With the cost of college rising faster and student loan debt reaching astronomical proportions, many students are looking for alternative ways to earn their college degrees and to be able to do it debt free. Most people are familiar with the typical route one must follow to get student aid: the first step is to fill out the FAFSA forms (which, by the way, nearly half of high school students forget to do!), complete the appropriate college aid and scholarship forms, and search for other available scholarships and grants. But what if I told you that we never followed any of these steps and we were still able to get college for free?
Yes, you can go to college for FREE! Typically, this ‘free’ money comes in the form of scholarships, fellowships, or grants, all of which the student does NOT have to pay back (unlike student loans). Most of you are familiar with academic, merit-based, or sports scholarships, and I’m sure you always hear about that “full-ride scholarship” that everyone is shooting for. According to author Mark Kantrowitz, who is publisher of FastWeb and FinAid, less than 20,000 students a year receive a completely free ride to college. And Lynn O’Shaughnessy has noted that “among full-time college students at four-year colleges, just .3% received enough grants and scholarships to cover the full cost of college. These lucky students received a full ride through any combination of money from the colleges themselves, federal and state grants and outside private scholarships. The odds of receiving a full-ride private scholarship is even more remote. According to Kantrowitz, there are less than 250 private scholarships in this country that provide enough money to cover all college costs.”
So, if this is the case, what is one to do?
Well, there are a few options. If your student is not eligible to receive enough scholarships to cover the cost of tuition, you may want to check into tuition- free colleges available throughout the country. You may have to be from a certain state or region, from a low-income background, or may have to commit to on-campus work or service after graduation to qualify, but this may be an answer for one of your students. Like to travel and explore other countries? Several countries offer free college to eligible students as well. Or you can earn your college degree nontraditionally like my son did by going through one of the Big Three Colleges: Thomas Edison State University, Charter Oak, or Excelsior College for a FRACTION of the cost! By combining the work he was already doing in Jr. high and high school with earning college credits, my son was able to get his associates degree by age 15 and his accredited bachelor’s by 17- and the best part…It would have cost us around $6,000, but because of cash scholarships and contests he won along the way, the whole degree was practically free for us! (And we never had to fill out any of those nasty FAFSA forms!) So how did we do it?
That’s where my two favorite ways of earning money come in: cash scholarships and contests. Students (starting at ANY age!) can get money for a million different reasons and can probably qualify for dozens of random cash contests if they keep their eyes open. Did you know that there are scholarships for Prom’s Cutest couple, or for tall or short people, or for the best dress made from duct tape? What about the one for the best survival plan in case of a zombie apocalypse? Or by being a Pokemon World Champion? Or $1,000 for just filling out a form and getting your name randomly picked? These are just a few of the wild and crazy opportunities out there! All it takes is a little bit of time and research. Studies show that more than 2 BILLION dollars in free college money goes unclaimed every year!
The first thing we did was establish a goal: my son was to apply to 4 or 5 scholarships or contests a month while in high school and as he was earning his college credits. Some were more labor intensive while others were just writing a paragraph or filling out a form, so it was doable each month. The next thing we did was go to the library and check out scholarship books to see which ones he qualified for. Google became our next “go-to”. We researched every kind of scholarship and cash contest out there! (see below for a few to get you started) As we went about our normal routine we’d keep our eyes open for contests being held. Many times, the grocery store or a lunch out would reveal another opportunity. Once eating at Ci-Ci-s we heard about a $10,000 scholarship that a lucky student could earn just by taking a picture of himself by the Ci-Ci-s pizza bar and explaining why he deserved a scholarship. My son cranked that one out during lunch!
(Side Note: One tip that helped us tremendously was to keep a calendar with all the rules and deadlines clearly noted for each scholarship or contest. The calendar notes kept us on track and able to submit everything on time.)
Other places to find college cash are throughout your community and through company sponsored scholarships. Many places like the Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol, the Lion’s Club, etc… offer scholarships, as well as homeschool groups, volunteer organizations, and companies. Find out what community service organizations offer. Check out private companies, or the companies you work for to see if they offer any type of college funding. My son went to my husband’s boss to see if they offered any type of financial aid for college. He laid out his whole plan, and even though the company did not have any college scholarships, the boss offered to pay for all of his testing fees and any cost associated with getting his credits! So, any CLEP or DSST he took, any proctoring fees, any classes he took online- all paid for! Other things to look for are cash contests. My son must have entered over 100 of those- poetry and writing contests, video contests, ones online or on Instagram, grand openings, dog photo contests, caption contests, etc… As he started winning a few, the money started coming in. A few times we even spent days listening to radio stations when they had contests like “the 100th caller gets $500 or $1,000 in cash!”. (And we won- twice! $1,500 for about 15 minutes’ worth of work- not too bad!)
Though many of these will not be for THOUSANDS of dollars and may only be $25, $100 or $1,000 here or there, don’t discount them. A little bit of money adds up in a BIG way. Just ask Kristina Ellis. For four years, while in high school, she applied to as many scholarships as she could (no matter the amount) and at the end of that time had not only enough in scholarships for a free ride at Vanderbilt University, but enough to pay for her master’s degree! She earned over $500,000 in scholarship money! (For her full story check out Confessions of a Scholarship Winner on Amazon.) And, personally, I can say that this works. My son was able to pay for his bachelor’s degree all with cash money that he earned either through scholarships or contests.
So, it is possible to get your college degree FOR FREE- and not be one of those with a full ride scholarship. With a little bit of research, some time, and some patience, soon the award letters will start rolling in. And little by little the cash will start adding up- free cash that you don’t have to pay back (unlike student loans!) Not a bad deal if I say so myself!
Check out College Out of the Box, FaceBook page, You Tube videos, and EBook for more information on how you can get your college degree in less time, for less money, and with NO student debt- no matter your age!