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I have 2 associates degrees and a bachelor’s degree, and I paid nothing! That’s right! I have no student loan debt! Let me tell you the story of how I did it and give you some ideas how you can too. 🙂
Ok, I was a little bit of a nerd in high school. I’m an introvert, so I would rather keep my nose stuck in books then go to the big party happening that weekend. It all worked to my advantage because I did manage to get a scholarship. Don’t get discouraged thinking that’s it, that I got a scholarship and that’s where my story ends. It wasn’t a fantastic scholarship like you hear everyone talking about. It wasn’t a free ride to Harvard or Yale, but it was a full 2 years to the local community college if I kept a GPA of 3.5 or higher. So I accepted. I didn’t really know who I wanted to be when I grew up anyway (heck, I’m still not sure I know). I stayed at the community college for almost 2 years (it was free after all) and then applied to the same college my little sister was going to. I had been a lab assistant as my work-study job, and it seemed ok, so I signed up for that degree. Between work-study and financial aid, I qualified for a free year, so I took it. I finished the degree in lab science and transferred 2 classes back to my first school. Magically I had 2 associates degrees under my belt. So I got a job in a lab, and another lab, and another lab until I found one that challenged me. The new techniques I learned in that lab motivated me to go back to school for a higher degree in Clinical Lab Science. I took out a student loan for the first semester (I know I said free…keep reading) and then landed a job as a scientist in a big Pharmaceutical company in Boston. They had tuition reimbursement, so I used that money to pay each of my semesters and then at the end of my program, their tuition reimbursement paid back my student loan. So, I got 3 degrees and paid nothing.
Everyone’s situation is different, so in case you don’t land a job at a big pharmaceutical company, here are a few other ways to go to college for free (or send your kids to college for free)….
1. Work at College
Either as a full-time employee or the dependent of a full-time employee, most colleges, especially state schools will waive tuition. You could also get a work-study job at the college that would pay a portion of your tuition.
2. Serve Your Country
The US Coast Guard, Air Force, Merchant Marine, Naval Academies and Military provide a college education for free to those people who want to serve right after college. Also, joining ROTC or a similar group in high school or college is another great way to serve your country while having your college paid for.
3. Have an Employer Pay
There are some employers who are able to provide tuition reimbursement programs (such as the big pharmaceutical companies in Boston), particularly for areas of study that is connected to their industry. For instance, if your working for a hospital or medical clinic, then your employer might compensate all or part of your education to be a registered nurse. Every hospital that I’ve worked at has offered tuition reimbursement. Check with your employer for more details.
4. Apply for Some Scholarships
I know, I know, everyone thinks of this first, but it wouldn’t be a complete list without it, so here it is. There are more scholarships out there than ever before. Any student who doesn’t get at least one scholarship for college didn’t take enough time researching and applying to them. Here’s a huge list of scholarships to get you started.
5. Score High on Standardized Testing
Many state schools offer full scholarships to many students automatically if they meet the high school standardized testing scores and GPA. My first two years were full scholarship to the local community college (I’m from New York State) because my GPA ranked me in the top 10 students in my high school graduating class. In Massachusetts, they offer a similar scholarship called the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship which gives students full tuition for high grades/test scores. Most states have similar Scholarships. If your from MA, check out the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship here.
6. Are You Adopted or a Foster Child?
Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Texas, Florida, Virginia and Maryland offer waivers at some public schools for adopted and foster care children. The North American Council on Adoptable Children has more information about it here.
7. Get a Tuition Waiver
Tuition waivers may be available for many different students. Even families that have substantial income can get tuition waivers if the student has the right test scores, but not all waivers are based on test scores. Check here to see if your state offers tuition waivers.
8. Become an Apprentice
Apprenticeships can pay for school, provide a post-college job and offer a salary. Apprenticeship programs take 1-6 years and are available in more than 1,000 occupations. In exchange, the sponsoring employer pays for college or technical training and provides a salary. A list of available programs is available at the ApprenticeshipUSA website.
9. Train for a High-Need Field
Students can avoid taking on debt by entering a high-needs field. Individual schools offer incentives to students in math, science, nursing, teaching and social work, and additional opportunities are available through national organizations such as Teach for America, the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program and the National Institutes of Health.
10. Enroll in a College That Covers the Cost for You
Students can bypass scholarship applications by enrolling in what’s called a work college. Designed to lower college costs and provide job experience. These colleges require all students to work, usually 15 to 20 hours per week and sometimes while school isn’t in session. In exchange, they receive free or substantially reduced tuition.
Another option is agreeing to work after your degree is completed. The nursing program at the University of Portland in Oregon has offered scholarships covering approximately 80% of the final 2 years of undergraduate study, if students sign a 3-year employment contract with the local health system.
Or, if you know exactly what you would like to do then focus on a single subject, and you could attend school for free. Schools such as the Webb Institute and the Curtis Institute of Music offer a select range of academic programs and pick up the tuition cost for every student. Check out a list of 12 Tuition Free Colleges Here.
College can be expensive, but it is possible to go to school for free. Keep searching and be creative and I know you’ll find a way. 🙂