how to pay for college with no money saved

How To Pay For College With No Money Saved

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Have you have found yourself in a position where you need to start paying for college but you don’t have any money saved? This is an unfortunate norm for many Americans who are struggling to make ends meet. Fortunately, there is a way to significantly reduce your college expenses to allow you to pay for college without going deep into debt!

However, the typical route in this situation is to apply for student loans and rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. The debt is then stretched out over 30+ years and these loans forever haunt us throughout adulthood.

The Student Loan Crisis

Here is a scary statistic: Americans owe a combined $1.56 trillion dollars in student loans¹.  With that astronomical number, it’s no wonder we now consider huge student loan debt to be the norm.

Just this morning I overheard on the radio that my local university is proposing to raise tuition another 2%. It seems the problem is only going to get worse. Many Americans stick their heads in the sand and ignore the problems associated with student loan debt. Debt has become such a normal part of our lives many of us feel there is no other alternative than to live with it.

Debt Is The New “Normal”

Debt is the new normal

This “normal” has been taught to us throughout our early years and by the lenders. In order to move forward in this world, we need a college degree that we can’t afford. After we get the degree, we get a job so we can buy things to impress people we don’t like.

Normal seems pretty depressing.

In addition, we are enticed by gimmicks that encourage us to go further into debt. Have you heard of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program? I work for a police department and I know several officers who were enticed by this program. This is a federal program that grants loan forgiveness if you are employed by a government organization, a 501(c)(3), or other nonprofits that provide qualifying public service as its primary purpose.

Many public school teachers took out loans with the expectation that this program would erase their student loan debt after 10 years of public service. Now for a bit of a reality check.

As of the 3rd quarter of 2018, a total of 19,321 people submitted applications to have their loans forgiven. The ACTUAL number of people whose loans were erased: 55². You read that right. Only 55 of the 19,321 in 2018 were forgiven due to fine print. There are so many hoops to jump through for this program that most people who thought they qualify actually do not. The fine print in the program has prevented the majority of people seeking forgiveness to get the help they thought was coming their way.

How Much Does Tuition Actually Cost?

how much does tuition really cost

Let’s look at the current average tuition rates of some local universities to see how much you can expect to pay for tuition and fees – not including room and board:

  • University of Southern California – $56,225 per year
  • University of Chicago $57,006 per year
  • Harvard University $50,420 per year
  • Stanford University $51,354 per year
  • University of Notre Dame $55,553 per year
  • Arizona State University $11,917 per year
  • Ohio State University $10,726 per year
  • Texas A&M University $10,862 per year
  • Florida State University  $7,516 per year
  • Michigan State University $14,522 per year
  • University Of California Los Angeles $13,225 per year

As you can see from the above list, you can expect to pay anywhere from $7,500 a year to $57,00 a year for a 4-year degree at a university. Keep in mind these are all in-state tuition rates. If you are attending from out of state, expect to pay about 3x these amounts. These rates also do not include room and board or meal plans. You can see how easy it is to owe $100,000 or more in student loans upon graduation.

If you average all of the United States university tuition rates, the average amount you will pay each year for a degree from a university is $9,970 a year per Collegedata.com

How I Saved A TON Of Money On Tuition

how i saved a ton of money on tuition

Now that I have given you all the doom and gloom statistics, let’s look at an alternative. This is the route I took to get my degrees and it’s one that saved my family a TON of money!

Out of high school, I attended a community college for 2 years and completed all my prerequisites. I met with a counselor and made sure that every class I took could transfer to a university. Upon graduation from the community college, the majority of my classes transferred over and I only had to pay for 2 years of the university tuition.

free budget printable

The Cost Of Community College

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average yearly cost of tuition and fees for a community college in the United States is only $3,347.

To save money, I attended Glendale Community College for my first 2 years. In 2019, the tuition for 18 credits a year at Glendale Community College is $2,010. By going to a community college, I saved myself AT LEAST $16,000 in tuition if I had attended a university for $10,000 a year.

After my 2 years at the community college, I transferred to Northern Arizona University (NAU). The tuition per year at NAU is $10,030. By going the community college route, I was able to get a 4 year Bachelor’s degree for $24,000 (in today’s dollars). My degree has one name on it – Northern Arizona University even though I only studied there for 2 years.

Does A Name Really Matter?

does a name really matter

Before you argue with me about the value of a degree from USC or another prestigious college, can you tell me the name of the school your doctor or surgeon went to? I’ll bet you can’t. The reason you don’t know which university your doctor, surgeon, dentist, anesthesiologist, or other high paid professional attended, is because it doesn’t matter.

You value your doctor for reasons other than what school he or she attended. Bedside manners, knowledge, and communication skills are what attract you to them. Not that piece of paper on the wall. For this very reason, I do agree that college is important, but putting yourself into $100,000 worth of debt is a terrible route to take.

