Four Ways To Pay For College When You Have No Money
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Four Ways To Pay For College When You Have No Money

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Social media graphic of woman at desk with tea, glasses, and papers with text about ways to pay for college when you have no moneySocial media graphic of woman writing on journal with text on ways to pay for college with no moneySchool can be expensive and it is hard to pay for college with no money.

There is the option to get student loans, but who really wants those hanging over their head forever?

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.

I am a big supporter of higher education. I loved school so much that I ended up getting two bachelors degrees. My husband and I got married with a lot of school left to complete. We had low incomes (don’t all college kids?) and we did not have financial support from our parents.

Yet, with my two degrees and his bachelors and masters degree we were both able to graduation debt free. Want to know how to pay for school even if you have no money for college? Keep reading!

Ways To Save Money In College

Set a budget

The first thing that you need to do is make a budget. During college I worked full-time in the summers and then lived on that money throughout the school year. I set a strict budget and knew how much I needed to set aside each month.

Remember it’s not about how much you earn it is about how much you save.

Take Advantage Of Rewards

They are so many great tools out there to help you save money in college. Some of my favorites are iBotta, Drop, and Ebates.


Ibotta is an app you use on your phone that can help you earn cash back on every day purchases like groceries. There are special offers and bonuses when you purchase items. You just scan your receipt after your are done shopping and it will add credit to your account for any qualifying items.

Sign up for Ibotta and claim your bonus!

You can read more in-depth about Ibotta here.

Drop App

Screenshot of cell phone with Drop App with Shop & Get Cash Rewards

Drop is another free app that you can download. This app lets you choose five stores that you want to automatically earn cash back with. You sync your card with the app (don’t worry they use super secure encryption) and then every time you shop at one of those stores you automatically get points added to your account.

Sign up for your free Drop App here. 

These points can be redeemed for free gift cards which you can use on books, food, entertainment, etc.

Read more about how to use the Drop App here.


Screenshot of ebates sign up graphic

If you do a lot of online shopping you will love Ebates. It is a free website that let’s you earn a percentage of cash back on you online purchase. When you create an account you also can get a free $10 gift card after your first qualifying purchase.

I’ve saved hundreds of dollars over the years with Ebates.

You can create a free account here. 

Start A Side Hustle

Starting a side hustle is a great way to pay for college when you have no money. These side gigs are fun ways to make a little extra money.


One of the ways that I made a little extra money during college was taking surveys. There are lots of companies out there that want your opinion so they can make their products better. I started taking surveys about 10 years ago and if you are consistent you can make hundreds of dollars a month doing this.

Here are my favorite survey companies: 

Drive for Lyft

Screenshot of lyft graphic with text how to make $1,000 in 30 days driving

If you have a car a great way to make some extra money is to drive for Lyft. Most average making at least $15-25 an hour and it can be a great way to meet new people.

Become a Lyft driver here and learn how to earn a $1,000 bonus!

Start A Blog

This side hustle paid for my husbands entire master’s degree. Starting a blog is a fun way to share your knowledge and experience with others. There are multiple ways to make money with a blog. If you like writing and marketing this could be a great side hustle for your.

Check out these resources before you start:

Teach English

Screenshot of Qkids app with text how to make money teaching kids English

This is a great option especially if you are going to school for education or child development. There are different online programs that pay you to teach English to Chinese children online.

Some of these programs require that you have a bachelors degree, but QKids does not and you can earn up to $20 an hour with their program. You just need to be working towards your degree.

Become a Qkids teacher and start earning up to $20 an hour!


Scholarships are a great way to pay for school if you don’t have any money. There are a ton of different types of scholarships you can earn. There are academic scholarships, talent scholarships (think sports, musical instruments, etc.), need based scholarships, service scholarships etc.

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 we got married my husband 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.

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. His 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 his 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 because of our parent income. However, once we were married that gave us independent status.

Since we were now 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.

Bonus Tip For Moms

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 provide a signed doctor’s note to my university’s 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 a child is much more than the grant money so keep that in mind!

Which of these methods to pay for college when you have no money makes the most sense for you? Let us know in the comments below!

Social media graphic of woman at desk with tea, glasses, and papers with text about ways to pay for college when you have no money

McKinzie Bean
McKinzie is a mom of two, and a personal finance enthusiast. She loves teaching other moms how to save money, make money, and take control of their financial situation. She has started five profitable businesses and in college, she double-majored in Financial Planning and Psychology. You may have seen her in publications like Forbes, The US Chamber of Commerce, Yahoo Finance,, The Penny Hoarder, & more.