11 Ways to Get Paid to Go to School and Graduate Debt-Free

Amanda Claypool

Writer

Going to college is more expensive than ever before. The average cost of tuition for a four-year public school is $9,678 per year, while a private nonprofit school can cost more than $38,000. Factor in other college expenses, like housing, and you’ll ring up a hefty bill by the time you graduate.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to offset college costs and reduce, or avoid, student loan debt. From scholarships, grants, and federal student aid to military tuition, corporate tuition, and volunteering opportunities, if you’re strategic, you can get paid to go to school while building a solid resume to help you land your dream job after you graduate.

Erika Taught Me

  • Grants and scholarships are sources of funding that don’t have to be paid back
  • Working part-time while you’re in school can help you cover your living expenses
  • Volunteering or joining the military comes with great benefits for your education
  • Taking advantage of employer educational benefits allows you to keep your job while you go to school

1. Fill out FAFSA

Aside from completing an application to apply to school, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most important form you’ll fill out. This is the key to securing federal student aid.

FAFSA gives you access to federal financial aid and work-study opportunities to help you finance your college career. This includes need-based financial aid, like Pell Grants, and industry-specific support, like TEACH Grants. 

Filling out the form makes you eligible for federal student loans and can determine whether or not you’re eligible for other types of funding too.

2. Apply for grants

Grants represent free money. Unlike a student loan, you don’t have to pay them back.

Federal Pell Grants are one of the most common types of grants for college students. For 2023-2024, the maximum Pell Grant award is $7,395.

The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is another federally-funded grant that helps low-income students cover the cost of going to school. Depending on your need, you could get up to $4,000 from the FSEOG program.

Grants are also available at the state and local levels. Each state runs its own college assistance programs. Check with your state to see what types of grants you might be eligible for.

3. Apply for scholarships

Scholarships are arguably one of the easiest ways to get paid to go to school. One 22-year-old racked up $2 million in scholarships, enabling her to not only graduate from college debt-free but give herself a solid financial cushion to start her career.

There are a variety of ways to earn scholarships. Some are merit-based awards, while others are competitions sponsored by companies. Scholarships.com is a free resource that connects you with relevant scholarship opportunities for you.

Similar to scholarships, fellowships are available for students in graduate school. Contact your school or department to learn more about what fellowships you can apply for and what selection criteria (if any) you need to meet.

4. See if you qualify for college-specific funding

Colleges and universities often have their own grant or scholarship opportunities, too. This is especially true for private universities with large endowments, but some online colleges and even community colleges may have unique opportunities.

These funding opportunities aren’t always publicized. The best thing you can do is ask around to see what your school offers. 

Talk with the financial aid office to see what types of funding opportunities you might qualify for. There may be a separate application to fill out — or no application at all.

5. Find an on-campus job and get paid to go to school

Getting a job in college is a great way to get paid to go to school. Getting a job on campus makes it more convenient and easier to balance work and study. Campus jobs also come with potential perks. You might be eligible for work as a work-study student, or you might be able to find shift work at the rec center or dining hall (and score free food too).

An on-campus job gives you work experience and offers invaluable mentoring while you’re in school. Working in an academic department’s administrative office, for example, can connect you with professors and staff who might be able to guide you as you search for post-graduation job opportunities.

6. Become an RA

A resident advisor (RA) is usually an upperclassman who lives in a freshman dorm. They help students as they’re transitioning to college life and are responsible for keeping the peace in shared living spaces too.

In exchange, RAs often get free room and board. If you’re going to school in a high-cost-of-living city, this can be a great opportunity to strategically reduce your living expenses. Plus, some colleges offer other forms of compensation, too, like meal plan credits or stipends.

7. Pick up a side hustle and get paid to go to school

Whether you want to use a gig app, like Uber or DoorDash, or create content online, it’s never been easier to pick up a side hustle. 

