Even small budgets can make room for college tuition

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Finding the funds to attend college is always challenging. However, during these tough budgetary times, it can be even more difficult. In this article, the author details a variety of ways to attend college with a little effort and a lot of desire.

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Face it: money plays a big role in choosing a college. These days, college easily can cost upwards of $100,000, a price which most families can’t afford without taking out loans. In-state tuition at a public school can be significantly less, but it’s still pricey--more than $50,000 over four years. If you can’t pay for college and aren’t willing to take out loans, don’t worry--there are ways to get a college education on a small budget.
 
If you’re on a budget, your best bet will be to look anywhere and everywhere for scholarships. You may get scholarships directly from schools, but don’t rule out outside funding too. Lots of big companies provide need-based scholarships for promising high school students. For example, Coca Cola gives out 50 $20,000 and 200 $10,000 scholarships every year. Most scholarships given by big organizations like Coke require applicants to write an essay and prove their need for financial assistance. The application process can be long and difficult, but it will pay off if you can get a large portion of college paid for.
 
Some colleges offer generous financial aid packages to almost all their students. Specifically, look for schools that give out scholarships and grants; unlike loans, these don’t have to be repaid. Most big research universities have large endowments used in part for helping students afford their school; at some of the most prestigious universities, more than half of the student body receives a significant amount of scholarships to help cover high tuition bills.
Another good tactic for finding free money is to apply to lots of public schools in your state. Many state schools reserve scholarship money for in-state applicants; it pays to take the time to apply to every public school that interests you because you never know where you might get funding.
 
If you don’t get enough scholarship money to go directly to a four-year college, consider attending a two-year college and then transferring. Two-year schools are much more affordable than their four-year counterparts. They can also offer small classes and one-on-one attention to make the transition from high school a bit easier. Best of all, you’ll get your prerequisites out of the way, so when you get to a four-year college all you’ll have to do is complete your major requirements. There are some scholarships designed just for two-year college students; research these if you’re interested in this path.
 
Finally, if you have no money to spend on college, consider having the military pay for your education. Joining the National Guard will help you pay for college, and you’ll only be required to train a few weekends each year. Another option is ROTC. With an ROTC program, the military pays for your tuition to school. You have to take some special classes during college and must give four years of service after graduation, but you’ll be debt free.
 
College is expensive. Fortunately, there are options to please even the tightest budget. And remember: it’s worth trying your hardest to get to college because in the long run you’ll make much more money than you would without a college education. So think of college as an investment that will pay you back many times over and don’t get discouraged. With a little hard work, you’ll find an option that works for you.