Getting Through College On A Low Income

By Alyssa Laffitte on January 23, 2020

College can get really expensive really fast, especially when you start to add up moving costs, tuition, room/board, and food. Here are some tips on how to get through college on a low income.

Image via Isorepublic.com

Get as much financial aid as you can

Fill out the FAFSA application every year

You have likely heard of FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) before. This application will match you with financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and loans, provided by the federal government that you qualify for. They will determine how much financial aid you qualify for by calculating your family’s “expected family contribution” (how much your family is expected to pay for your school expenses based on how much money they make). As the name implies, the application itself is free to fill out, and it could possibly provide you with a good amount of financial aid. It might look intimidating at first, but there are online resources that can help you fill out the FAFSA. Filling out the FAFSA every year can help you get the federal financial aid you need.

Be careful about the loans you take out

As a college student, you might need to take out student loans. It might be your only option to pay for college. However, you should be careful about the loans you take out because loans are certainly not “free money.” They will need to be paid back with interest. You will likely be offered some loans, but do some research on them before you accept. Figure out what type of loan it is (and some loans might be better for you than others), and most importantly, how much the interest will be. It’s also a good idea to know when you need to start paying it off. Some loans will allow you to defer payment up to six months after you graduate, other loans will require you to start paying as soon as you graduate. If you will need to take out a loan, be mindful of which ones you take out.

If you can, get a job or start a “side hustle”

Being a student, in and of itself, is a full-time job. But if you can find the time and energy, it would be a good idea to have a stream of income (or multiple streams of income!). You can do this by getting a job either on or off-campus, or by starting a “side hustle.” It could be anything, from working at a local coffee shop to working as a student researcher in a lab on campus. As far as a side hustle, you can start your own business and offer a product or service. These things will provide you with some extra money to alleviate the financial burden of being a student. If you can spare some time in your busy life as a student, consider getting a job or starting a side hustle.

Visit the financial aid office often

It’s a good idea to visit your school’s financial aid office often, as this will allow you to stay on top of your financial aid situation. It is an opportunity to make sure you are not missing out on any potential grants, scholarships, or loans you are eligible for. Your school might offer scholarships they don’t advertise, and you want to make sure you know about them! Sometimes, the only way to find out is asking them straight up in person. Visiting is also a good opportunity to let them know if there have been any significant changes to your financial life, like a new job. Visit your college’s financial aid often to make sure you are staying on top of your financial aid situation and are getting the aid you need.

Search online for scholarships

Your financial aid office should not be the only place where you look for scholarships. If you do a quick Google search, you will find many online scholarship databases like Fastweb that will help you find scholarships you are eligible for. There are many scholarships listed, so it might take a while to sift through them to find a couple that work for you. Still, it’s worth scouring the Internet to find a good scholarship. You never know if you will find the scholarship that will be just what you need to pay off your tuition.

Be frugal with your school supplies

Rent your textbooks

One of the biggest scams college students fall for is buying their textbooks brand new. Don’t let yourself fall for it! Buying all your textbooks brand new at the campus bookstore can cost you hundreds of dollars. Instead of buying your textbooks brand new, rent them or buy them used from an online retailer. For example, Textsurf is a great place to compare textbook prices and then buy or rent textbooks. Personally, I would recommend renting your textbooks, since it will save you money and space in your bookshelf. It is usually cheaper than buying, and at the end of the semester, you can send the book back (so it will not sit on your bookshelf collecting dust). If you prefer to read your textbooks on your computer or tablet, you can rent or buy an electronic textbook, which is also inexpensive. A great way to get through college on a budget is to rent your textbooks rather than buying them.

Reuse your school supplies from last year

Although it’s fun to walk through the “back to school” aisle at Target, it might not be the smartest thing to do if you are a college student on a budget. But be honest with yourself: do you really need another set of pens or pencils? Do you really need another binder? A new backpack? Most of the time, you don’t need these supplies brand new. (Of course, if your binder or backpack is falling apart, you have my permission to buy a new one. But if it’s still functional, you don’t need to get a new one.) Take a minute to decide which school supplies from last year you can reuse. This will save you money in the long run!

