How to Send Your Kid to College for (almost) Free

How to Send Your Kid to College for (almost) Free

Who would like to graduate college without any loans?  Truth is, I did.  Surprising as it may be, I have no student loan payments.  How did I do it?  Keep reading to find out.

Apply for Everything

There are a lot of opportunities to save money on college.  You can apply for virtually anything out there.  Yes, there is a scholarship for doing bird calls.  No, I can’t do any bird calls.  Just because you can’t afford to pay your child’s tuition, doesn’t mean that they have to graduate with a huge amount of debt.


There are websites out there devoted to just this purpose.  I had accounts on three different websites starting my Junior year of high school.  When Senior year came around, I kicked it into overdrive and applied for several a week.  I even received letters for scholarships I won that I didn’t remember applying for.  That was how often I applied for scholarships.  Here are the websites I used: FastwebCappex, and Zinch (it turns out that the Zinch site doesn’t work anymore).  Now, these are just the sites I used before I started college in 2010.  There are several more out there now, so really you could find any of these with a simple Google search.

How to Use These Tools

Once you find the scholarship websites that will work for you and your child, you want to fill out the profile.  This is where those bird calling skills will come in handy.  You fill out the profile according to your child’s skills and achievements.  Then, the website figures out which scholarships your child is eligible to apply for.  It’s so easy!  After that, you just follow the directions to apply for the scholarship.


According to Google a grant is:

“A sum of money given by an organization , especially a government, for a particular purpose.”

You will be filling out a FAFSA if you’re planning on sending your child to college.  This is where the grants come in.  I received several grants after submitting my FAFSA.  These can be a bit more particular about whether or not you’re under a certain income line and they are specific to region.  So, you don’t have as much of an opportunity to earn grants as you do scholarships (I don’t know all of the specific guidelines as they vary by state).  But, it’s a great bump to further you from those student loans.  Research the ones available in your state.

Get a Job

Now, college is something that you’ll want your child to focus on.  However, I worked my entire way through school.  Several times I actually held two jobs on top of my school work.  Most colleges offer student jobs and they work very well with most student schedules.  See what department would be good for your child.  Personally, I worked for the bakery at my school and absolutely loved it!  I learned so much there!

Rent Books

This is something that’s becoming more and more popular.  When I first started college, most people bought their books.  Although, by the time I graduated there were a lot of students renting.  It can be even cheaper than buying the books used on Amazon.  Also, most of the books that your child will need for school aren’t ones that they’ll use again.  I think that I’ve only kept about 5 of the books I had in college to continue to use (and this includes language dictionaries).

Every College is Different

One of the ways my tuition was so cheap was that I attended school in my home state.  So, I dodged that out of state price jump.  My first semester in college only cost $300 in fees.  My books were more expensive than that!  My grandparents were thrilled and so was I!  However, by the time I graduated in 2014 the price had gone up significantly.  I lived off campus, so I didn’t have to pay for a dorm room or meal plan.  Even then, most colleges increase their tuition yearly.  This is something that is unavoidable.  So, one way to get ahead on that is to continue to apply for those scholarships.

Additional Scholarships

I received a scholarship specifically for study abroad my Sophomore year of college.  I knew that it would be expensive to go because I’d be paying for a dorm room and meal plan.  This scholarship made a HUGE difference.  Click here to read about the Gilman Scholarship program and if your child is eligible.  Most of the sites that I mentioned above have scholarships available to those already in college as well.  It is NEVER TOO LATE to start applying for scholarships.  Let’s write those essays!

Finally, I have to say that my grandparents did play a huge part in paying for my tuition as well as my mother.  When my mother died, I was left with a sum of money.  (Click here or here to read more about her.  Click here or here to read more about my grandma as well.)  That money was a huge help when the time came to pay for study abroad (which was the same as in state tuition living in a dorm with a meal plan).  Even though I did have financial help through that account from my mom and my grandparents, I would’ve had to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans without my scholarships and grants.  One of the scholarships specific to my school was worth $16,000 alone!  So, get your kid excited about living debt free and get to work setting up those scholarship profiles!!

Did you go to college?  Do student loans stress you out?

