They say nothing good comes free, or does it? In this guide, you’ll learn how to pay for college with no money. Some programs even pay for your living costs, and you don’t need to be a 4-GPA student to take advantage.
It’s possible to get free tuition for more colleges than you think. The catch is, many “free plans” require some payoff later: extracurricular work, job contracts, hidden fees. But if you keep searching, you’ll find the hidden opportunity to enroll for free (even get paid to follow your passion).
This guide is for you if:
- You want to go to college but can’t afford it
- You don’t want to take student loans
- You don’t necessarily want to choose the cheapest option
- You want to work for the career you’re studying
- You want to be making money as soon as possible
Now, just because something is free, that doesn’t mean you should do it. If you enroll for the money, college could be a waste of time. But if you do want to study for your passion and meet amazing people, go for it.
- How to Get 100% Free College
- Pros And Cons of Free College
- How to Afford College Without Savings
- How to Make College Cheaper
- Common Mistakes When Enrolling in College
- How to Make Money in College
- The Bottom Line (long-term plans)
How to Get 100% Free College
Is it worth paying for college when you can get it for free? You may want to study because of passion, degree, work opportunities, people, or skills.
Whatever you seek, you don’t need a traditional plan to get it. Here are four ways to study for free (some easier than others):
#1 In-demand Careers
After all, employment is a pillar of society. So any career that contributes directly to society will have more value. Not only you’ll earn more in a job, but you get larger tuition discounts:
- Nursing & Health Professions
- Public Service Professions
- Military Services
Most universities will waive part of your tuition costs under these fields. You can get it 100% free by signing a work contract (e.g., after college, work X years as a nurse/teacher/soldier)
These students are likely to keep receiving financial aids long after graduating, as professionals.
#2 Tuition-Free Online College
Since Covid, the world has begun to appreciate the value of remote working. But while the virus may be over, work-from-home is here to stay.
More and more companies are taking this measure, and recently, colleges too. Whether it’s for productivity or health purposes, why not take advantage?
While it may look inferior at first, online education saves a lot of money without giving a cheap experience. After all, what matters is to get better prepared for your career.
If an online college does it better than traditional classes, then why not? You save money on commuting, buy less equipment, work on your terms. You have more college options outside your location.
If you like going to college, there are face-to-face classes for that. You can prepare 100% of the course from home while attending optional Q&As, lessons, and exams.
#3 Get The Scholarship
Society values students who score the highest grades. Because it correlates with how much they can contribute to their community.
Academic proficiency has countless advantages, not just saving money. It may mean getting free credits, qualify for exclusive colleges, or get performance bonuses at a job.
It’s only worth it if, of course, you like to study. If you’re instead looking to finish college quickly and do other things, you may not have enough commitment to reach that level. If you haven’t applied for college yet, you may still have time to raise those grades.
Thankfully, scholarships are just one way to get free education.
#4 Let Your Employer Pay for It
If that’s new for you, know that there are lots of large companies willing to prepay your college. Some reasons include:
- Better employee retention
- Less training required
- Tax advantages (free up to $5250 per year)
While it may look like a burden at first, it’s a blessing. Many college students worry that they won’t find a job after they finish college. How are they going to pay their debts?
These companies are securing your job position before you’ve even started college.
It’s a great responsibility though. Employers require you to finish the degree no matter what, then spend <5 years working with them. If you skip those conditions, you’ll face lots of unfair fees.
There’s a chance that you don’t like the career or the company that pays for your college. Think twice before signing that contract: “Would I study this profession if it wasn’t free?”
Pros And Cons of Free College
Should your college be free? Tough question.
Some claim that education should be available for everyone. Others argue that people don’t value things unless they pay for them. It may help society, but costs would increase.
What we know for sure is, academic success has more to do with the student’s commitment than college conditions.
Free or paid? It depends on how you value the pros and cons:
Pro: Save Money for Better Projects
Students want to live their life after graduating. Unfortunately, most will postpone their plans for a few years to pay off student debt. Sometimes until 30.
