Unusual Ways People Pay for College

You will need more than student loans to afford today's sky-high tuition.

College is already expensive, and the price tag is just going to go up every year. The average in-state cost of tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year public institution is nearly $19,000 annually. A four-year private college runs more than $42,000 a year. And, as more families turn to student loans to cover these costs, student debt has skyrocketed to more than $1 trillion.

But, even with climbing college costs, you don’t have to get sucked into the student-debt trap. Here are a few ways in which real people avoided student loans by earning or being given cash to offset costs of school.

If you play an instrument, you might be able to use your talent to earn money to put toward your costs. As an undergraduate at Western Kentucky University in the mid-1990s, Robin Bartee played percussion in the pep band, earning enough to cover the cost of textbooks. She also had an assortment of scholarships, grants and part-time jobs that allowed her to walk away form college without any debt.

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By volunteering to be a human guinea pig in sleep and medical trials, Ginger Dean earned between $300 and $750 per session that she put toward her education at Marymount University. Dean found the clinical study listings on Craigslist, but you can also check for studies that are recruiting participants on ClinicalTrials.gov, a Web site run by the National Institutes of Health.

OK, this might not sound like the most fun gig, but Erin Burt says she was able to work her way through Brigham Young University with an assortment of campus jobs, including one with the custodial crew for the basketball arena and football stadium. She was paid about $6 per hour back in 1997-1998 to clean toilets and mop floors, and she assures us that the job was a lot of fun, since each shift was “a bunch of college kids talking, laughing, and listening to music.”

As a freshman at Ricks College, now known as BYU-Idaho, Tynley Bean passed up the janitor option in favor of being a model for art students. For $5 an hour, she would sit or lie completely still in a swimsuit. As a bonus, this job prompted her to become an art major, and she was able to sell some of her work while in school.

See more unusual ways to pay for college.

Rebecca Dolan
Contributing Writer, Kiplinger.com
Before joining the Kiplinger team as Online Community Editor in 2013, Rebecca was associate travel editor at the Huffington Post, where she also handled the travel section's social media. She landed at AOL/HuffPost after earning an MS in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School, with a concentration in health and science journalism. Prior to that, she covered lifestyle at Jacksonville Magazine, in Jacksonville, Fla., preceded by a stint at American Cheerleader magazine. She holds a BA from the College of William and Mary.