Offbeat Ways to Pay for College

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by Maureen Crawford Hentz

You’ve looked online for scholarships, asked at work, had your parents ask at work and tried every avenue you can think of to find the money you need for tuition for college. What do you do when you’ve exhausted all your options and still need to come up with some money? Think outside the box.

Here are some ideas to help pay for college that might not have occurred to you.

1. Go to a college with a co-op program. Co-op schools require students to participate in full-time work experiences as part of the curriculum. Where I work, Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, students are required to successfully complete two co-op semesters to graduate. The school assists students in finding full-time, meaningful and (usually) paid work. Salaries in Boston are high, and the range of hourly salaries for fall 2005 is from $0 (usually for students who do not work hard to find a job) to $25. The average hourly salary for a Wentworth student is $12.71. A student working full-time for the semester could make more than $7,000 toward next semester’s bill.

2. Go to a college with free tuition. Free tuition? Do such colleges exist? Sure! The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is a good example. Olin College offers a tuition-free education for each student who is accepted and enrolls. According to its Website, “Olin’s generous scholarship policy stems from one of the founding principles of the college — to provide a world-class engineering education at significantly reduced costs to students and their families.” This scholarship is currently valued at more than $130,000. Olin is a new college, opening to its first class in Fall 2002. Should this be a concern to students? No. A consideration. Yes. Some employers may want a degree from a fully accredited institution. Olin is currently undergoing the accreditation process, one that cannot be fully completed until it graduates its first class.

3. Negotiate your financial aid. Financial-aid packaging is a complex process that is governed both by the federal government and by the colleges themselves. It’s important to understand that some parts of financial-aid packages can be negotiable, but these are usually the college-based programs. Your financial aid officer is your best ally at a college. Too often students and families see the financial-aid person as an enemy, someone to best, which is absolutely the wrong way to go. I was recently at a conference for financial-aid professionals and heard some horror stories of angry parents and angry students. The best way to leverage your negotiating power is to talk to your financial-aid counselor and ask for advice. These folks deal with financial-aid issues all day every day. They know much more about it than you do and can give you the best, most up-to-date advice. Make sure your counselor has all the financial information from your family, including the fact that you have other siblings in college or grandparents being cared for in the home. The more financial information the counselor has, the more he or she can help. Always be honest about the financial-aid packages you have received from other schools, and use these packages as negotiating tools. I’d recommend that every student always negotiate for a Federal Work-Study Award or increased merit money.

4. Go to a lower-tier school. I firmly believe that you can get an excellent education at any institution. There are great faculty at every college, no matter how small or unknown they may be. Lesser-known schools know they are lesser known, and therefore may be prepared to compete for good students. Do you have to be super-smart? No. Shoot for schools where your SAT/ACT school is significantly higher than the average scores. No matter what score you got, it is almost always better than someone else’s. Look for schools where you would be the great candidate worth pursuing. Smaller schools often have smaller admissions/financial-aid staffs (perhaps in the same suite of offices). This increased contact and increased communication can benefit a student if the admissions office decides that they have to have you. Remember, smaller, less-known and less-competitive schools may be trying to “buy talent” to improve their caliber. Why not let the talent they buy be yours?

5. Employer Tuition Assistance. Can’t afford to pay for school on your own? Have an employer do it. Many companies offer tuition remission to employees for approved classes. Retail and tech are both excellent sectors to explore here because employers in these sectors know the tough nature of their business. They need employees who are committed to staying with the company for the long haul and often will pay for tuition as an employee perk. Find a retail or entry-level tech job with an accommodating schedule and tuition remission, and you are looking a major sale price on your education.

6. Really step outside the box. When researching this article, I asked the Division of Student Affairs at Wentworth the best offbeat ways students were using to finance their education. Any one of these ideas could work for you:

  • become a PCA (personal care assistant)
  • braid hair
  • sell items on eBay
  • become an RA (a resident advisor, a student who builds community within the on-campus residence halls). On many campuses, some part of room, board and/or tuition is part of the compensation package)
  • participate as a “control” in medical experiments (controls don’t actually have anything done to them)
  • coach a high-school sport
  • participate in focus groups

Any one of these could be the little bit of money you need to make school possible.

Final Thoughts on Paying for College

While this list is by no means an exhaustive description of strategies for paying for school, it may provide an idea you hadn’t thought of. For every person out there, there are myriad ways in which to finance a college education. For many people, however, it may come down to taking out loans, a prospect that concerns some folks. Educational loans, which may be subsidized and/or at a fixed low-interest rate, are smart investments in your future and are significantly different from credit-card debt. My best advice? Be intentional about where you apply and make the school compete for you. Make up the difference with part-time jobs and loans. A college education is definitely worth it!

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Maureen Crawford Hentz Regular QuintZine contributor Maureen Crawford Hentz is manager of talent acquisition, development and compliance for OSRAM SYLVANIA Inc., a Siemens company. She is a nationally recognized expert on social networking and new media recruiting. With more than15 years of experience in the recruiting, consulting and employment areas, her interests include college student recruiting, disabilities in the workplace, business etiquette, and GLBT issues. Crawford Hentz has been quoted by The New York Times, NewsDay, The Boston Globe, and National Public Radio, among others. In addition to her work for QuintZine, she is a contributor to the HR blog. She conducts workshops, keynotes and conference sessions nationally. Crawford Hentz holds a master of arts degree in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, and a bachelor of arts degree in international studies from The American University, Washington, DC. She lives outside Boston, MA.

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