How to Pay For College? 7 Practical Strategies for Avoiding Higher Education Debt

Jun 24, 2024

While student loan debt has reached staggering levels in the United States, proactive financial planning can help aspiring individuals pursue higher education without accumulating a substantial debt burden. Through strategic utilization of scholarships, grants, work-study programs, dual credit programs, community college, creative cost-effective academic pathways, and careful budgeting, college bound individuals can dramatically minimize the size of – or eliminate the need for – study loans altogether. 

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants present a powerful way to finance all or part of an education without incurring debt. According to data from the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2022, undergraduate students received an average of $14,770 in grant aid and tax benefits during the 2021-2022 academic year. Numerous organizations, foundations, and institutions offer merit-based, need-based, and specialized scholarships, which can be identified through comprehensive search platforms like FastWeb and the College Board’s Scholarship Search.

Federal Work-Study Programs

Federal Work-Study (FWS) programs, as outlined by the U.S. Department of Education, provide part-time employment opportunities for eligible students, enabling them to earn funds to cover educational expenses while gaining practical experience. Institutional data from various universities illustrates the financial aid contributions of work-study programs.

Dual Enrollment Programs

Consider dual enrollment for your young scholar. High school students can jumpstart college and potentially save on costs by enrolling in dual credit programs. These programs allow students to take college-level courses, taught by qualified instructors at their high school or in an online class, that count towards both high school graduation and a college degree. This can lead to faster degree completion and less overall spending on college. The National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP), the accrediting body for concurrent enrollment partnerships, provides extensive resources and research on Dual Enrollment Programs on its website.

Community College

Pursuing a degree through this now well established pathway can significantly reduce overall educational expenditures. The American Association of Community Colleges 2022 Fact Sheet reports that the average annual tuition and fees for a full-time community college student during the 2021-2022 academic year was $3,800, compared to $10,740 for in-state students at public four-year institutions. Many community colleges have established transfer agreements with four-year universities, facilitating a seamless transition for students seeking to complete their degrees at a reduced cost.

In-State Public Universities

Furthermore, attending in-state public universities can yield substantial savings compared to private or out-of-state institutions. According to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2022, the average published tuition and fee price for in-state students at public four-year institutions was $10,740 during the 2022-2023 academic year, while the corresponding figure for private nonprofit four-year institutions was $39,400.

Better Budgeting and Planning

Budgeting and financial planning play a crucial role in minimizing education-related debt. The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) provides comprehensive resources on creating realistic budgets, identifying cost-cutting opportunities, and prioritizing expenditures to avoid unnecessary borrowing.

Employer Assistance Programs 

Employer tuition assistance programs, educational tax credits,  strategic use of personal savings or supportive family contributions can further alleviate the financial burden associated with higher education pursuits. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers insights into employer-sponsored education assistance benefits.


By combining these strategies and exploring all available financial aid opportunities, homeschool students can significantly reduce their reliance on loans, ultimately pursuing their academic goals without incurring substantial debt.

For homeschool parents and guardians, learning more about these seven strategies, using proactive planning, increasing resourcefulness, and taking action with a commitment to financial responsibility are the keys to achieving this objective.

The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and should not be taken to represent the views of Excelsior Classes, LLC or the consortium of teachers.