Take advantage of resources you have as a student

Use student discounts

One big resource you have available to you as a student is your student discount. At many stores, if you present your student ID, you could get a substantial discount. For example, at the Apple store, you can get a student discount. These stores often don’t advertise their student discounts, so don’t be shy to ask for it when you go shopping. Chances are good that stores nearby your campus will offer a student discount, even if they don’t advertise it. Even online services, such as Amazon Prime and Spotify, offer good student discounts. Be sure to take advantage of those student discounts!

Attend the free events around campus

Entertainment often costs a lot of money, especially if it’s close to a college campus. However, your campus likely has events taking place every so often, and almost every time, these events will be free. For example, instead of going to the movie theater (which is expensive), go to a free concert at your school. As you walk around campus, pay attention to the signs you see posted, as that is the place your school will advertise these events.

Special events aren’t the only entertainment you can find for free (or cheap) on campus. Your school might have its own movie theater, stage, or museum that you can visit. These free or cheap entertainment ideas will help you save money, and will definitely help you get through college on a low income.

Visit the campus library

Similarly, buying books can get expensive quickly. Instead of buying books from a local bookstore, borrow it from the campus library or a local library, as it will be totally free. Take advantage of these free resources!

Get some academic help

As a college student on a budget, it’s a good idea to try to graduate as soon as you can, because you don’t want to pay for any additional semesters of college. To help you graduate as soon as possible, you should get some academic help by visiting your advisor. Your advisor will ensure you don’t miss any required classes and that you will have completed all your requirements in four years. (You really don’t want to be a second semester senior and find out you have not yet finished all your requirements!) Save yourself some money and graduate on time by visiting your advisor and making sure you are on track.

Another way to keep yourself on track is to ensure you don’t fail any classes, especially not your required classes (since you will likely need to re-take it, which will force you to increase your course load for the next semester).

Work out at the campus gym

Just like entertainment is expensive, fitness is expensive. Even though you are young, your health should be a priority, but you don’t need to sacrifice your budget to keep yourself healthy. Instead of buying a gym membership and working out there, work out your campus gym. Your campus gym will likely be free of charge (or for a small fee). This way, you will still be able to work out while still saving money. This is a great way to stay healthy in college on a low income.

Choose a good living situation

Housing and roommates

To get through college on a low income, it’s important to make good choices with your living situation. You have many choices as a college student. For example, you can choose to live on or off-campus, and with or without roommates. Living in a dorm on campus will generally be less expensive than living in an apartment off-campus. Similarly, living with roommates will be cheaper than living on your own, since you will be able to split the rent cost with your roommates. These lifestyle will choices will help you save money.

Owning a car

Besides your living space, the biggest lifestyle choice you will need to make is deciding whether or not to own a car. Buying a car is a big expense, but it’s more than just the price you pay for it at the dealer. Every month, you will need to budget for gas, insurance, and parking passes. Not to mention, you will also need to budget for any unexpected repair costs that can and will happen. For that reason, I would recommend you don’t own a car to save you from those costs. Instead, take the campus shuttle bus, public transportation, and ride-sharing services to help you get around the city while still saving money.

Cut cable

Another lifestyle choice you will need to make is whether or not to keep cable. Cable is expensive, but with the many streaming services we have available today, cable is not necessary. Instead of cable, opt for YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, or Hulu. With these options, you don’t need to spend all that money on cable; just pick the service that has the content you like and only pay for that one. Cutting cable can help you get through college on a low income.

Image via Isorepublic.com

Take good care of the money you already have

Pay all your bills on time

While you are still a student, it’s a good time to start practicing good money management habits that will last for the rest of your life. Plus, it’s important to take care of the money you do have right now. One of the best ways to take care of your money is to pay all your bills on time. This will help you avoid late fees.

If you have a credit card, pay it off in full every month

It is especially critical that you pay your credit card bill on time. Getting a credit card is a good way to build your credit, but only if you are confident that you can manage it correctly by paying it off IN FULL every month. If you can’t do that, don’t get the credit card, because it will only lower your credit score.

Clearly, college life is expensive. Still, you can make it through college on a low income if you follow the tips we discussed in this post.

23, ISFJ. Biology student. College lifestyle blogger. Avid reader and writer. Dog lover. Nerd. Boyband enthusiast. Superhero in training. Here to help you become the best you can be!

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