Hacking Financial Aid: 33 Ways to Get Money for College

The cost of college has been and currently is on the rise. The average price of a four-year public college has increased more than more than 11% since 2012. Not to mention, according to a report from TakePart, paying for a student’s yearly tuition at a public four-year institution can cost more than 76% of a lower- to middle-class family’s yearly income. Considering how expensive it is becoming to attend college, it’s no wonder that $150 billion in financial aid money is awarded to United States college students each year as a way to pay for college. So, if you’re already in college or about to go — how can you go about getting your hands on this money for college?

Where to Go First

To help get you on the right track to learn how to get money for college, you should first consult with your high school counselor or your university’s financial aid office. Schedule an appointment and they will help you find the programs and/or scholarships to best suit your needs. That being said, chances are that you will need to do your own research and legwork to ensure you get the free grants for college that you need.

Also, be sure to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). At the very least, FAFSA will enable you to receive federal loans or grants, should you be eligible for aid.

Free Money

‘Free’ funding for school is money for college you receive that you won’t have to pay back, as opposed to a loan, which in time you have to repay. Typically, this ‘free’ money comes in the form of either a scholarship, fellowship, or grant. Read on to learn more about how to pay for college.

Scholarships and Fellowships

Over a million scholarships are awarded each year. There are scholarships based on athletic ability, academic merit, disability, race, nationality, religious affiliation, relation to a cancer victim, location, and more. With a little bit of research and patience, everyone should be able to find a pretty big list of eligible scholarships to apply for. Use FastWeb’s free scholarship search to find scholarships and fellowships that you may be eligible for — just be sure to watch out for any scholarship scams.

Federal Pell Grant

A Pell Grant is a federal assistance grant that is awarded to students who have not already earned a bachelor’s degree. Awards can be up to $5,550 for the award year, with up to 12 semesters of aid total.

Federal Supplement Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

Like the Pell Grant, the FSEOG is available to students with exceptional financial need who have not already earned a bachelor’s degree. Awards range from $100 to $4,000 per year and are given on a first-come, first-served basis.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant

For students who plan to become teachers, the TEACH Grant can provide up to $4,000 per year. Those who earn this type of grant for college students will sign an agreement to serve as a teacher in certain high-need fields or in low-income areas for at least four complete academic years.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

Students who have lost a parent or guardian as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan may be eligible for this federal grant. To be eligible, students must not be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant based on Expected Family Contribution, but must meet the remaining Pell Grant eligibility requirements. Further, the student must have been either under 24 years of age or enrolled in college at the time of their parent or guardian’s death in military service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11.

Institutional Grants

Contact your university’s financial aid office to request information on any institutional grants that they may offer as money for college. These grants are typically merit-based and will help to cover the costs of education not covered by any federal assistance money.

Popular Scholarships

There’s seemingly no end to the amount of scholarships and free grants for college available to students. With scholarships based on financial need, academic achievement, heritage, or special talents, chances are, there’s a scholarship out there for you, and we encourage you to investigate your options. These are some of the most popular scholarships available today.

NCAA Scholarships

The NCAA does not award scholarships directly, but NCAA schools offer more than $1.5 billion in athletic scholarships every year as a way to pay for college, covering any type of college cost, and with awards that may be large enough to give you a free ride.

Google Scholarships

Young techie students have several options for Google Scholarships, including the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship for female students in computer science and technology, and the Generation Google Scholarship for high school seniors intending to study computer science.

United Negro College Fund

The United Negro College Fund has hundreds of different scholarship programs, offering more than 60,000 low and moderate income students money for college. Awards can be as large as $85,000. Visiting their website will tell you more about how to pay for college.

IEEE Computer Society

The IEEE Computer Society awards thousands of dollars in scholarship money to computer science and engineering students each year through various programs. Prizes range from $500 for student projects to $24,000 for first-year graduate engineering students.

Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation

Through the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation over 1,000 students receive free grants for college each year, with awards totaling $3.4 million annually. Awards from this program are generous, with some students receiving up to $20,000 for school.

Microsoft Scholarships

Microsoft supports undergraduate students in computer science and related technical disciplines with four different scholarships: General Scholarships, Women’s Scholarships, Minority Scholarships, and Scholarships for Students with Disabilities.


Often, people wonder: “Do you have to pay back financial aid?” In the case of scholarship money, no, but loans typically are not free money. In most cases they will need to be repaid within 10 years of graduation, unless you qualify for loan forgiveness. For this reason, how to pay for college through loans can prove to be trickier than scholarships.

