Most students know all about the four most commonly-used college funding sources: federal student loans, federal grants, school scholarships, and their parents. If these sources don’t cover enough, the typical student starts to say they “can’t afford” to go to college.
Well, if you’re a college student, it’s not up to the government, your school, or your parents to fund your education—it’s up to you. If you’re willing to go the extra mile to earn your degree, try a few of these 10 commonly overlooked college funding sources.
1. Private scholarships.
Both private and non-profit organizations offer scholarships at the national and local levels. You may have to enter a contest, write an essay, and/or meet specific criteria. The College Board offers an easy-to-use scholarship search—check out apps.collegeboard.org/cbsearch_ss/welcome.jsp today.
Many other websites also allow you to search for scholarships. Remember, searching for scholarships should always be free.
2. Private loans.
If federal grants and loans haven’t been enough, private student loans could help. Private student loans are offered by banks and other companies to make a profit. Right now could be a good time to take out private loans, since Sallie Mae and other student loan companies have been lowering their interest rates.
Still, federal loans usually have lower interest rates, so think of private loans as a back-up plan. Try building good credit before you take out a private loan, borrow only what you need, pay interest while in college, and keep aiming for federal aid.
3. Education-related tax credits.
As a college student, you should file taxes each year, or make sure your parents claim you as a dependent on their taxes. This won’t pay for college by itself, but it’s free money.
For example, look at the American Opportunity Tax Credit. If you’re an undergrad student or supporting an undergrad student, you could get back up to $2,500 of the first $4,000 of school-related expenses that you report. Unless Congress extends this credit, it’ll only be here until 2012, so don’t miss out.
Another example is the Lifetime Learning Credit. If you qualify, you’ll get a credit that equals 20% of your tuition and related expenses. You could get a maximum of $2,000.
If you’re independent for tax purposes and you support a dependent who is in college, you could get their tax credit plus yours. If you’re not sure whether you qualify as independent or whether whoever you supports counts as a dependent, check with a tax specialist.
4. Federal work-study.
OK, this is a type of federal student aid, but it’s a little different. With federal work-study, you have to earn your aid through part-time work. You’ll usually work on campus, but off-campus jobs are sometimes offered in your area.
These jobs usually pay minimum wage. However, since they’re often on or near campus, you could save on commuting costs by working on days you have classes scheduled. You still have to apply and interview for work-study jobs, but since they’re meant for students, they can be easier to get.
When filling out your student FAFSA, you’ll be asked whether you’re interested in work-study. Say yes! If you say you’re interested in work-study, but don’t qualify, you won’t lose anything. If you qualify and get work-study, you don’t have to accept it if you change your mind later.
5. Paid internships.
Some degree programs students to take internships, but leave it up to the students to pick their own. While there are many great unpaid internships, snagging a paid internship could help you fund your college expenses. Be sure to stay at the head of the pack with a good GPA, a great resume, and well-written cover letters.
6. Regular part-time employment.
Working at Burger King or McDonald’s can help you pay for school, even if it doesn’t impress your bros.
Some students are afraid that working part-time will hurt their grades, but studies show this usually isn’t true. For example, a study by researcher Gary R. Pike showed that students who worked 20 hours per week or fewer and students who didn’t work at all reported similar grades. This was true for students who worked on and off campus.
So, a part-time job probably won’t sink your GPA.
7. Full-time summer employment.
While you’re visiting your family over the summer, why not get a short-term job in your hometown? The money you save up during the summer can help you out once school starts.
Working full-time during the school year, on the other hand, comes with risks. According to the study we cited above, students who work over 20 hours per week tend to earn lower grades.
8. Self-employment and/or freelancing.
What if you don’t qualify for work study and can’t find a part-time or full-time job? Take the driver’s seat and set up your own job!
Think about what you like to do, what’s in demand, and what you’re studying in school. Are you in a medical program so you can become a veterinarian? Try starting a dog walking service. Are you studying education in hopes of becoming a kindergarten teacher? Try babysitting.
You might also be able to freelance online. If you’re an art major, you could find a company that needs a graphic designer and offer them your services. If you’re studying computer science, you could help companies make websites.
9. The UPromise credit card.
How can a credit card help you pay for school? Well, when you use a UPromise credit card on your day-to-day purchases, you earn 1% or more you can put toward your college expenses. You can even link it to certain student loans and arrange automatic transfers to chip away at what you owe. There’s no cap on how much you can earn.
Bank of America offers two UPromise cards: the Gas & Grocery card and the Dining & Grocery card. You can apply for either or both.
10. Plasma, egg, or sperm donations—and hair selling.
You can’t quite put this on a resume, but selling what your body makes for free could pay for a few textbooks or student fees. Although places that collect plasma, women’s eggs, and men’s sperm call the products they get “donations,” they’re willing to pay for them.
According to journalist Richard Martin, a plasma donor could make $50 per week, while a sperm donor could fetch $100 for each sample. An egg donor could make $3,000 at the end of a cycle!
Selling hair is a longer-term plan, but long, healthy locks are hot items. According to Martin’s news article, a blonde recently sold 37 inches of highlighted, thick hair for $2,600!
So, if you’re healthy enough to donate what your body makes, or patient enough to take great care of your hair, you could do a good deed for someone in need and help pay for school at the same time.