While it's not tuition reimbursement, per se, working a flexible side gig that brings in some extra cash can help pay for college. Side income can help you cover your books, give you extra spending money for the weekends, or even allow you to start making student loan payments before they accrue interest.

Some popular side hustles for college students include:

  • Babysitting or nannying
  • Dog Walking
  • Moving assistance
  • Home maintenance, like snow removal or lawn care
  • Flipping products by selling on sites like eBay or Poshmark
  • Meal delivery with DoorDash or UberEats
  • Freelance writing

Related: How to start a side hustle

A male soldier writing down notes: Guide on 11 Ways to Get Paid to Go to School and Graduate Debt-Free

8. Join the military and get paid to go to school

If you are interested in joining the military, there are various military tuition assistance programs that can drastically reduce the cost of going to college.

The Military Tuition Assistance Program is available for active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members who need support affording college tuition. Military tuition assistance covers up to $4,500 per fiscal year. Each service branch has its own application requirement with rules around eligibility.

The GI Bill covers tuition, housing, books, fees, and other support, like tutoring, for eligible service members. The benefits can be transferred to a spouse or dependent too. 

Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) is a training program for students while they’re enrolled in college. If your school has an ROTC program, you can earn an officer commission and pursue a career with the military after you graduate. In exchange, the military will cover your tuition and you’ll receive a stipend too.

9. Serve in the AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps is a federal volunteer program with a mission to serve local communities. Volunteers get a stipend during their service and qualify for the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. This can be used to pay for school expenses, repay student loans, and defer loans.

Aside from financial benefits, AmeriCorps also offers volunteers professional development and access to their national alumni network. 

10. Take advantage of company benefits and get paid to go to school

If you’re currently employed, part of your compensation may include an educational benefit. Some employers offer a corporate tuition reimbursement program that can help offset the cost of going to school.

This isn’t necessarily just for full-time employees either. Starbucks, for example, covers the tuition of employees pursuing a bachelor’s degree through Arizona State University’s online program, regardless of whether they’re full-time or part-time.

Talk to your HR department to see if there’s an educational benefit at your company. You’ll also want to see if there’s a service obligation as well. Even if they cover the cost of your degree, they may expect you to work for the company for a certain period of time after you wrap up your studies. Not to mention, they may reimburse you after you pay your tuition bill. You might still be on the hook to have enough cash to pay upfront before you can enroll in classes.

11. Get your degree part-time

While it can be challenging to balance, going to school part-time is one of the easiest ways to cover the cost of getting a degree. Keeping your full-time job — and benefits — maintains your cash flow and gives you a financial cushion while you’re in school. While it can take longer to complete your degree, it will help you avoid student loans and the interest that accrues with them.

The added benefit of going to school part-time is that you get to maintain your professional connections. This can simultaneously build your resume, helping you launch your career after you graduate.

Related: 15 side hustles from home

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I'm an award-winning lawyer and personal finance expert featured in Inc. Magazine, CNBC, the Today Show, Business Insider and more. My mission is to make personal finance accessible for everyone. As the largest financial influencer in the world, I'm connected to a community of over 20 million followers across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I'm also the host of the podcast Erika Taught Me. You might recognize me from my viral tagline, "I read the fine print so you don't have to!"

I'm a graduate of Georgetown Law, where I founded the Georgetown Law Entrepreneurship Club, and the University of Notre Dame. I discovered my passion for personal finance after realizing I was drowning in over $200,000 of student debt and needed to take action-ultimately paying off my student loans in under 2 years. I then spent years as a corporate lawyer representing Fortune 500 companies, but I quit because I realized I wanted to have an impact; I wanted to help real people and teach them that you can create a financial future for yourself.

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Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our aim is to help you make financial decisions with confidence through our objective article content and reviews. Erika.com is part of an affiliate sales network and receives compensation for sending traffic to partner sites, such as MileValue.com. This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. This site does not include all financial companies or all available financial offers. This in no way affects our recommendations or article content.