Four Ways To Pay For College When You Have No Money

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Hey Mamas! If you are in college, thinking about going back to school or one of your babies will be entering college soon this one is for YOU!

Did you know that two out of three students graduate with student loans? And of those two thirds the average debt is $25,000?! That is like a brand new car, or my grocery budget for the next eight years.

You know I am all for education. I loved my college experience so much that I ended up going back and getting a second bachelors degree (nerd alert!). But you want to know a secret? With my two degrees and my husband’s bachelors we both graduated from college debt free!

My parents had instilled a strong priority for education and it was expected that I would attend. However, it was also known that they would not be financing this for me. They paid for their degrees themselves and it was assumed I would do the same.


I remember listening to scholarship seminars as early as 13 or 14. I began perusing websites like Fastweb and Cappex. Naively I applied for a scholarship here and there. I didn’t receive any of those scholarships, but it got me in the mindset of always seeking them out. During my junior and senior I actively sought out scholarships at Universities in my state.

At this point I was mostly interested in finding academic scholarships. Although I had a part-time job almost all of high school my parents made it clear that school was to be my main focus and my grades showed it.

When looking for academic scholarships many universities have a requirement index. For example, at my university you were ranked based upon your high school unweighted GPA and your ACT test score.

  • To search for academic scholarships at your university, visit the website and type in academic scholarships in the search bar or do a google search with “ Name of your university, academic scholarships.”

Fortunately, I qualified for a few different scholarship programs based on this indexing method. Ultimately, I chose to attend the school that offered me a full tuition scholarship for all four years! SCORE! This alone saved me over $16,000 in university tuition.

You would think I would be satisfied, but not yet. This same university had an academic honors program. With admittance you were able to apply for the honors housing scholarship. This scholarship paid for two-thirds of your housing for the first two years as long as you took a few honors courses and participated in some of the honors events. I anxiously collected my documents and prepared my essays.

I was so elated when I found that I had received this scholarship too! Suddenly, the expenses of getting a college degree were becoming more and more doable. This scholarship had a value of approximately $4,500. (If you are counting that means I had already saved myself over $20,000, just by writing a few essays and applying for these scholarships!)

  • Many programs or departments within your University may offer scholarships. If you are willing to do a little bit of work these can save your tons of money in the long run!

These scholarships carried me through until I decided I wanted to get a second bachelors degree. The program I wanted to participate in was at a different university. Their tuition rates were much higher than my previous university (almost double). I quickly became discouraged as I tried to determine how I as a poor little newlywed would be able to achieve my dream. Then I remembered scholarships had never failed me.

I reached out to the advisor to the department my program was in and asked about departmental scholarship opportunities. She promptly emailed me back with the scholarship packet and again I got about my business. I wrote my essays, collected my letters of recommendation and finalized my application. All in all it took me about five hours to complete.

About one month later I found out I had been chosen as the recipient for one of the awards! The scholarship was $2,000 towards my tuition and fees. $2,000 divided by five hours is $400 an hour. Not a bad investment of my time if you ask me!

There you have it. My journey to receiving $22,500 in scholarships.


When Devin and I got married he had about $12,500 in student loans (I had yet to cast my thrifty spell on him). Over the last two years of college we busted our behinds and paid them all off (that is a story for another day). Want to know how we prevented more of his student loan debt? Tuition Reimbursement.

Tuition Reimbursement is essentially when a company will pay all or a portion of your college tuition if you work for them. Devin’s company offered two-thirds tuition reimbursement for all of his tuition, books and fees. This was such a life saver for us.

Some have certain stipulations like your courses have to be applicable to the industry you or working in or have minimum grade requirements. For example, at Devin’s company he would not get reimbursed for a course that was lower than a C.

Different companies offer different levels of reimbursement and this may be dependent on if you are a full-time or part-time employee. The company my husband works at only offers full-time positions, so he worked full-time and went to school full-time for three years (he is  a superhero).


Another epic way to reduce your education costs is by testing out of courses. If you are in high school I highly recommend taking AP or Concurrent Enrollment courses. This is one area I wish I had taken advantage of more. In high school I only took two AP classes, but those tests got me out of nine college credits. This saved me almost $2,000 and a semester of college.

I have always loved advising.  When I was trying to determine what field I wanted to go in, the two major contenders were an Academic Advisor or a Financial Advisor. I actually worked as a Transfer Credit Advisor on the Undergraduate level and as an Assistant Registrar on the Graduate level before I got my degree in Financial Planning. 

On a University level there are ways that you can test out of college credits. One of the most common methods is via CLEP (College Level Exam Placement). Each college is different but most require a minimum score and if you test above that level you get credit for the course. Easy as that.

Some universities will also except experiential credits. This is exactly like it sounds, you petition credits based on your experience. Your department may require an exam or another demonstration of knowledge before awarding credit. At the particular university I worked at we were able to accept 16 credits of Test/Experiential credits per student. That is a full semester of school and close to $5,000 at most universities!


If you qualify for Federal Aid this may be an option for you to consider. In our first years of college we did not qualify for financial aid. However, Devin and I married during college and that gave us independent status. Now that we were a separate entity from our parents their income did not influence our financial aid status.

We did qualify for a small amount each semester which we put towards our books and fees. No matter your income I would still apply. The process is relatively quick and is worth the small of effort to see if you qualify.


The week before our senior year of college we found out that I was pregnant. I know most of my readers are Mamas so I thought I would share this tip. According to, 

“Unborn children may be included if they will be born before or during the award year and will receive more than half their support (from the student, if the student is independent, or the student’s parent’s, if the student is dependent) during the award year.“

I had to supply a signed doctors note to my universities financial aid office for them to validate my claim. (We were planning to start our family, so this worked to our benefit. However, the cost of child is much more than the grant money so keep that in mind!)

Looking for more ways to save? Check out Ebates for cash back on all of your online purchases! 

McKinzie Bean
Hi, I'm McKinzie! I'm a mommy of two, married to my sweetheart and a finance junkie. I love teaching other moms how to save money, make money and take control of their financial situation. In college, I double majored in Financial Planning and Psychology because I love all things money and people. You may have seen me in publications like Forbes, The Penny Hoarder, Tailwind & more.