Oh, college. Many people call it the best few years of their lives. Between the learning, lasting friendships, career building (and if you’re lucky, unlimited meal swipes at the dining hall), what’s not to love?

Sure, college comes with a boatload of benefits. But it also comes with a big price tag. The average cost for attending a 4-year private college over the 2016-17 academic year for full-time undergrads was $45,370 – woof!

Not many people have that chunk of change just laying around. However, college funding can come from a number of unlikely sources.

Here’s how to help pay for tuition, without having to dive deep through your couch cushions for lost quarters.

Start saving the right way

You’re probably thinking, “Well, duh.”

But when it comes to paying for college, not all saving is equal. When you start and where you put your college savings fund can have a huge impact when it comes time to finally use it.

Like many people, you may be applying for financial aid by filling out the FAFSA and/or a CSS Profile (most institutions will require one or both). These forms help colleges assess your ability to afford tuition by reviewing your assets. They’re used to determine your expected family contribution (EFC), or the minimum amount you’re expected to contribute toward the college’s cost.

So your goal? Get that EFC as low as possible to increase your chance of receiving more financial aid.

Many people choose to open up a savings account in their child’s name. It’s a nice gesture, but one that could impact your EFC. Unlike their parents’ assets, children do not have a savings allowance that won’t be considered into the EFC. That means 100% of a child’s assets will be expected to go toward college funding, which could significantly increase the EFC.

One common alternative is a 529 college savings plan. This account can offer some tax advantages and have less impact on financial aid packages than traditional checking and savings accounts.

Regardless, it’s better to start saving early. You can get started by creating a personal budget to plug up any unnecessary financial leaks. Then, consider working with a financial advisor to determine the right saving strategy for you.

Play hardball

So, you’ve got your financial aid package from College A in hand. It’s looking pretty good. A lot of scholarship money to help pay for tuition without leaving you bogged down in loans to pay down the line.

The problem is, you much prefer College B. But their financial aid package doesn’t quite meet your needs.

Consider using the package you received from College A as a negotiation tool for getting more aid from College B. It’s a numbers game: Colleges depend on strong enrollment statistics to maintain their prestige among other institutions. They are often willing to offer the extra help to strong students who are passionate about attending, but who might have trouble affording it.

After all, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The worst they can say is no!

Search for free scholarships

What if we told you there was free money waiting for you out there?

That’s right. There are thousands of publicly and privately funded scholarships open to students applying for college. 

FastWeb! and Collegeboard offer the most comprehensive search engines to discover these opportunities. Scholarships are awarded for a wide range of things like heritage, special interests, or academic achievement, so you are almost bound to find something relevant to your situation.

Get out there and start searching! You never know what you might find. And of course, the earlier the better – it’s never too soon to start hunting.

Get a head start on the college curriculum

Sometimes the best way to pay for something is to cut its cost altogether. That’s often the thinking behind taking college level courses before stepping foot on a college or university campus, which is a popular route for many students. 

Many high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) or other college level classes that may be transferable as credits to some higher ed institutions. 

These can be both big cost cutters as well as marks of distinction, making students look more appealing to the colleges they’re applying for (and increasing the chance of scholarship money, too!).

Get a cash-out refinance

Got equity in your home? Then you might have a source for college funding.

A cash-out refinance means you’ll refinance your existing mortgage into a new one for a larger amount and pocket the difference (minus closing costs).

Typically your lender will limit cash-out refinance loan amounts to 80% of your home’s value. Although some mortgage programs like FHA can go as high as 85% while VA allows up to 100%.

Some homeowners have chosen this route to help pay for major expenses like college tuition. It’s particularly attractive because once you have the cash in your pocket, you can use it on whatever you want: books, tuition, room and board, whatever!

Among all of the ways to pay for college, a cash-out refinance might be the most readily available to you. Find out how the process works, your options, and if refinancing might be right for you here.

Learn more about our home financing options today

Ditech is not a financial advisor and the ideas outlined above are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as investment or financial advice and should not be construed as such. Consult a financial advisor before making decisions regarding important personal financial matters, and consult a tax advisor regarding the deductibility of interest and tax implications.

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