Paying for college makes sense if you’ll earn that amount back. But education doesn’t guarantee income, so why not save up for something else?
You’ll have more money to invest in yourself, your business, and your portfolio. Money to fund vacations and things you’ve always wanted to buy. Money to work on your passion.
If that’s valuable to you, good news: you don’t need to spend $10K+ in college to get there.
Con: Limited Quality
When asking career professionals about success, most agree that learning starts after graduation, not before. It couldn’t be more true with free colleges.
- Any college costs money to run.
- Paid colleges can invest in their students more than free alternatives.
- When everyone gets the same education, you’ll need to work extra to stand out
Are you a lazy student who sees free college as an easy road? Don’t even try.
Premium colleges are pricey, so what can you do?
- Enroll in free college
- Research the job market to see what skills have the most demand
- Buy an intensive course around that skill (3-12 months, cost of $500-$2000)
This way, you get a better education than in free colleges without paying high tuition costs.
Pro: Valid For Employment
While a degree doesn’t guarantee employment, it can be hard to get a job without it. But once you have it, it doesn’t matter if you studied 4 years or 8, unless it’s a high-skill position.
Suppose you’re an employer and have the following portfolios:
- Applicant 1: No college degree and no work experience
- Applicant 2: No degree but has 1-3 years of experience
- Applicant 3: Has a degree but no experience
- Applicant 4: Has a degree and 1-3 years of experience
- Applicant 5: Has an advanced degree and no experience
- Applicant 6: Has an advanced degree and 1-3 years of experience
Who do you want to be?
Right off the bat, No.6 looks like the best. But is it worth your money and time? (You’re reading this article about paying for college with no money) Probably not.
Many would go with No.5. But employers don’t want the risk of hiring expensive employees with no history. The same applies to No.3 and No.1.
No.2 can work in **high-demand jobs** with low competition. In fact, many people get paid big money without ever going to college. But if No.4 presents for the position, that applicant would get the job.
Even if you’re No.1, you can still get experience if you start low enough.
It makes financial sense to get work experience asap. The degree isn’t a determining.
Con: Could Lower Motivation
Money is a form of attention. If you pay for something, it’s because you value it enough. If you pay for college, you’ll study better because you want to get the value of that money.
If you don’t pay for college, you don’t have as much to lose. You may instead see it as a waste of time and will be more likely to quit. But paying for it puts you “in debt” (metaphorically) until you finish the last year.
In that sense, students aren’t as diligent in free colleges. If you want to grow, you’re much more likely to do so if you surround yourself with the right students.
Still, there’s a small group of people that will be motivated no matter what, because they know why they’re studying. If you’re that kind, then both options work.
Pro: Focused on Studying, Not Money
For some, free college can lower motivation. For others, it increases it (see the previous point). Because when you don’t worry about money, you have more time for your career.
Ironically, it’s the fastest way to make money. It’s funny how chasing money delays the process, either for spreading too much or focusing on the wrong thing. Not with free college.
You instead spend that time on getting better grades and learning more skills.
Con: Low Entry Barrier
America doesn’t agree whether college should be free or not. Some objections include:
- Degree inflation: If everybody has access to a degree, it becomes less of a specialty. Employers need to raise recruitment standards. And students might be wasting time studying for a saturated market.
- Ineffective: Free education doesn’t correct debt, partially, because college doesn’t guarantee that students will get high-paying jobs.
What would make one graduate different than another? Probably the grades and college history. That’s probably how colleges would limit the number of students.
So if it’s free, there may be strict application requirements. Not so different from scholarships.
How to Afford College Without Savings
There are ways to enroll in the college you want, even without money. All you need to do using someone else’s money and have a good income plan.
You may carry debt at first. But by the time you finish college, you won’t owe anything.
