Strange But True Ways to Pay Lower College Costs

As of December 2013, the average student loan debt was a staggering $29,400. Today’s aspiring college students and their parents, particularly those from middle- or low-income sectors, are increasingly looking for ways to pay for college that eliminates or drastically reduces the use of loans. The good news is that there are some often-overlooked ways to pay for tuition that don’t involve costly, long-term loans. The bad news is that some of them are just too weird for some students.

Have You Heard of These Scholarships?

Everyone knows about the value of scholarships and grants. Most require a minimum GPA and have additional requirements that are either merit or needs based. Some scholarships are different, however. For example, the Klingon Language Institute offered a 2014 scholarship for language study scholars, either earthly or alien. It was unclear whether the “earthly or alien” requirement referred to the language studied or the student.

2013 high school grad Henry Lopez won the first prize scholarship of $3,000 from the Done Vida campaign. His winning entry was a video promoting organ donations. Other unusual scholarship opportunities include a National Cattlemen’s Foundation award that rewards students who want to work in the beef industry and another from the Flag Manufacturers Association of America that requires entrants to submit a video about what the flag means to them. The American Sheep Industry Association’s award is given to students who knit or sew clothes made of wool.

Is There a Song in Your Heart?

Students come up with a variety of creative ways to help pay tuition and lower college costs. Justin Cox, decided to pay his student loans off by playing his guitar, singing and passing the hat for tips. Dumpster diving is a common pastime for some. A few students admit to eating food found in dumpsters, but the less daring find useful discarded items, such as desks and chairs, that are used or sold.

In With the New

The idea of investing in a student’s education is not new. Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman first proposed the concept in the 1950s. Today, the Lumni Organization, a nonprofit education investment group, uses angel investors to provide supplemental funding to low-income or first-generation students. The funds do eventually have to be paid back, but payments depend on the borrower’s income. No income = no payment. Currently available only in California, Lumni plans to expand to other states.

Peer-to-peer borrowing is another option some students try. A relatively new concept, peer-to-peer financing is difficult to get, but for students who are out of federal funding alternatives, it’s worth a try.

Another approach is to go to a tuition-free school. Schools with tuition-free programs include College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, and Webb Institute in Glen Cove, New York. Most tuition-free schools require that you work a specific number hours per week at an on-campus job. That’s a small price to pay for free tuition.