Federal Perkins Loan

A Perkins Loan is a campus-based loan that is provided from participating schools from a limited pool of federal government money. The interest rate is fixed at 5%. The amount you receive is determined by your school’s financial aid office. This loan is limited to $5,500 per year for undergraduate students, with a cumulative limit of $27,000.

Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS)

A PLUS Loan allows a student’s parents to borrow money to cover any costs not already covered by the student’s financial aid package. The interest rate on this type of loan is fixed at 7.9%, and the maximum loan amount is the student’s cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received.

Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans

These federal loans are designed for students with financial need, and up to $138,000 can be borrowed for independent graduate students. For subsidized loans, your school will determine the amount you can borrow, and the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest while you’re in school, right after school, and during a period of deferment. Unsubsidized loans are similar, except that students are responsible for paying the interest during all periods, or interest will accrue.

Direct Consolidation Loan

Students with multiple federal student loans can use a Direct Consolidation Loan to combine them into one loan. With this option, multiple payments become one bill, and students can take up to 30 years to repay loans. This loan also offers access to alternative repayment plans and a fixed interest rate not to exceed 8.25%.

Private Student Loans

Beyond what you receive from the federal government, you can also request additional loan money as a way to pay for college from a private lender. See FinAid’s list of private student loans for more details.

Other Sources of Money

Special programs, odd jobs, and even crowdsourcing can all add up to impressive college funding sources.

Federal Work-Study Program

The FWS Program provides jobs to undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, giving them a way to pay for college and to help them pay for education-related expenses.

Military Service

The United States Armed Forces offers several programs, some of which pay 100% tuition assistance for college courses taken during off-duty hours. See the TA Program Overview for more information. Or, you could earn you degree first by serving in the Air Force, Army, or Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).

Student Sponsorships

Let a private investor put you through school. These programs are more popular in Europe, but are beginning to catch on in the United States. A sponsorship is an investment for benefactors, as they typically are entitled to a certain percentage of your post-college income for a fixed number of years.

Community Service

Make the planet a better place and earn tuition money. What could be better? AmeriCorps pays out equivalent to the maximum value of the Pell Grant for the award year (currently $5,550); Learn and Serve America and the Peace Corps also pay out tuition assistance awards to students who have completed service. Other programs such as Teach for America and the National Health Service Corps offers loan forgiveness programs for college graduates.

Tuition Payment Plan

Sallie Mae can help you find ways to pay for college tuition. Visit SallieMae for more information.


For risk-averse investors who want to avoid the stock market but still make a little return, the 529 College Savings Plan is the way to go. What makes this plan the best way to save for college is that it isn’t taxed and the money in it is not used to calculate a student’s financial aid eligibility.

Domestic Exchange or Study Abroad Programs

Studying in a different state or a different country for a semester or two can sometimes be your ticket to winning another scholarship. Visit FinAid’s page on domestic and study abroad programs for more information.

Your State

Contact your state’s higher education agency to see if you’re eligible for any programs that they may offer as a way to pay for college. See the U.S. Department of Education’s Educational Resource Organizations Directory to find your state.

Your Employer

The company you work for, or even your parents’ employers, may offer some tuition assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Your Grandparents/Relatives

Have your grandparents open and contribute to a 529 plan. While your parents will be scrutinized by the federal government when determining a financial aid package, any money your grandparents provide to you will not be counted.

Organizations and Professional Associations

Once you choose a field of study, find a professional association that serves that area of interest and contact them to see if they offer anything in the way of educational assistance or scholarship contests.

Your Expertise

Try selling your expertise. Whether it be tutoring a certain subject, giving music lessons, helping with resume writing, or fixing other people’s computers, put up some fliers and turn your expertise into a little campus business to make a few extra bucks a month.


Sites like GoFundMe allow students to collect donations for educational goals, like studying abroad, or even attending college as a general goal.

Helpful Tips

Knowing where to find financial aid is only half the game. Following these helpful tips will help you maximize your aid package.

Save in your parents' names

The federal government will expect students to contribute a higher percentage of their income to college expenses than their parents, so keep that 529 plan and any other investments in your parents’ names to maximize your federal aid opportunities.

Pay off debt

The federal government is going to consider what you have, not what you owe, when they determine your financial aid award. Liquidate some of your assets to pay off debt, and you may see a boost in aid and other ways to pay for college.

Maximize your 401(k) and IRA

Funds in accounts set aside for retirement will not be counted by the federal government when they determine your aid package. Move any extra funds into these accounts at least two years prior to filling out the FAFSA.

College is expensive, but the fact is most people simply do not take advantage of all of the financial resources available to them. (Maybe it’s the paperwork.) Take the time, do the research, and fill out the dreaded paperwork, and you’ll get your education much more cheaply — maybe even for free.