The best colleges aren’t free though. If you’re willing to work for it, you can still enroll with the following options:
Students who borrow their way to college have it harder than you. Not only do they need to work on the weekends, but also have less time for studying. That means they’re barely keeping up and getting low value for their careers.
Tutoring, however, seems to be the BEST way to earn in college. It’s what happens when you combine work with the college. It’s the closest thing to getting paid to study.
The key is to teach the same content you’re learning, so you can learn it yourself again. Let me explain:
- First, you do your first college year or two
- After you build those basic skills, you then have enough experience to teach new-comers
- You would study for your 3rd-4th year while teaching the 1st-2nd year
In many technical careers, lessons build on top of each other. The better you learn the basic knowledge, the better you’ll do with advanced lessons. That’s why tutoring works: teaching is a higher level of learning.
You don’t need to get the best grades. Even if you failed for the first year, that’s still more experience than someone who’s going their first time.
But that’s not all. Tutoring is an effective side hustle even after college years:
a. After graduating, you can both work for your employer and tutor for a side hustle
b. If you graduate but can’t find jobs, you can still tutor while searching
You can even go online and tutor anybody worldwide. And if you like the idea, it could eventually turn into a consulting business.
#2 Tuition-Free/Community College
If you want to join a specific college but don’t meet the requirements yet, community college can give you a second chance.
The first two years of any career are about acquiring general knowledge. You could say most colleges teach the same base-level lessons. This allows, for example, to transfer credits easily when switching colleges.
So community college can help you get the degree at the university you want. Also known as 2+2 programs:
- Study 2 years in community college
- Switch to university and transfer credits
- Finish the other two years in university
You pay half the price for almost the same value. And since the first half is free, you still have time to make up your mind or change careers. You can also save money for those years.
#3 Enroll in ‘Work College’ …
Most people don’t know that work colleges exist because of how few there are. They are small-size colleges that offer both education and simple jobs. So any student who joins for free would ‘pay off’ college with a 10h-15h workweek.
These students would still study full-time like everyone else. And while that sounds like lots of work, there are fair benefits:
- You would graduate from college with no debt
- You might be able to pay what you can and work for the rest
- You get valid work experience while studying. More chances to earn after college somewhere else
If you’re committing to 15 hours more per week, you want to make them count. So you’re more likely to value your education and take studying seriously.
Some people, however, don’t like this kind of pressure. Feel free to look at other options:
Generally, a student would enroll in college with a student loan. The repayment plan is either to work in the summer or get hired after college.
Work isn’t guaranteed unless you agree with a company early on. Internships give you the chance to secure your job years before finishing college.
Like work colleges, internships add to your work experience. The difference is, you don’t add hours, you replace them.
So you could do 2-3 years in college and the other 1-2 years in a company’s office. The education would then turn into employee training, which is more valuable for the market.
Mind that these companies will pay for those intern years (although lower than the average employee). You can finish college without worrying about money.
#5 Pay It With Friends & Family
If you have the trust and support, family funding is the best alternative. You can focus on studying and not worry about anything else. In fact, one of most parents’ goals is to save for children’s education.
However, emotion goes hand in hand with money. You wouldn’t be willing to support someone who ends up misusing your money. Maybe you don’t want the risk of trusting a student with no earning experience.
If you have the chance, use it wisely. If you don’t, be careful not to put your family in a tight spot. As you’ve seen, there are many ways to study for free and still win the job interview.
#6 Get the Right Student Loan
If none of the previous work, you can always rely on the traditional student loan. But that doesn’t mean you cannot avoid debt. Not if you choose the right one.
When borrowing for college, you want to go for Federal Loans. They have the best conditions by far, from pricing to flexibility.
You can find the FAFSA requirements on StudentAid.gov, some of which are:
- US Citizenship/Eligible non-US residents
- Satisfactory academic history
- Valid SSN and personal documents
Assuming you qualify, here’s what you get that private lenders don’t offer:
- Lower, fixed interest rates
- No credit history required
- Income-Driven Repayment: You pay a percentage of your monthly accessible income. If it’s zero, you pay nothing temporarily
- If you cannot pay, you can postpone payments for three years (VS 12 months with private loans)
For most loans, you start making payments six months after graduating/dropping out.
