5 Unexpected Ways To Get Money for College

Indoor shot of three young students studying together using laptop.
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When it comes to paying for college, taking out student loans is not your only option. There are other ways to get money for college that you may not have thought about. It’s time to think outside the box to help lower your potential student loan burden.

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Here are some practical tips and unexpected ways to make more for tuition.

Apply for Unique Scholarships

Even if you’re not a straight-A student, you may qualify for scholarships based on your unique abilities, interests or circumstances. An easy way to find and apply for unique scholarships is through a platform like Cappex, FastWeb or ScholarshipOwl. You fill out one form with eligibility questions, and the platform matches you with all the scholarships you qualify for. You can also manage your applications using these tools.

“Some of the more unique scholarships we’ve had include the ‘Pandemic Pet Scholarship,’ the ‘Sing Us a Song Scholarship’ and the ‘Make Yourself a Meme Scholarship,'” ScholarshipOwl CEO David Tabachnikov told GOBankingRates. While many require essays, which you can compose on the platform, others, such as media and creative scholarships, might ask the student to create and share a social media post or upload a video or a photo of artwork they created, Tabachnikov said.

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Enter Scholarship Sweepstakes

Not all scholarships require you to meet certain requirements or fill out a formal application. Some companies and organizations give scholarship money away through sweepstakes, in which case all you have to do to win money is fill out an entry form. Unigo is a good resource for scholarship sweepstakes. Currently, you can win $1,000 for college by entering sweepstakes hosted by Ascent, ScholarshipPoints, Course Hero and more.

Compete on a Game Show

This can be a long shot, but competing on a game show can make a significant dent in your college expenses. University of California-San Diego graduate Daniel Watts told Student Loan Hero that competing on “Wheel of Fortune” helped him fund his education.

“I helped pay for college by spelling ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,'” he told the site. “That puzzle alone earned me over $3,000 in 2003, when I was a 20-year-old sophomore. I ended up winning a total of $11,300, most of which I used for school expenses, including a study-abroad trip to Yokohama.”

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Crowdfund

Crowdfunding can be an effective way to raise money for college expenses. Popular crowdfunding platform GoFundMe says that it hosts over 100,000 education fundraisers every year, with $70 million in funds raised per year.

Get a Work-Study Job

The federal work-study job program provides part-time employment to help undergrad and graduate students pay for college expenses. The program encourages community service work and work related to the student’s course of study. Jobs can be on-campus or off, and you’ll earn at least minimum wage.

Do a Summer Internship

Interns earn credit for doing work related to their field of study. In addition to saving money on credit earned, some interns get paid. 

“High school students and younger college students can expect to earn minimum wage or a flat stipend, such as $1,000 for the summer,” in a paid internship, Tabachnikov said. College juniors and seniors can earn $20 an hour or more, especially if they work in a STEM field or for a large company.

Tax Credits

Eligible students paying at least part of their own way might qualify for tax credits. With the American opportunity tax credit, you can claim up to $2,500 per year in expenses like books, supplies and equipment in addition to tuition and related fees. Up to 40% of the credit is refundable if it reduces your tax liability to less than $0. The lifetime learning credit is worth up to $2,000 spent on tuition and related expenses. It’s not refundable, but it still reduces the amount of tax you owe, which, in turn, helps maximize your refund.

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Community Service

Community service organizations like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps give students the opportunity to make a real difference in communities in the U.S. and overseas while earning money for school. Eligible AmeriCorps volunteers earn student-loan repayment awards. Peace Corps volunteers receive a stipend for living expenses and up to $10,000 when they complete two years of service.

Ask for Contributions to Your 529 Plan

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged college savings account your parents might’ve opened when you were young. But they’re not the only ones who can contribute to it. In fact, anyone can contribute up to $16,000 per year for birthdays, holidays and other gifts they might usually make to you directly, in cash. Although the giver can’t deduct the contributions, you’ll receive the money tax-free as long as it goes to qualified education expenses.

Start a Side Hustle

There’s no shortage of ways to earn money with a side gig. Many students deliver meals or drive for a rideshare service, for example, but the most ambitious start their own businesses. The businesses are often web-based, such as creating and launching a mobile app or becoming a TikTok or Instagram influencer to earn passive income, according to Tabachnikov. 

Carolyn Jones, money coach at The Financial Moment, agrees that a side hustle is a great way to pay for your education. “Possibilities are endless,” she said. “And when it’s time to hit the books, put the business on pause as you control your time and investment.”

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Gabrielle Olya contributed to this article.

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About the Author

Daria Uhlig is a personal finance, real estate and travel writer and editor with over 25 years of editorial experience. Her work has been featured on The Motley Fool, MSN, AOL, Yahoo! Finance, CNBC and USA Today. Daria studied journalism at the County College of Morris and earned a degree in communications at Centenary University, both in New Jersey.
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