How to not pay for College

college graduates

How (NOT) to Pay for College-The Value of Education 

dream big and make it happen quote
dream big and make it happen quote

You’re a junior in high school, perhaps even a sophomore. Is it too early to think of college? Of course not! Not if you want to apply, get an offer, explore, choose and apply for external funding! Learn how to start not paying for college!

 With four degrees and a lifetime of education, you could call me a professional student. 

I earned my undergraduate at Depaul University in Chicago. They offered me a full tuition scholarship, which pretty much clinched the deal, since I loved Chicago. I took some time off after my undergraduate studies… I perfected my cooking skills, traveled, performed, completed a short certificate degree in Europe, and generally bummed around while enjoying wine. In 2008, I was looking to resolve my marriage situation and the idea of going back to Chicago for a Masters degree came to mind. Essentially, getting my Masters became an excuse to avoid my marital problems. I resolved to pack my bags, the cat and headed to Northwestern University. This time around, the funding was more complicated since Northwestern did not give full tuition scholarships. I had to get creative and found funding across multiple foundations, companies and grants. The tuition was enormous, approaching 60,000 per year. Just as orientation week was about to start, about 20,000 of my funding fell through. I nearly had a panic attack! How was I to come up with 20,000 in a week? I couldn’t back out of starting school since I already payed the deposit. As I researched my options a friend came to my rescue. 

 “Why don’t you ask the school for more money?” 

“How am I going to do that?”  

“Maybe they could give you out of a need-based grant, rather than the scholarship fund? Go ahead, write a letter to the dean of the University, the dean of your specific school and the financial aid office. It’s worth a try!” 

It certainly was! It only took a short week before I saw results. An extra $20,000 appeared out of nowhere. What I didn’t know, was that once a student commits to attending and enrolls, it’s in the school’s interest (not only the student’s) to see that all students progress and graduate. Apparently, each school protects their graduate rate ratio like gold. 

I am not advocating pretending poverty and writing letters with excuses of last-minute emergencies. However, it’s useful to know that if such emergencies actually occur, most schools are willing to work with students to ensure adequate funding. 

 Before we start grasping at straws, there are very valid and useful funding resources that every student should consider. While there are funding options available to international students, those cases should be explored with the office of financial aid. Here, I will focus on options for US citizens and residents. 

Funding at the federal level can come in many forms. Most students are familiar with the FAFSA application which is a document that gauges their financial status and needs. Pending the application results the funding can come in forms of need/merit based grants as well as a government subsidized loans (that need to be eventually repaid). Funding can cover tuition, attendance costs and living expenses. It’s beneficial to most students to apply as an “independent,” otherwise the whole family’s resources are taken into consideration and parents are expected to chip in. 

 In addition to federal aid, each particular state has its own grants and fellowships. Most students would do well to research funding for minorities, “high-need” areas of study, foster-care students and funding for students with disabilities. 

 The great news is that there is something out there for everyone. There are a ton of foundations and organizations that are looking to support students. For example, during my doctoral studies at University of Rochester (Eastman), I received funding from the Kosciuszko foundation, simply because of my Polish heritage. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that all I needed to do was prove that I was Polish! Of course, I needed to put together the application, recommendation letters, my academic record and write an essay. In the end, my effort paid off and I received a fellowship which renewed annually. Below, I include links to websites with valuable grant and financial aid information. In addition to need-based assistance, I highly recommend that students search for funding by their area of study, ethnic background as well as any special life situations/interests. Lastly, amounts available as well as specific funds can periodically fluctuate, therefore it’s always good to keep an eye out for annual eligibility changes. Focus on your dreams. 

 Good luck and happy studying! 

 “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela 

college graduates
college graduates


Federal Funding: 

 State-level funding: NJ 


Other resources: 

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