How to Make College Cheaper
There’s a point where it no longer makes sense to save money on education. If you’re looking for the cheapest college or the highest-paying job, you’re going to get trapped doing something you don’t want to do for years.
Once you have the responsibility of loans, jobs, and personal liabilities, you no longer have the freedom of choice.
Rather than looking for free plans, it’s worth being resourceful to get the career you want. That drive is what makes you proficient in your field and eventually make the big bucks.
So how do you make it worth it?
#1 Get More Enrollment Options
Your ideal college may be out of reach for your budget. But you can get close to those ideals if you get enough enrollment options.
Who knows? Maybe there’s a university out there that costs less than you thought. Or a smaller college with better facilities.
Most people don’t find these opportunities because they start planning too late. They think they’ll get accepted wherever they apply.
For whatever reason, you may get fewer admissions than expected. So your only choice is to enroll in whatever college accepts you first.
How to prevent this:
- Start researching early
- Ask friends and family (for legacy student privileges
- Widen your options by applying to online colleges
#2 Don’t Just Choose by Price
If you really want to save money, pay attention to the value, not just the price. Even if it’s free, but you don’t get what you want, it’s a waste of time.
What does make college valuable for you? Everybody has a different meaning:
- Low cost: You get the degree you want for little investment
- Work opportunities: You’re more likely to get better jobs after graduating
- Networking: You could meet the best students in the country, or perhaps your future best friends
- Prestige: For many employees, studying at Harvard and similar are impressive achievements
- Convenience: It’s the nearest college in your location (saves on commuting)
- Availability: Your college allows you to graduate studying from home
If your college has two or more values you care about, it’s worth enrolling, even when it’s not the cheapest.
#3 Make Every Dollar Count
What would your ideal graduation look like? For many, it means to graduate early, have no debt, save enough, and have immediate career opportunities.
That’s not typical though. Most end up in debt, trapped on a job that has nothing to do with their degree. This may be you if you prepare too late.
Every dollar works for your future:
- If you borrowed, pay the minimum amounts every month
- Use whatever savings you have left to make more money
- Prioritize cashflow over investments
Studying with a loan means you have almost no payments until graduation. That’s the perfect time to work on long-term plans, such as investment portfolios, real estate, personal brands, or your passion. However, make sure that you get the cash flow right first.
Prioritize active income, as it initially pays better than passive income. Once you have consistent income/more savings, you can think long-term.
#4 Study Mostly From Home
College is time-consuming. It may take 1h to travel back on forth daily. And not every class will be worth your time.
So why not take control?
Instead of commuting, you’d have another free hour every day. You learn at your pace, and because you’re at home, you can follow a custom routine.
More focus leads to less study time. So you finish the lessons earlier than in a class.
Most degrees won’t be that easy and will require someone’s help. But still, you’ll learn more from taking initiative than passively listening to a teacher. When you have questions, you come to the Q&As.
Some people love it. Others find it distracting. We suggest you try both and know yourself.
#5 Study Like a Pro
Studying like a pro always saves money:
- Because you’re proficient, you don’t need that much time to prepare
- Great students get scholarships
- Extraordinary students can manage more workload than others
Which means they finish lessons faster. They can collapse time and skip years in college.
If you could skip 1-2 years, you’d save around 25-50% of the tuition.
If that sounds hard, there’s more. Skipping years also means you’re graduate sooner. So if you borrowed money, you have to pay it back 1-2 years sooner.
Note: Most student loans allow to pause payments for 1-3 years after graduation.
If you’re skilled enough to skip college years, paying loans earlier won’t be a problem. Because that proves that you’re prepared for making money fast.
Common Mistakes When Enrolling in College
What was your impression of college when you just finished high school? If you’ve been there already, how do you look at it now?
