Skip to Main Content Skip to bottom Skip to Chat, Email, Text

8 ways to pay for college


This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

Bronson Ledbetter, MBA, Vice President, Student Services and Financial Operations

Today’s adult learners have a variety of options to pay for college. From scholarships and loans to employer tuition benefits and transfer credits, it comes down to finding the right fit for their needs. Whether a student is upskilling as part of a current job, making a pivot in a career path or starting school for the first time, the student’s circumstances often drive the type of financial aid awards they’re eligible for.

Christine Conway, director of financial education initiatives at University of Phoenix, said there are a number of opportunities to make school more affordable and fit in with existing financial obligations. She suggests adopting a search strategy that starts with exploring scholarships and grants. Next, you should look at other lower cost options, and lastly, weigh taking on a loan.

“It sometimes takes a little time and effort to explore the options, but it is time well spent if you can reduce what you are borrowing and get that degree,” Conway said.

Conway suggests eight ways to help pay for college:

8 Ways to pay for college

1 00:00:00,181 --> 00:00:03,264 (light upbeat music) 2 00:00:04,170 --> 00:00:05,970 - Hello, thank you for taking some time 3 00:00:05,970 --> 00:00:08,580 to learn about eight ways to pay for college. 4 00:00:08,580 --> 00:00:11,130 I'm Chris Conway, the Director of Financial Literacy 5 00:00:11,130 --> 00:00:13,500 at University of Phoenix. 6 00:00:13,500 --> 00:00:15,390 I know that thinking about how to pay for college 7 00:00:15,390 --> 00:00:16,950 can feel overwhelming, 8 00:00:16,950 --> 00:00:18,930 but in this video I have some tips to share 9 00:00:18,930 --> 00:00:21,690 that can help you find several ways to cover your costs, 10 00:00:21,690 --> 00:00:23,133 so let's get started. 11 00:00:24,240 --> 00:00:27,990 Tip number one is to consider financing your education 12 00:00:27,990 --> 00:00:29,430 with your own money. 13 00:00:29,430 --> 00:00:32,670 Use savings or income to pay tuition as you go. 14 00:00:32,670 --> 00:00:35,820 I recognize for a lot of us, this may not be realistic, 15 00:00:35,820 --> 00:00:36,750 but I wanted to begin 16 00:00:36,750 --> 00:00:39,600 with the most prudent way to cover your cost 17 00:00:39,600 --> 00:00:41,670 so that you don't have anything to pay back 18 00:00:41,670 --> 00:00:43,420 after you've completed your degree. 19 00:00:44,820 --> 00:00:48,360 Tip number two is to apply for scholarships. 20 00:00:48,360 --> 00:00:50,640 This takes time and effort but it can be worth it 21 00:00:50,640 --> 00:00:52,950 if you can chip away educational expenses 22 00:00:52,950 --> 00:00:54,840 with scholarship money. 23 00:00:54,840 --> 00:00:57,660 For example, if it takes 10 hours of work 24 00:00:57,660 --> 00:00:59,850 to get a $1,000 scholarship, 25 00:00:59,850 --> 00:01:03,030 you've just paid yourself $100 an hour for your effort, 26 00:01:03,030 --> 00:01:04,893 and that seems like time well spent. 27 00:01:06,240 --> 00:01:09,900 Tip number three: To apply for Federal grants and loans, 28 00:01:09,900 --> 00:01:13,200 fill out the Free Federal Application for Financial Aid, 29 00:01:13,200 --> 00:01:14,700 or the FAFSA. 30 00:01:14,700 --> 00:01:16,320 This seems pretty straightforward 31 00:01:16,320 --> 00:01:18,690 but you'd be surprised how many people aren't aware of 32 00:01:18,690 --> 00:01:20,430 or forget this step. 33 00:01:20,430 --> 00:01:23,250 Filling out the FAFSA is an essential first step, 34 00:01:23,250 --> 00:01:27,093 and to complete the form, go to 35 00:01:28,710 --> 00:01:31,740 Tip number four: If you're unemployed 36 00:01:31,740 --> 00:01:33,870 but know that you want to go back to school, 37 00:01:33,870 --> 00:01:36,570 consider focusing your job search on organizations 38 00:01:36,570 --> 00:01:38,970 that offer tuition benefits. 39 00:01:38,970 --> 00:01:41,250 This ensures that when you do find a job, 40 00:01:41,250 --> 00:01:42,660 it will be with an organization 41 00:01:42,660 --> 00:01:45,160 that will also help you with your education goals. 42 00:01:46,590 --> 00:01:49,170 Tip number five: Students who qualify 43 00:01:49,170 --> 00:01:51,300 for military education benefits 44 00:01:51,300 --> 00:01:54,300 may also be eligible for Federal financial aid, 45 00:01:54,300 --> 00:01:56,070 and some people don't realize this 46 00:01:56,070 --> 00:01:57,840 and it could lead to additional support 47 00:01:57,840 --> 00:02:00,540 for military-affiliated students. 