5 Clever Untraditional Ways to Pay for College (That You Can Actually Do)

Overcoming a wall with cleverness like these 5 untraditional ways to pay for collegeSure, we all know the usual cookie-cutter ways to help lessen the cost of ever-increasing college tuition: you can cross your fingers for scholarships and pray for favorable loans and grants through FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). But securing a meaningful scholarship is a highly competitive affair among the cream of the crop with the highest SAT/ACT scores.  And the best grants and free money?  That’s reserved primarily for those with the most extraordinary circumstances.

What about the rest of us?  Let’s think outside the box…

You don’t need to be a valedictorian to afford college.  These five untraditional ways to pay for college help level the playing the field and might just help you avoid a mountain of debt.



It’s possible to earn in-state tuition in any state; find out if it’s viable for you.

This is first at bat, because (if attending an out-of-state college) you can actually combine it with a few of the other non-traditional ways to pay for college that follow below, leading to an even bigger return on investment for your time. For example, you can work toward getting in-state residency while completing a gap-year, then not only do you save money during the gap time, but you also can begin or return to college with residency and in-state tuition. Win-win!

Most people do not realize that if you qualify as a resident of the state in the eyes of a university, then you are entitled to in-state resident tuition, averaging over $52,000 in total cost difference over the course of a four-year college education (reference).

Do you really love the state and would you be moving there with or without the school?  Or are you just moving solely for school and then planning to leave the moment your degree is in hand? If it’s the latter, then residency is not for you. But if you have a true intent to plant your flag, then you could be a great candidate and should become familiar with their school’s residency process. Keep in mind that the rules vary drastically by state and by school.  One of the most all-encompassing and easiest resources to explore earning in-state tuition is In-State Angels where you’ll find general infostate-specific, and school-specific info for free as well as time&energy-saving products and services offered for even more assistance.


2) The CLEP

This very interesting yet lesser known of the untraditional ways to pay for college–CLEP stands for College-Level Examination Program

CLEP is a sister to AP (Advanced Placement) courses taken for college credit, but CLEP is available to anyone with no prerequisites needed to partake.  The CLEP offers dozens of exams in a number of introductory, college-level subjects (i.e. Financial Accounting, Biology, American Literature, Introductory Sociology, Spanish, Calculus) that allow a person, if they pass the course exam, to obtain college credits of anywhere from 3 to 12 credits for each exam passed.

You are able to prepare for the exams free of charge, there are testing centers located throughout the country as well as internationally, each exam is administered via computer and all for a cost of $80 per exam. If you do not pass an exam then there is a 6-month waiting period before you can retake it.  In actuality, via the CLEP a dedicated and studious teenager could graduate high school already having their college prerequisite courses completed, if not an earned Associate’s Degree….and at a much lower cost than earning the same credits over the course of two years with attendance at college.  Check out this high school student who earned an associates degree and bachelor’s degree by the time he graduated from high school.

Every college is different, so if you are considering this option of earning college credits via the College-Level Examination Program, then make sure to first cross-reference it with the college of your choice to make sure the course(s)/credits will transfer and are required for your major.  Learn more about CLEP-ing here.



Yes, there really are people out there who will provide you money….for free!

So go ahead and tell your story. Plead your case. Simply ask for help from other people, as a person in need of a good deed.

So far crowdfunding platforms have raised not millions, but billions of dollars. So what exactly does this mean for students wanting to go to college? Take the time to simply ask family, friends, alumni, and even strangers to give you money. Among the leaders for crowdfunding is the platform Go Fund Me, but there are a variety of others for consideration and you can find some of these here.

One word of caution though—if you are planning to petition for residency and in-state tuition at a university, then you better make sure that the school allows you to accept funds and/or gifts via crowdfunding. Not sure if your college allows this or not when it comes to earning residency? Then check with the university or  for a quick overview of state-by-state financial requirements—check out this handy map which summarizes things nicely.



Perhaps one of the most untraditional ways to pay for college…but why!?  It’s so clever.

Many students partake in study abroad programs, semesters at sea, etc., so why not extend that a bit and get unbeatable outside-the-box experience AND earn your degree for a lot less, if not free!

For example, in Germany higher education is free for students and that includes international students as well! So instead of paying for tuition, your costs would include paying for flight, room, board, and miscellaneous living expenses. Not only that, but you may even receive free health care depending on the country and school of choice.

The caveat here is that you must do your due diligence. For example, you will want to ensure that the school abroad you are interested in offers courses/credits that will transition back to the United States smoothly and double check that classes are offered in English! Also scope out the school’s application process, their requirements for acceptance, and make sure it is an accredited institution.

Many schools abroad offer further assistance to Americans looking to study internationally for their degree; this may include representatives located here in the states, as well as support services to aid the student with their transition as they endeavor on a path of international studies.

Check out this Washington Post article for more information on international studies with low-cost if not free tuition.



Forget the traditional straight-to-college three months after high school approach…consider a community college stint or a productive Gap-Year.

With community college, you pay way less while maintaining no break in studies and earning credits that will transfer to a university. Many universities allow one year deferrals if you decide to take the year off or attend community college.  Ahead of time, you will absolutely want to make certain which courses/credits will transfer smoothly. Community college is a great way to rack up prerequisites, and do so at a much lower cost.

When it comes to a Gap-Year there are a variety of routes to take:

  • Take a year off and lounge on your parent’s couch (not the normally accepted option).
  • If planning to attend an in-state university after your gap, then you have the year to work, earn income/savings, perhaps do some travel, get an internship in the field of study you will be pursuing, or maybe just take the extra time to really figure out what exact field of study you want to pursue.
  • If planning to attend an out-of-state university after your gap, then you should strongly consider moving to your chosen destination for the Gap-Year. Get to know and enjoy the area, get a job and make money you otherwise would not have, set up and go on informational interviews to make sure you are really happy with your choice of major, and make it a productive year.

Consider the costs and benefits of gap-year by checking out the Top 6 Gap-Year Pros and Cons.

1 Comment

  1. Nice tips

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