With all things being equal, if you don’t have a scholarship for a considerably reduced tuition rate, the community college path is the route to take. After you finish two years at the community college, this is not the time to transfer to the highest priced private university in your area either. Select a reasonably priced public university that is accredited for a good education.

You Still Need A Budget To Be Successful

In order to afford a college degree using my community college method, you still need to budget your money. If you start with a community college, the average tuition is $3,347 a year. That comes out to $279 a month. About half the price of your average car payment!

If you later attend a University for the average of $9,970 a year, that would be $831 a month. The $831 may be a little steep for you so let’s break it down a little differently.

If the first two years is only $279 a month, try to save $500 a month. If you do this for 2 years, you would have saved $5,304 extra by the time you had to start paying for the university! ($500- $279 tuition = $221 extra each month x 24 months = $5,304)

There really is no way to rack up tons of student loan debt if you use my above methodology. If you’re looking to increase your monthly cash flow, it may be time to start a side hustle as described in my related article, 6 Reasons Why You Need A Side Hustle.

More importantly, paying for college with cash really is possible if you avoid the expensive university trap. If you need help creating and sticking to a budget, check out my article It’s Time To Budget Like A Boss! In there you can pick up my free budget printables and for an extra money hack, sign up for my Free Money Finding Challenge!

Other Great Ways To Save Money On Tuition

other great ways to save money on tuition

Here are some other great ways to reduce your college tuition expenses:

  • Apply for FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid
  • Apply for the Pell Grant
  • If you’re thinking about the military, look into a ROTC scholarship
  • Go to Scholarships.com and make filling out scholarships a full-time job
  • Check out The Scholarship Lady who specializes in connecting you to scholarship opportunities
  • Many Fortune 500 companies provide scholarships to students here 
  • Several large banks provide scholarships as well. Check them out here
  • Fastweb, moolahSPOT, Scholly, CappexCheggNiche, and Scholarship Monkey connect people to scholarship money
  • Check your state for local grants here
  • Check with your current employer. I was surprised to find out that the local restaurant I worked at paid $500 a year for college tuition. Often employers will help pay for college if you look in your benefits package.

Avoid Student Loan Debt Like The Plague

Wherever you are in life right now, make the decision to do everything you can to avoid going into debt for a college degree. It certainly is possible to cash flow a college degree if you plan for it and do your research. Keep in mind that the name of the university does not mean as much as you think it does.

If you currently have large student loan debt, it may be worth it to look at refinancing. Depending on the balance of your loans and your interest rate, refinancing may save you thousands of dollars in the long run. Keep in mind that refinancing usually comes with fees that are added to the loan, so make sure refinancing is actually worth it.

For more information on refinancing, check with a reputable company like Credible or Lending Tree. Both of these companies linked below provide calculators to see if it makes sense for you to refinance your loans to a lower interest rate.

I encourage you to think outside the box when it comes to college. The mainstream way of thinking will lead you down a dark path of debt and regret. Look for other ways to receive a college education, without paying for it for the rest of your life.


Do you know of other ways to save money on a college/university tuition? Comment below, I would love to learn more tips and tricks! As always, if you haven’t signed up for my weekly newsletter, please enter your name and email below so you stay in the loop! Keep at it my friends, you work too hard to be this broke!

-Ryan

About The Author

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Finding trustworthy personal finance information isn't easy. As a full-time police officer and personal finance blogger, Ryan Luke has made it his personal mission to provide honest and easy to understand personal finance information. During his career, he has seen the devastation left behind by people who mismanage their finances. Due to this, he is dedicated to providing you the most up to date information to get out of debt and start building your future.

He is a husband and the father of three children. Through proper budgeting and money management, they have been able to live off one income and build wealth at the same time. Come join him in an active conversation about all the best personal finance information available!

8 thoughts on “How To Pay For College With No Money Saved”

  1. great post which can help many people. I am forwarding it to a young friend who wants to start college.

    1. I’m glad you liked it! Universities are such a money trap, so many people owe over 100k when they get out of college. It’s starting your life in debt.

  2. Karen Champlain

    Another one of my favorites to recommend is https://www.amazon.com/Ultimate-Scholarship-Book-2019-Scholarships/dp/1617601306/ref=mp_s_a_1_2?crid=XUJGCY87I4IF&keywords=2019+college+scholarship+book&qid=1554637812&s=gateway&sprefix=2019+colpege+sc&sr=8-2. They come out with a new one every year. If you have kids in high school start freshman year applying for scholarships. They might get any but you are creating good habits. I know you talk about Dave Ramsey. The book that he and his daughter wrote, “smart money smart kids.” Really inspired me with my own girls. Great post really enjoyed it.

    1. Thanks for that resource Karen! I have read Smart Money, Smart Kids as well. I do need to do a few posts about the topics in there as well. Have a great day!

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