Skip to content
SuperMoney logo
SuperMoney logo

Alternatives to Student Loans: Avoiding the Debt

Last updated 03/20/2024 by

Sean Bryant
For high school students and their parents, there’s a lot going on … schoolwork, extracurricular activities, spending time with friends. But as graduation draws near, college preparation becomes a priority.
It’s no secret the costs associated with college are a hot topic right now. With tuition rising nearly every year, it’s critical to have a good plan in place. Unless you were diligent about saving for college, you’re going to need to find a way to pay for it. But what if you and/or your student doesn’t want the burden of student loan debt after college? What are the options available to you? Here are some alternatives to student loans.

Working through college

Working through college might seem like the most obvious choice, but many students don’t do it, deciding to focus instead on school work. But the reality is most employers in college towns are extremely flexible with their scheduling. This helps to better accommodate students’ classes and study schedules.
There is one potential drawback to working during college and that is financial aid eligibility. If students earn more than $6,420 in a year, then their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will increase. This will reduce the amount of aid they are eligible to receive. However, the advantages usually outweigh the negatives in this situation.

Work-study programs

Another option that students have is to take advantage of work-study programs through their college or university. These programs are set up to accommodate a student’s schedule and provide an adequate work/life balance. Oftentimes, work-study opportunities consist of jobs in the student union, library or a departmental office.
The pay is typically pretty low, but there are a couple of benefits to a work-study program over a traditional job. The income students earn will not reduce their eligibility to receive financial aid. In addition, earnings will not be subject to Social Security taxes. However, they will be required to pay state and federal income taxes.
If students are in graduate school, there is a good chance they can get a fellowship position. With a fellowship, they will work as a teaching assistant in their department of study. This job will cover their tuition and probably will include a small salary for living expenses.
Jing Gu, a marketing and sales consultant, had a part-time job on campus through a work-study stipend. She says people look at the pay and think it’s minuscule. But the reality is students can almost always earn beyond their work-study allotment. Their employers will not want to lose them in the middle of the semester just because their work-study ran out. The employers have the budget. The students just have to ask.


Receiving a full ride scholarship to college is extremely rare. Only 0.3% of all students will receive enough grants and scholarships to cover the entire cost of tuition. But just because a student doesn’t receive a full ride doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of scholarship money available. On average, 1.2 million students will receive some sort of gift aid each year. That’s roughly two out of every three students. Websites such as and have thousands of scholarships available for students. You will find merit-based scholarships, scholarships given to different ethnic backgrounds and much more.
Mary Grace Gardner, founder of The Young Professionista, created a database while in high school of the scholarships she was eligible for. This database included the amount offered, the criteria for eligibility and deadlines. She spent 30 minutes every day applying to scholarships and treated it just like another class. She submitted as many applications as she could and continued this approach through her second year of college. She won some big scholarships and some small ones, but when she added them all up, it was enough to cover her expenses.
Scholarships are a valuable resource for financing college expenses. About a third of college costs are covered by scholarships and grants. If you are going to college and you want to use your education to help people reach their financial goals, check out SuperMoney’s Financial Literacy scholarship program. It awards $2,500 a year to a student who wants to help Americans improve their financial wellness through continued education.


Grants are a type of financial aid that does not need to be paid back once a student graduates from college. Grants could be awarded through a number of sources, including the federal government, state government, colleges or universities or a nonprofit organization. Typically grants are awarded based on several factors, including financial need, race, gender, the area of study and more. Some of the more popular grants include Pell Grants, Academic Competitiveness Grants, and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.

Employer assistance

Many companies offer tuition reimbursement, which is especially helpful for students going back to college while continuing to work. Companies have differing policies on this benefit, but many times employees will become eligible after a certain time period. There also tends to be other stipulations involved. Sometimes companies will require the area of study and/or degree objective to have some relation to the position the student is in. Plus, many organizations will require employees to stay with the company for a certain amount of time after graduation.
Breezy Richins, a freelance writer and editor, was able to get the help of her employer to pay a $16,000 tuition bill. The only stipulation was that she had to stay working for them for two years after graduation. Failure to do so would have resulted in paying back the previous three years’ worth of expenses.

Join the military

There are several programs available to military personnel to help them pay for college. One of them is the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This is open to anyone who has served at least 90 days of active military. If you qualify, the U.S. government will pay 40% to 100% of tuition for an in-state public college or university. They will also pay $22,805 toward private or foreign universities.
While these alternatives to student loans might not cover the entire tuition bill, they can go a long way toward covering college costs. That means with a little bit of work, students can be in a better financial position upon graduation.If a student loan is the only option in your case, you can save a lot of money by shopping around. Check out SuperMoney’s student loans review page. Our loan comparison engine allows you to filter lenders by the features that matter the most to you.

SuperMoney may receive compensation from some or all of the companies featured, and the order of results are influenced by advertising bids, with exception for mortgage and home lending related products. Learn more

Loading results ...

However, grants are not an option for everyone. Sadly, Gardner’s story is far from typical. If a student loan is the only option in your case, you can save a lot of money by shopping around. Check out SuperMoney’s student loans review page. Our loan comparison engine allows you to filter lenders by the features that matter the most to you.

Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant is a Denver based freelance writer specializing in travel, credit cards and personal finance. With nearly 10 years of writing experience his work has appeared in many of the industries top publications. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and runs

Share this post:

You might also like