48 00:02:00,540 --> 00:02:03,300 Again, to apply, you'll need to fill out a FAFSA 49 00:02:03,300 --> 00:02:04,923 at 50 00:02:06,420 --> 00:02:10,050 Tip number six: Apply for Prior Learning Assessment 51 00:02:10,050 --> 00:02:12,570 at the beginning of your college journey. 52 00:02:12,570 --> 00:02:13,950 This way, you'll have more options 53 00:02:13,950 --> 00:02:16,530 to knock out those general education courses 54 00:02:16,530 --> 00:02:19,050 that you'll probably need to graduate. 55 00:02:19,050 --> 00:02:21,720 Saving time like this also helps you save money 56 00:02:21,720 --> 00:02:24,063 and it lessens your investment in college. 57 00:02:25,530 --> 00:02:27,300 Tip number seven. 58 00:02:27,300 --> 00:02:29,640 Like the Prior Learning Assessment Program, 59 00:02:29,640 --> 00:02:32,040 consider finding alternative credit options 60 00:02:32,040 --> 00:02:34,260 when you first begin college, 61 00:02:34,260 --> 00:02:36,630 and search through often less-expensive options 62 00:02:36,630 --> 00:02:40,650 like Sophia, StraighterLine, and 63 00:02:40,650 --> 00:02:42,090 This path may help you complete 64 00:02:42,090 --> 00:02:46,143 your general education requirements for less time and cost. 65 00:02:46,980 --> 00:02:49,800 Finally, tip number eight. 66 00:02:49,800 --> 00:02:52,140 You don't have to accept the full amount 67 00:02:52,140 --> 00:02:54,180 of the Federal loan that you're offered. 68 00:02:54,180 --> 00:02:57,090 This is a really important point to keep in mind. 69 00:02:57,090 --> 00:03:00,150 Only borrow the amount that you need to cover your tuition, 70 00:03:00,150 --> 00:03:03,930 and only after you've explored your other payment options. 71 00:03:03,930 --> 00:03:06,420 Federal loans may be better than a personal loan, 72 00:03:06,420 --> 00:03:08,460 but remember you still have to pay the money back 73 00:03:08,460 --> 00:03:09,690 in the end. 74 00:03:09,690 --> 00:03:11,670 So there ya have it. 75 00:03:11,670 --> 00:03:14,640 Eight tips to consider on how to pay for college. 76 00:03:14,640 --> 00:03:15,540 It is true. 77 00:03:15,540 --> 00:03:19,504 College is a big investment and it's a financial commitment. 78 00:03:19,504 --> 00:03:21,420 While it may take some extra effort 79 00:03:21,420 --> 00:03:23,910 to figure out your college financial plan, 80 00:03:23,910 --> 00:03:26,043 I encourage you to take the time to do so. 81 00:03:27,120 --> 00:03:29,490 When you look for free money first, 82 00:03:29,490 --> 00:03:31,860 use your own money second, 83 00:03:31,860 --> 00:03:34,500 look for lower cost options third, 84 00:03:34,500 --> 00:03:37,290 and consider borrowing only as a last resort, 85 00:03:37,290 --> 00:03:38,883 college can be more affordable. 86 00:03:39,990 --> 00:03:41,700 And when you consider the potential income 87 00:03:41,700 --> 00:03:42,990 being with a degree, 88 00:03:42,990 --> 00:03:46,950 the time and money it takes to get an education is worth it. 89 00:03:46,950 --> 00:03:49,650 However, you need to finish your program 90 00:03:49,650 --> 00:03:51,720 to reap the rewards. 91 00:03:51,720 --> 00:03:54,180 You're less likely to see the return on investments 92 00:03:54,180 --> 00:03:56,310 if you don't have that degree, 93 00:03:56,310 --> 00:03:59,700 and it's important that you recognize this up front. 94 00:03:59,700 --> 00:04:01,020 If you're borrowing money, 95 00:04:01,020 --> 00:04:03,360 make sure that your goal is to graduate 96 00:04:03,360 --> 00:04:05,360 so that you can reap the benefits of it. 97 00:04:06,630 --> 00:04:08,640 Thank you and best of luck 98 00:04:08,640 --> 00:04:11,250 on your paying-for-college exploration, 99 00:04:11,250 --> 00:04:13,048 and remember that we're here to help. 100 00:04:13,048 --> 00:04:16,131 (light upbeat music) 101 00:04:20,628 --> 00:04:22,511 (music ends)

Financial Aid

1. Scholarships: Scholarships are awards of financial support for education that are typically free from financial repayment obligations. Scholarships can be need-based or merit-based and are offered by a variety of sources. For example, University of Phoenix is currently offering up to $1 million in scholarship opportunities. There is a helpful guide on the UOPX website to assist on your journey to find and apply for scholarships. There is also a list of UOPX scholarships and a search tool to find scholarships from other sources.