When you enroll in college for the first time, it’s going to be different from what you expect. You’ve never done it before, so it’s normal to encounter obstacles along the way.
Failing to accept this expectation gap leads to the first mistake:
#1 Start Planning Too Late
You may think something is easy simply because you’re ignoring the difficulties. There will be things you won’t see because you’ve never done it before. So how is it a good idea to underestimate preparation?
On your first day of class, you’ll likely find two types of student:
a. The one who has no idea of what to do
b. The one who knows every unit of each subject, what the exams are, and has bought all the equipment already
Planification is everything:
- How early you start applying for colleges
- When you prepare for the tests
- How to manage time for study/work
The longer you wait, the less freedom you’ll have to choose what you want.
#2 Waiting for Graduation to Figure Out Repayments
According to CNBC, college doesn’t pay off unless students start preparing for their careers as soon as possible.
If you wait until the last year, you may get disappointed:
- The job market isn’t what you expected
- Financial stress can make you a worse student
- For most employers, having a degree isn’t enough to hire
Wouldn’t it be great to finish college with savings, or at least, no debt? Some students take it for granted. But opportunities don’t show up unless you search for them.
Even if you immediately get a job, that’s not enough to pay off loans on time. There are also side hustles, which take months of trial and error. With no earning experience, it’s not a good idea to pay 4+ college years in one.
#3 Expecting a Job After College
Maybe you believe you don’t know enough to land a job. You expect that by the end of college, you get your opportunity. Or you believe that somehow you’ll get the job in the fourth year without planning.
At most, your college can help with internships and placements. Still, that does NOT guarantee that the employer has any interest in hiring you. Not all careers have the same demand and entry barrier.
When competing among many people, your future boss will instead choose whoever has better work experience. If you don’t have that, you may need to go through low-paying jobs first. You build your portfolio and eventually get hired where you want.
#4 Not Thinking Long Term
We tend to believe that life will get better in the future. In reality, life is a repetition of whatever you do today. If you don’t improve, things either stay the same or change for worse.
When you imagine your dream career, for example, you may underestimate how many “problems” you’ll live with. Responsibility, stress, uncertainty. Work on your future before it’s too late to change.
It may look sometimes like life changes in a moment: the college you choose, the last exam, or the job interview. Those achievements don’t come from talent necessarily, but from small, consistent habits:
- Updating your balance sheets
- Spending free time productively
- Start a side hustle/work after studying
- Organizing semesters
- Training skills daily
Over time, you’ll find yourself closer to your ideal reality.
How to Make Money in College
Traditionally, students in need would get jobs in their free time. You’d work part-time after classes, full-time in summers, and repeat for years until you pay off.
Now things have changed, and there are better opportunities. While the traditional way still works, you don’t need to put dozens of hours on a job. Instead, you can create passive income streams online.
Make money when you sleep, when you study, all the time.
Some of these have potential while others just offer extra cash. We suggest you try as many as possible to find whatever works better for you. By graduation, you could have a few of these running!
#1 Online Arbitrage
There are ways to earn good passive income without a business. You can earn without a degree, a product, not even social media following. Retail arbitrage is about leveraging other people’s businesses and exploiting inefficiencies.
All you need to do is research the products that will give you profit margins. You then create a listing in an e-com platform, get a sale, and ship the product from your manufacturer to the client. You buy low in one place and sell average-high in a more known platform (Amazon, eBay, Etsy).
To learn more, there’s a guide to online arbitrage from zero.
- You can get sales within 1-3 days of creating the right listing
- Sometimes, you can keep reselling the same product for years
- With enough products, it can earn up to six figures passively
#2 Review/Focus Groups
Let’s say you’re a business owner and launch a new product. If nobody knows your brand, what are the chances of someone trusting your solution? Without social feedback, you’re missing a lot of customers.
So there’s a return-of-investment in buying reviews. Not to manipulate social perception, but to improve your history length. People buy when others have had good experiences before.
