How to Get an "Almost" Free College Education
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How to Get an "Almost" Free College Education

Even in this economy, it is possible to get a college education "almost" free. You just have to know how the educational system works, follow some simple steps, and don't give up.

Did you know that with a little research and hard work, almost anyone can get a college education for free--or close to it?  That’s right!  If you understand how the educational systems works, you can get paid to go to college--and never have to go in debt! Here’s what you need to know . . .

The first thing to understand it that colleges and universities are businesses like any others.

Colleges and universities are bureaucracies with agendas aimed specifically at making $$ and competing with other institutions of high learning.  As such, they have large funds of $$ at their dispose, but none they’re willing to waste; that would be bad business.  And like other large successful businesses, they have boards of trustees, boards of advisors, and numerous other boards who decide where to invest their $$.  So, the trick to getting a free ride through college is to convince them to invest their $$ in you.  And to do that you need to make yourself look attractive--in terms of educational value.  After that, it‘s just a matter of meeting requirements.

Every college and university (even the little, community ones) have numerous scholarships, grants, and award $$ available that can add up a significant amount of free $$ if you can get it directed your way: there’s $$ for first year students, $$ just for females (and just for males), $$ for single parents, $$ for first generation college students, and $$ for everything from being left-handed to being an underrepresented minority.  But the reality is, however, these funds will never be offered directly to you--you’ll have to ferret them out and fill out the forms.  But with a little investigation you’ll be amazed at just how much $$ is sitting there waiting for someone (like you) to discover.

The second important thing to keep in mind at this point if you want a free ride: though you’ll be tempted to take advantage of the seemingly generous loans any campus will offer you, it’s important that you resist the urge.

Regardless of how student loans may seem to simplify things for you, in reality, all they do it put you thousands--maybe tens of thousands--of dollars in debt (which you’ll have to repay with interest after you graduate), put you in debt needlessly because there is plenty of free $$ to be had, and once you sign for a loan, you’ll be disqualified from most every scholarship and grant $$ you could have had simply for the asking. And once you get your foot in the door and learn how to utilize the system, you’ll find that there are numerous other scholarships and grants you can apply for every semester--and will plan to.  And if you continue to take advantage of additional $$ opportunities that come your way as you gain credibility with your professors and counselors (which is important because they can direct and recommend you for future scholarships and grants), you may even continue on to achieve a Bachelors or Ph. D--almost for free! 

Here’s how to get started:

The most direct route to college is to apply for scholarships even before your graduate high school.  Make a conscious effort to get the best possible grades you can especially during your junior and senior years.  With a reasonable GPA (even a B average will make you look quite appealing to many colleges) you can very likely secure tuition $$ even before you get your high school diploma.  And many small and community colleges across the country are allowing gifted students the opportunity to complete their diploma while taking college classes via the AP Program; some even allowing juniors admission. 

But even if you’ve been out of college for a while or are a returning student, there are many options open to you

If you’ve been out of school for a while, the first thing to do is go to the college you plan to attend and pick up a copy of their campus handbook (or go online and check it out.  Most universities are simply listed as the school intitals+udu.  For example, University of South Florida is usf.edu).  It will list the programs they offer, what you’ll need to do to enroll, and most importantly at this stage, how much they charge per credit-hour.  Many scholarships and grants require a student to attend at least ¾ time (9 credit-hours per session), so this will tell you how much $$ you’ll need to get the ball rolling.

When you have a tentative plan worked out, go to that school’s website and check out their financial aid page. This page will list various scholarships and grants available through that school. You’ll want to apply for them all--even those you don’t think you qualify for. And once you’ve done that, pull up the government website for your state. There are literally millions of dollars available through State organizations who would just love to help with your education. (If you can’t immediately locate these lists, try, try again. Persistence will definitely pay!)  And by the following semester, you may well be approved for enough $$ to register for your first semester of classes! 

Now, here’s the next key step:

Once you accumulate the money you need, pick up a catalog of the classes being offered the following semester (or go online).  Select classes that will be easy for you to do well in while fulfilling your required full load.  (Choose easy classes that you can get As in rather than hard classes you will struggle to get Cs in.)  At this point it matters less what classes you take than how well you can do in them.  Plan to obtain the text books as far in advance as possible; most students get used copies on Amazon.com or Ebay for a fraction of the cost of a new one. Then go to your campus, enroll, register for your classes, and immediately contact your professors for a copy of the class syllabus. (Some will take calls, but most prefer Email.)  The syllabus will tell you what the class is about, what is expected of you to get high marks, and most importantly, which textbooks will be used.  Now, go online or have a friend track down the least expensive books you can find and start reading (in advance).  Even if you understand very little about the subjects, you want to get as familiar with the material as possible before classes start.

Once you’ve started classes and are spending several hours a day, several days a week on campus, apply every spare minute to study.  You want to complete that semester with all As if possible; a B or two if it can’t be helped. (You can to this!)  Early in that first semester, start your research into what scholarships and grants are available. Go to financial aid.  Go online to your college’s financial aid page.  Go to the college library and ask to see whatever scholarship and grant information that have; there are actually catalogs listing nothing but scholarships and grants that as a new student with a high Grade Point Average you now qualify for.  Since most scholarships can be applied for online, plan to set time aside periodically to apply to any and all that even remotely pertain to your circumstances.

Most want a cover letter explaining your scholastic aspirations, so take the time to write a really effective one.  Write and rewrite it until it sounds impressive. There’s nothing wrong with sending the same letter out to each scholarship you apply for.  And by the halfway point in the first semester (after you‘ve shown yourself to be a conscientious and studious individual), start asking your professors about your campus’s Honor Society and Honors Society scholarships.  As one of their best students (with a high GPA) they’ll want to help you and will most likely make suggestions as to where to find scholarship money. In most cases, once you qualify for your first “exceptional student” scholarship or grant, the second, third and forth will come simply for the asking. (Following this course of action, by my third semester, I was receiving two scholarships and two grants which were covering my tuition and books twice over, as well as my rent and car payments. And by my second year, I was receiving $12,000/year above school expenses.)

If you follow this plan, you can indeed get a college education "almost" free.  Not only do many get their education this way, some have stayed in the system, becoming life-long, professional students.

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