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Can’t Afford College? Here’s What You Should Do

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: March 15, 2021

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: March 15, 2021


If you’ve ever said, “I can’t afford college,” then we have some good news for you!

There are several different forms of financial aid to help students afford college. If you feel you can’t afford college even with financial aid, then there are alternative, low-cost universities in existence to make education accessible to all.

No matter what you want to attend college for, it makes sense to understand the associated costs before enrolling. When you have a grasp of the amount of money you’ll need for college, you can plan accordingly.

Let’s take a look at what college generally costs and ways you can finance your academic adventure.

How Much Does College Cost?

The cost of college varies according to the type of institution you choose to attend, as well as the type of degree you pursue. According to, the average cost of yearly tuition, fees, room and board for in-state students breaks down as follows:

  • Two-year public institution: $12,720
  • Four-year public institution: $21,950

When taking into consideration in-state and out-of-state tuition and rates across both two-year and four-year institutions, the total average price of a four-year degree works out to roughly $122,000.

The cost of college is continuing to rise. In fact, the data shows that between 1989 to 2016, the cost to attend an institution of higher education has increased nearly eight times more than wages have increased.

Financially smart students may choose to attend tuition-free options like the University of the People to afford college. At the same time, many students will take out student loans to help pay for college.

Consider Debt

If you end up going down the route of applying for student loans, there are some important considerations to think about before borrowing money. Keep in mind:

  • Be reasonable: When you fill out a form like FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you’ll receive your EFC, or expected family contribution. This is the difference between how much it’ll cost to attend your school of choice, minus the amount of aid you are eligible to receive. When you choose to take out student loans, be reasonable. This means that you will only want to take out as much debt that you will be able to repay in an expected period of time. If that won’t cover enough of the costs, try to apply for free money that doesn’t have to be repaid, like grants and scholarships.
  • Borrow smartly: The majority of families do end up borrowing money to pay for school. You can borrow smartly by firstly assessing your options for loans. It’s better to take out government loans that are subsidized. You may only need to start paying back interest after 6 months of graduating with such loans, and interest rates tend to be lower than private lenders. Additionally, create a budget and calculate how much money you’ll need for school, as well as how much money you can take out of pocket. This will help you avoid overborrowing or overspending.
  • Think about your major wisely: Of course, you want to major in a subject that you actually care about. At the same time, it’s a good idea to consider what your future plans are and how you can apply your major in the real world. If you want to major in a discipline that doesn’t have high earning potential, then consider attending a more affordable academic institution.

4 Steps to Take If You Can’t Afford College

Answering the question, “Can I afford college?” doesn’t have to be an independent venture. There are several different approaches you can choose from to help you afford college.

1. Consult with financial aid office

First and foremost, if you know the college you want to attend, then it’s a great idea to get in touch with their financial aid office. You can ask any question you have about cost of attendance, as well as receive valuable information about financial aid offerings.

2. Sell your stuff

If you have valuables that you don’t need, then consider selling them for extra cash. The less money you have to borrow, the less debt you will owe back and the less interest you will accrue.

3. Get a job

When possible, it’s a good start to work while attending college. While this isn’t doable for many students given their current workload or responsibilities, it can help alleviate financial burdens. If you can maintain at least a part-time job during college, then you can budget some of your salary towards education. Many schools also have work-study programs, in which case a portion of your salary gets paid towards your school bills before being taxed.

4. Loans, grants, scholarships

Naturally, most students opt for financial aid in the form of loans, grants, and scholarships. Scholarships and grants tend to be based on merit or qualifying factors. Loans are generally awarded based on need. The first step in assessing financial aid options will be to submit the FAFSA.

Affordable College Options Exist

Whether your main concern for choosing a college option comes down to affordability or not, quality online institutions exist that can help prevent you from breaking the bank.

For example, at the University of the People, students from around the world enroll to earn their degrees. We offer degree-granting programs in four disciplines: Computer Science, Business Administration, Health Science, and Education.

One of the most appealing aspects of our institution, besides the extremely flexible nature of learning, is the fact that we are a tuition-free and accredited institution. What this means for you is that you can earn your higher education degree without having to go into debt. Or, if you need assistance to help cover the minimal fees, you can still apply for our long list of scholarship options.

Don’t Let Finances Stop You

It is true that many students forego attending their first-choice college because they cannot afford it. With the aid of technology, more online schools exist to protect people’s right to affordable education. Despite the steady rise in tuition and associated costs for higher education over the past few years, you can still find ways to pay for your degree.

By balancing time to study and work, applying for financial aid, or attending affordable online universities, anyone can work out a way to afford college.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.