Seven Ways to Attend College Without Taking Out a Student Loan

It’s become almost a matter of course lately that students take out student loans to attend college. But the fact is, you can go to school without using loans. They’re not a necessity, and it is perfectly possible to graduate without them.

Here are 7 ways you can attend college without taking out student loans:

1. Pay as you go.

It is possible to pay for college as you go, while working. While the “average costs” of college may be anywhere from about $14,000 to $39,000 per year (according to Trends in College Pricing) that doesn’t meant that you need to come up with those amounts on top of your current expenses. That’s because those costs include things that you would do anyway — such as eating, getting around town, and having somewhere to live. And the costs are only averages, so it’s possible to spend less.

2. Save your pennies.

In direct contrast to the borrow now, pay later method of taking out a student loan, you can save up now, and pay once you have enough money saved up for school. In addition to planning ahead or being patient, this means that you will probably need to….

3. Attend a college you can afford.

A sure fire way to go to college without taking out a student loan is to attend a college you can afford. This might mean that you go to something less than the “top” school in your field — if that school won’t pay you to attend. It might mean that you go to a public school instead of a private school. It might meant that you go to community college for the first two years instead of directly to a four year college. It might mean that you use a variety of methods to make college affordable. Most of all, it probably means facing the reality that life rarely goes exactly as planned, so you should not count on being able to make the big bucks (or even find a job at all) when you graduate. Asking yourself “Would I still choose this school if i knew I wasn’t going to use my degree afterward?” can help narrow things down.

4. Get scholarships and grants.

Yes, it is possible to win a scholarship (or several). There are a LOT of scholarships out there, including merit-based scholarships, need-based scholarships, we-really-want-you-to-attend-our-school based scholarships, and just plain unusual scholarships (like this one for duck calling.) There are grants available as well. Do your research, and apply for anything and everything that you think might remotely apply.

5. Have your employer pay for college.

Many employers (both large and small) will pay for all or part of your college tuition & books. Check into whether your employer offers a program like that, and suggest one if they don’t, especially if you’re going to college for something related to your job. You can also actively try to find a job with an employer who covers college costs.

6. Have your government pay for college.

If you’re willing to give up a few years of your life (or possibly your actual life), there are several programs that will pay for your college if you join the U.S. military.

7. Have your school pay for college.

If you’re looking at graduate school, you may be able to get a TA/graduate assistantship. This is where you essentially work part time for the school, in return for a stipend & tuition.


  • Jackie,

    These are good ideas. Some useful things to consider and quite timely as I get ready to fill out the college financial aid forms!

  • Definitely some good tips. If you don’t want to go the US Military route there is always the Peace Corp for graduate school.

  • I have some cousins who started off at community college and then transfered to a regular university for their last few years. It saved them a lot of money and they managed to keep their grades up so it wasn’t too hard to transfer into a school they wanted. It’s insane how expensive tuition is. Makes me glad I graduated a while ago instead of now!

    • Oh yeah, community college is a whole lot less expensive tuition-wise. (And it’s crazy how expensive tuition has gotten. It cost my son the same amount for his first year of school as it did my entire college — at the same school.)

  • Great advice! It’s important to know that college doesn’t have to be funded by loans. Given the fact that so many students and family members of those students are in debt, finding alternatives to pay for higher education is a must. We counsel many people with debt and student loans which account for a large part of people’s expenses and find that as a result of the student loan debts they are prohibited them from buying homes, getting loans and having good credit. Considering other options to pay for school and stay out of the debt cycle early is key to a healthy financial future.

  • Wait, can’t we ask our parents to give us a loan? (sorry, letting myself get political there…)

    I am so glad you included TA/GA positions – I had a GA in grad school, and it reduced my costs tremendously!