If you go to Facebook or any media platform, you’ll find e-com groups exchanging reviews. You buy the product they tell you, write a review, and get refunded (plus commissions). You could also use those products for arbitrage.
Focus groups, however, look for customers with specific interests, ages, and locations. You gather with a small group to answer market-research-related questions. This data allows companies to create winning products.
It’s hard to get accepted with such specific requirements. But it’s the same reason these people get paid $100+ per hour on focus groups.
#3 Earn Cash Rewards
Would you say no to free money? (Hint: there’s no scam)
Think of all the websites and services you use regularly. Someone right now is getting paid for doing the same. How is that possible?
For a company, there’s no use in creating an awesome product that people won’t buy. You need a lead magnet to encourage them to try it, so they make an informed decision. You can be sure they’re making back more money than they’re giving away.
But where’s the money exactly?
a. Sign-Up Offers
There’s a lot of competition in financial niches. That’s why almost every platform now offers a welcome gift. If you verify your account, spend money, or invite people, you get further bonuses.
The catch is, most have higher withdrawal requirements. But it’s still possible to get out this free money:
- Sign up on a dozen different trading platforms and claim the bonuses
- Send all the bonuses to one account
- Withdraw from that account
If there’s a minimum sending limit, then you could put some of your money to make the transaction. The rewards are more than enough to counter the fees.
b. Cash-Back Rewards
Many apps (Ibotta, Fetch Rewards, RetailMeNot) offer 1-3% in cashback rewards. As for credit cards, the most exclusive ones go up to 5-10%.
How does this make sense for the company?
- You’re typically paying them more than what they’re giving back
- Businesses are buying your data to improve on advertising
Some programs have a limit to how much cash back you can get per year. But there’s no limit to how many cash-back offers you can have.
If you’re planning to spend a lot, consider the Curve app. It allows you to save 1-20% in 3-6 retailers for the first 30 days (or forever if you get the upgraded card). Best of all, the cashback percentage stacks on your other cards.
E.g., You use the Curve app (1% cashback) to pay with a Chase card (2% cashback). Your discount is 3%.
c. Credit Card Churning
If you’re gonna spend money, do it under the right credit card. Many banks pay you to buy with them, sometimes over $1000 in prizes. And while the best ones are reserved for high-score individuals, there are many cards designed for students only.
The strategy is to sign up for these cards before making big purchases. You then spend the money and claim your rewards. To avoid service fees, you can downgrade the cards you don’t use.
To get started, here are the best credit cards for churning.
You could also delete your accounts, wait 1-2 years, re-register and claim the welcome bonus again.
Depending on your risk tolerance, there are three levels of credit card churning. The key is to do it responsively to avoid credit score issues.
#4 Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is the one most people skip over. If that’s new to you, affiliate means selling someone else’s products for a commission.
It’s a sales job: you either promote yourself or create a funnel that does it for you. Either way, it takes effort for no guaranteed reward. Some programs could be affiliate scams.
When it comes to college, things change. You’re exposed to this large group of people, you see them almost every day, maybe share interests. So college students have it easier for this business model.
If you do well, you can keep making money passively long after graduation. Also, brands may ask you to promote them (fixed fee for content, commission for sales).
Now, some people worry that selling will affect their relationships and trust. But that’s not the case if you only recommend products you genuinely believe in. Something you’d use whether you get paid or not.
The Bottom Line (long-term plans)
Suppose someone gives you the chance to enroll in college for free. Would that be enough to say Yes? Or are you searching for something else?
It makes sense that everyone wants to save on tuition as much as possible. But if everyone chose free college, it may not be that valuable. Or worse, you’d waste years of your youth instead of working on your dream career.
Technical careers will require high education. And depending on the college, that justifies paying more. Otherwise, consider enrolling for free or skipping it altogether.
When it comes to money, the focus should be on high-income skills and investing what you save, either in the market, a business, or yourself. Along with college, it’s the best way to prepare for the real world.