23 thoughts on “How to Send Your Kid to College for (almost) Free

    1. You’re welcome, Sherry! You have plenty of time to get all of the scholarships you can. It’s always good to start early. 🙂

  1. This is great information! I did all of these things and was still left with a lot of student loan debt. One of the most helpful things that I did though, was to find a job that allowed me to do school work in the downtime. I worked in the college library, and I chose evening shifts, knowing that they would be less busy. It really helped me stay on top of my school work, while bringing in a paycheck.
    Jessica recently posted…Five Things Friday #7My Profile

    1. That’s awesome! Some of the jobs that I had would let me do school work on my down time too. One of the waitressing shifts I had was one that I worked a lot of night shifts for. We would be open late and usually there were two hours that I could do my homework. It’s a great way to keep on top of things.

  2. Great tips Gina. My 5 kids are grown and 3 have gone thru college as well as a son-in-law. All have no student debt except the one currently in law school. We never paid for their schooling after high school but they could live at home, IF they were attending school and employed. All have valued their schooling and degrees so much more, and taken their grades much more seriously since they paid for it. They cut corners as you pointed out with text books, worked one or more jobs, some had scholarships and some were married, worked and went to school. It truly has been amazing to watch – and be able to do other things for them as we can along the way to help out and encourage. I believe this is one of the greatest steps in preventing an entitled generation, as well as solidifying a strong work ethic and a strong bond in a marriage. I appreciate so much your post and thank you for writing it.
    Carrie Ingles Groneman recently posted…NO-Sew & EASY Sew Rice Microwave Heating BagsMy Profile

    1. That sounds amazing, Carrie! That’s so impressive how almost all of them finished debt-free. It’s a great feeling. I really agree that being employed while in college is a good thing. It does promote a strong work ethic and I know that my husband and I have always been close. Working and living together in college definitely helped us appreciate financial savvy and frugal living.

    1. That’s amazing, Cathy! I only worked a campus job for the last year that I was in college. I did have some relationships with the staff, but I wish that I’d gotten a campus job sooner. It really is a fantastic thing.

    1. Thank you, Linda! This information will definitely make a difference in the next few years of her life. She still has time to get a head start on writing those essays and winning scholarships. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Charlotte! I know several friends of mine had to take breaks from college or put it off because of the cost. If they would have known about the scholarships and other ways to save money sooner, then maybe they wouldn’t have had to do that. Hopefully this post will reach some people who need it and make a difference.

  3. Really great tips – I think a lot of kids and parents stress over this but with some research and work, you can find the money that is out there waiting for you to use it! Pinned for later, found you at LFEO!

    1. Thank you, Katie! That’s so true. I know my grandma was really stressed about finding enough money for me. But, she did the research and gave me all of these tools to graduate debt-free. It’s completely doable and anyone can do it. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Mary! I went to college in Ohio. My university was Miami University, it’s in a small town in southwest Ohio. Is your child looking at any specific colleges yet?

  4. We live in Alaska. This is the first year we have lived here long enough to apply for the PFD (Permanent fund dividend) which is an amount of money given to every person in the state that lives here full time. Many people save their children’s pfd checks every year until they graduate from highschool to pay for college. Since there are not many universities here most kids go “down sough” to the lower 48 to school.
    We opened a 529 saving plan for my year old when he was born. My parents have contributed a bit every year so far. We will put his pfd checks into his 529 plan.
    I like all your ideas about scholarships and grants. I hope those are still around when my son goes to school. he is the class of 2028!

    1. I’d never heard of the PFD before. That’s such a cool savings idea. I’m sure your son will appreciate all that you’ve saved by the time he graduates. Even though he’s graduating high school a while from now, these scholarship options should still be there. Also, once he picks a university he can look for specific scholarships there. One of the university specific scholarships from my college gave me $16,000! So, there are definitely a variety of ways out there to graduate without debt.

    1. I’m glad they came to you at a good time, Lynn. 🙂 That Gilman scholarship really helped me out a lot. There are also other scholarships for study abroad. Sometimes they depend on the country. Since I went to Japan, I applied for the Gilman and one other. I didn’t receive the other scholarship. But, no matter where she is looking there should be no shortage of scholarships to apply for.

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