Best Ways to Pay for College without Breaking the Bank

Depending on the school and program, tuition can run anywhere from nothing to $50,000/year. But the majority of the programs that exist somewhere in between, and it's more than possible to have your cake and eat it, too.

Consider the Armed Forces: This isn't a choice for everyone, especially those who don't like armed conflict, authority, a high level of discipline and structure, or being "tied" to an organization after graduation. But for students willing to at least take a closer look, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, United States Air Force Academy, United States Naval Academy, United States Coast Guard Academy, and United States Military Academy all offer free tuition with the caveat that you join the service after graduation.

Take a Gap Year: If your heart is set on an out-of-state college that unfortunately has a high price tag, move to that state for a year. But be careful of the usual tricks—the ones colleges have long wised up to—of using a relative's address and getting a driver's license there. Show colleges you're not just trying to get an unfair advantage by setting up a big paper trail: get a library card and use it often, register to vote, register your car, and pay state income taxes.

Transfer: To save tens of thousands of dollars, students can potentially accumulate credits at an in-state community college and transfer them over to a pricier state college. But before you take this step, always check with your desired college to find out which credits they accept, and if your grades are high enough.

Go Overseas: Diplomas, degrees and graduate programs can cost a small fortune in the United States, but a little bit of digging across the Atlantic Ocean can uncover some fine treasures. And if students are willing to study in a smaller town for their program, they can find that the cost of living is lower than they're used to. But while overseas master's degrees tend to last a year (as opposed to two years here) and that may be a turn-off to some employers, it's not written in stone. The best students will shine anywhere.

Scholarships: This may be one of the most drummed-in tips, but there are millions of dollars in unused scholarships going to waste every year. And if you can find several scholarships that add up to a year's tuition, doesn't it make sense to spend a day filling in applications and sending them off? It usually takes years and years of education and work to be able to earn tens of thousands of dollars in one day, so make the most of it now.