own. Scholarships tend to be merit-based, meaning that they are awarded on the basis of academic ability, artistic skill or sporting talent. However, many are awarded based on your particular financial situation, family history, and background.

Athletic scholarships: Some colleges and universities offer sports scholarships to attract talented athletes to their athletic programs. The average athletic scholarship is about $18,000 per student athlete according to US News & World Report. Roughly only 1% to 2% of undergraduate students are awarded these, so to be considered, you’ll have to demonstrate extraordinary talent in your sport at a state or national level.

Academic scholarships: Merit scholarships are usually based on your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other academic achievements. PSAT scores, for instance, determine your eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program. According to US News, the average academic scholarship is around $11,279 and could potentially cover a student’s entire tuition. Keep in mind that for some non-need-based merit scholarships, you’ll have to maintain a minimum GPA, or enroll and pass certain courses. While many top schools and Ivy League universities don’t offer academic merit scholarships, they do offer generous packages to help you meet full financial need.

First generation and minority scholarships: Some scholarships are awarded based on your background and specific family history. For instance, if you’re the first in your family to attend college, and meet certain income requirements, you may be eligible for scholarships reserved for high-achieving, first-generation students. Other scholarships, including the Gates Scholarship, are awarded to students belonging to underrepresented groups.

Getting a grant

Like scholarships, grants are a form of financial aid that doesn’t need to be paid back. These, however, are not merit-based and awarded on the basis of need. Grants can be especially critical when you have to pay for college yourself, and can come from the state or federal government, your university, or a private nonprofit. Here are a few things you should know about grants:

Federal grants: The US Department of Education provides a certain number of need-based aid for higher education in the form of grants. These may include Pell Grants, awarded to undergraduate students that show exceptional financial need and haven’t earned a bachelor’s or professional degree; Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, given by the financial office of each individual school; TEACH grants, for those planning to become teachers in high-need fields in low-income areas; and others.

State grants: As the name suggests, these need-based grants are awarded directly by states to students in need. Availability varies greatly from state to state, and often cover only a portion of your tuition and fees. These also tend to be restricted to state residents pursuing undergraduate, graduate, or teaching degrees.

Getting a loan

Unlike scholarships and grants, loans need to be paid back in full. When figuring out how to pay for your studies, consider the impact loans will have on your future financial goals. While student loans are often a necessary component to supplement grants and scholarships, don’t forget to factor interest rates, fees, and grace periods, as you might end up paying back more than you borrowed. You should also be mindful of any lenders with unfavorable rates or questionable terms. That said, there are a number of favorable loans to help you cover the costs of paying for college.

Federal loans: You’ll want to consider these first, as they’re designed with borrower protections in mind and will give you the ability to switch to an income-driven payment plan if you can’t afford monthly payments or if you lose your job. Be sure to fill out a Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) to be eligible for most forms of federally available financial aid, especially since it doesn’t require a credit history. Don’t take out private loans until you’ve reached a max cap when it comes to available federal aid.

Subsidized vs. unsubsidised loans: Subsidized loans for students in need don’t build interest while you’re in school, while unsubsidized loans do. Be mindful of this difference so you don’t end up having to pay back more than you anticipated.

Keep in mind there are limitations on which kinds of things you’ll be able to spend your student loan money on. Student loans are restricted to educational purposes only, like books, clothing, groceries, and anything directly linked to your education.

There are many avenues available to help you pay for your studies without support from a parent or relative. However, success as a student also means making smart financial decisions and having a fast, transparent banking solution that you can trust.

N26 is perfect for students, with free ATM withdrawals at over 50,000 locations, instant transfers via Moneybeam, and no foreign transaction fees when you use your card overseas. Sign up for an account in 5 minutes to discover banking the world loves.

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