Tip: It takes time and effort to apply, but it may be worth it if you can chip away at your educational expenses. If it takes 10 hours of work to get a $1,000 scholarship, you’ve just paid yourself $100 per hour for your effort.

2. Federal grants: There are different types of federal grants students can qualify for when they fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA. If you continue to meet the eligibility requirements, these grants don’t have to be paid back. Federal grants are based on financial need, so some students won’t qualify. The most common is the Pell Grant, which is available for students who are working toward their first undergraduate degree.

3. Employer tuition benefits: Many employers offer a tuition benefit to employees earning a college degree, especially if it’s in an area that will directly help you in your job. There’s often a cap of $5,250 to remain within IRS guidelines.

While most employers who offer tuition benefits are large organizations, some small businesses might also be willing to provide tuition benefits. If you’re planning to go back to school, reach out to your supervisor or HR department to ask if they offer tuition help.

Tip: If you are unemployed and know you want to go back to school, consider narrowing your job search to organizations that offer tuition benefits.

4. Military benefits: Understanding your military benefits to pay for college may require some explanation from a financial aid expert. There are active-duty benefits, as well as benefits for previous military experience. The University has a helpful page to help determine which benefits you may qualify to receive, and you can always contact the University to talk to a financial aid specialist directly.

Tip: Students who qualify for military education benefits may also be eligible for federal financial aid. To apply, you’ll need to fill out a FAFSA.

Your Money

5. Cash payments from your savings or income: After you’ve exhausted the options above, the next funding source you should consider is financing your education with your own money. If you have savings to dip into or an income that can support paying tuition as you go, this will save you from paying interest on top of your tuition bill.

Lower-Cost Credits

6. Prior Learning Assessment (PLA): UOPX students can apply to have their prior learning and life experiences evaluated for college credit. These can be previous professional certificates, work training or even bereavement or raising a child. While any credit awarded is based on the individual’s submission, the PLA program can be very useful. On average, 65% of undergrad students who take advantage of the PLA program are awarded credits. Plus, the PLA program is potentially a great way to save time, as well.

Tip: Apply for PLA at the beginning of your college journey. You will have more options to knock out general education courses you need to graduate.

7. Other alternative credit options: UOPX accepts credit earned by completing courses from alternative sources, like SophiaStraighterLine and These are lower-cost, self-paced courses that can help you reduce your overall cost of college. They can also speed up the time it takes for you to earn your diploma.

Tip: Like the UOPX PLA program, consider seeking these alternative credit options when you first begin college. They may help you complete your general education requirements.


8. Federal student loans: The most common way to pay for college is also one of the most expensive. Direct subsidized and direct unsubsidized loans are not based on credit history. If you have exhausted all other options, federal loans are a better choice than taking out a personal loan.

Federal loans typically have a lower interest rate than personal loans or credit cards. Plus, there are other benefits, like deferring payments while you are in school or if you encounter financial hardship. Federal student loans also come with lots of repayment options.

Tip: You don’t have to accept the full amount of the federal loan you are offered. Only borrow the amount you need to cover your tuition, and only after you have explored your other payment options. Federal loans may be better than a personal loan, but you still have to pay back the money.

College is worth the investment

College is a big investment and financial commitment; however, when you consider the many ways to pay for college, it is doable. It may take some extra time and effort, but when students look for free money first, use their own money second, look for lower-cost options third, and consider borrowing only as a last resort, college can be more affordable.

When you consider the possible gain in earning income with a degree, the time and money it takes to get an education is worth it, Conway said. However, she said, you need to finish your program to reap the rewards.

“You’re less likely to see the return on investment if you don’t have that degree,” Conway said. “It is really important that students recognize this up front. If you are borrowing money, make sure that your goal is to graduate so that you reap the benefits of it.”

Editor’s note: As a higher learning institution, University of Phoenix recognizes that there are a diversity of viewpoints and opinions in the marketplace of ideas. This blog series provides a forum for discussion that represents that diversity of thoughts and ideas and does not necessarily represent the position of University of Phoenix, but rather advances openness and discussion of sometimes controversial topics.

What is a Credit Score and Why Does It Matter?

Tuition and Financial Aid

December 11, 2023 • 6 minutes

Will My Credits Transfer?

Tuition and Financial Aid

August 04, 2023 • 6 minutes

What is a Nontraditional Student?

Tuition and Financial Aid

October 19, 2022 • 5 Minutes