Is the idea of free college a myth? Do you want to get a college degree but don’t have the money? No problem! All you need is a little creativity. The following are the best ways to get a college degree on someone else’s dime:

Internships and Co-ops

Internships rock the house because you’ll gain experience while getting free or reduced-cost college. Most internship programs pay you for your hours put in which will offset your college expenses. In some cases, corporations will hire you, pay you for your internship, AND pay for the college courses that relate to the job you are working or the career you are gearing up for (related to working for their company, of course).

Co-ops are similar to internships, but they usually involve you as a student alternating semesters working for a company and going to school full-time. Co-op jobs are paid (often at amazingly great rates for the types of work you do – they usually pay far better than the dorm cafeteria or the campus store), and sometimes the company will also pay for your college classes as well.

To get an internship or co-op, you’ll need to:

  • Approach your school counselor for contacts
  • Apply for the internship or co-op opportunity
  • Interview for the opportunity
  • Commit to a specific amount of time (it could be all of your college experience or for as little as a semester)
  • Keep your grades up! (Most internships and co-op programs require you maintain a specific GPA)

Early College Class Programs

This is how I got two full years of free college, so I know it works. Many high schools will let you attend college classes at a local college or university during your junior and senior year, and they’ll pay for your tuition and books as well. You’ll have to coordinate such that the college classes you take will count for your high school course requirements (for example – I had to take a college health course to cover my high school’s health class requirement—and that’s a course I probably never would have chosen on my own). Curious about this option?

  • Meet with your school counselor and ask about available programs
  • Compare these to your school’s IB or AP classes (you’ll probably have to pay for the AP exams, where as you probably won’t have to pay for anything if you take the early college courses)
  • Ask about online options as well as classes on campus
  • Make sure you communicate with your school counselor so you take classes that cover your high school graduation requirements
  • Keep your grades up! (Most of these programs require you to maintain a certain GPA)
  • Make sure you can handle the transportation and schedule issues inherent in taking college courses

Grants and Scholarships

Whether you’re a star athlete or not, there are grants and scholarships available for just about every type of student out there. You’ll be amazed at the wide variety of grants and scholarships available for the taking. Grants and scholarships provide money to be used for college tuition and supplies, and can come from the college or university or from other charitable foundations. While you know there is stiff competition for scholarly and athletic scholarships, you might not know about the quieter scholarships – the ones with less competition.

If you want to get a scholarship, you’ll need to:

  • Start scoping out scholarships early – in the beginning of your junior year
  • Meet with your school counselor for information about scholarships
  • If you’re athletic, choose an obscure sport like lacrosse or rugby – you’ll be more likely to get a scholarship because there’s less competition for obscure sports than for popular sports like football or basketball
  • If you’re musically talented, specialize in a less popular instrument, like the baritone, so you can nab a music scholarship with a college
  • Get involve in the more obscure high school clubs, like debate, and apply for debate scholarships
  • See if you qualify for a scholarship due to your ethnicity, socio-economic status, or unique heritage (There are plenty of scholarships available for minorities or low income families)
  • Apply to many scholarships, and put your all into the application
  • Apply for the scholarships that require extra work—like writing an essay or submitting a video (You’ll face less competition)
  • Apply for the low-paying scholarships (Again—you’ll face less competition, and you can rack up quite a few offers if you apply to several of these)

Military Service

If you’d like to serve your country and receive a free college education at the same time, check into military service/education packages. You can sign up with any branch of the military and exchange years of military service for tuition aid. As of Fall 2011, the standard tuition assistance rate is $4,500 per year. The money is paid to the college of your choice (for classes, on a per class basis).

If you’re interested in using military service to gain free college, you’ll want to:

  • Visit a military service branch office
  • Talk to your school counselor about options
  • Investigate the different branch options to determine which will best suit you

If you’ve already served in the military, you may want to look into Post/911 GI Bill benefits, GI Bill benefits, the Reserve Education Assistance Program, the Veterans Educational Assistance Program, and the VA Work-Study Program. If you are a dependent of a veteran, you may want to investigate the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program.

Free College Summary

As you can see, there are several ways to get free college. Talk to your school counselor for options and start investigating possibilities online. Watch out for scams such as websites who want to charge you money in exchange for information about grants, scholarships, and other such programs, and research all options carefully before applying. You’ll find plenty of free college options if you just take the time to do your research.

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