How to go to College for Free
Luckily, there are alternatives to walking the long and dusty road toward debt. Listed are few ways to get around the financial burden of higher education.
1. Ask Uncle Sam (FAFSA)
The U.S. Federal Pell Grant program receives a larger share of the federal education budget than any other, and unlike some forms of federal student aid, the Pell Grant is not a loan. You don't have to pay it back. And considering you can receive up to $5,815 per academic year until June 2017.https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/about/announcements/pell-2016-17
To determine if you qualify, submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The amount you're rewarded will depend on a number of factors, including your income, your parent's income (if you're a dependent), the cost of attendance and whether you are a full or part time student. For more information, visit the FAFSA article.
Pro tip: A limited number of these grants are awarded each year so apply early! A recent change also allowed a applicants to start applying as early as October 1st instead of January 1st. This allows students to apply earlier.
2. Write it Off (Tax Credits)
American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC)
The American Opportunity Tax Credit lets you claim $2,500 towards the cost of tuition, fees, and course materials paid during the taxable year. Also, 40% of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable, so you can get it even if you don't owe taxes. Even better news, this tax credit was recently increased to include the first 4 years of post-secondary education (it used to cover only the first 2 years) and was extended through 2017. You must be a degree-seeking student enrolled at least half-time to receive this credit.
Lifetime Learning Credit
The Lifetime Learning Credit differs slightly from the AOTC. It offers up to $2,000 in credit per return toward the cost of tuition and fees, but no portion of that is refundable. That means you will not receive the remainder if the amount exceeds what you owe on your taxes. This credit is also aimed at those with lower incomes, so you may or may not qualify depending on your earnings. However, there is no limit to the number of years you can use this credit, and you don't need to be degree-seeking or full-time to claim it.
It's important to note that you are not eligible to obtain the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit at the same time. However, when a person no longer qualifies for one tax credit (say you already have your 4-year degree and no longer qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit), you can still qualify for the Lifetime Learning Credit because this credit does not require you to have less than a 4-year degree to qualify.
3. Get a Job
Most major education institutions offer free tuition to full-time employees and their children, and some even offer reduced tuition for part-time employees. So, if you are an organized person capable of balancing school and work responsibilities, you could potentially earn an income, build your resume and bypass tuition costs all at the same time.
Additionally, if you are solid in your career choice, look for a job with a company that offers tuition benefits to its employees. Want to be a nurse? Hospitals will often pay your way. Looking for a career in finance? A job with that investment firm may just cover your tuition. Companies receive tax deductions for offering tuition programs for employees, so it's inexpensive for them and a huge benefit for you both.
The military offers a number of educational options from providing college credit for time served, to tuition waivers and financial assistance for active members, veterans, and their families. The educational benefits can also pay you while you attend college classes. Visit the military or college article for more information.
Pro tip: Scholarships are also available through the Army, Air Force, and Navy ROTC.
5. Give Back
You only get what you give, and sometimes that's a lot. A number of volunteer organizations offer special educational awards in return for good service. AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and National Health Services all offer financial assistance for qualified participants. Visit our funding college article for more information about the AmeriCorp and Peace Corps.
6. Go Abroad
Many overseas institutions are considerably cheaper than those in the U.S. If you speak German, you might consider getting your degree in Germany (where Universities are free, even to foreigners). Or, thanks to a surge in online degree programs and telecommuting jobs, it is now possible to get your degree and work from just about anywhere in the world with a stable internet connection. Online programs are sometimes (though not always) cheaper, and the cost of living in certain other countries can be quite low.
With a part or full-time job that allows you to earn a high-value currency such as the Euro, English Pound, or US Dollar, you could potentially live where your money goes further, cutting your daily expenses drastically and leaving you with a surplus to pay for school.
While this option may sound great, the reality of living abroad can be trickier than it seems. It is imperative to choose a stable environment with reliable internet connection where you are confident you can devote the proper energy and time to your degree and your work. Also consider the complications of being so far from home and family, and the possible complications of learning another language.
7. Choose Wisely
Finally, more expensive is not always better. Pick your school with care. Tuition is cheaper for in-state residents, for example, and employers often prefer experience and know-how over an impressive-sounding name. You might consider attending a community college your first two years and transfer credits later to the university of your choice. Or look into one of the many "tuition-free" schools available around the country. (Yes, they do exist. You may have to become a resident in a different state or work on campus for a certain amount of hours).Source: The College Board, Annual Survey of Colleges
8. Apply for Scholarships
You probably already know there is free money out there, you just have to apply. It can take some effort, but applying for scholarships can pay off. Visit our College Scholarships article.
9. Look for Loan Assistance upon Graduation
The following information does not help you go to college for free, but does help you reduce your cost to replay loans once your college education is complete. There are multiple student loan repayment options that came into effect during the Obama administration.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program: If you work full-time for the government (this can be federal, state, local, or tribal) and make 120 payments, the rest of your loan can be forgiven.
There are also income-driven repayment plans. There are a number of income-driven replayment options, so visit the federal government site below to learn more.https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans/income-driven