The Ultimate Guide To College Hacking

The Ultimate Guide To College Hacking

According to the most recent statistics, the average Bachelor's degree recipient will leave college with nearly $30,000 in student debt.

But that figure doesn't include parent debt. Among parents who borrowed to help pay for their child's education, the average debt load was over $37,000. And that's per Bachelor's degree graduate, so parents with multiple college-attending kids could end up with much higher debt loads.

If you're starting to feel hopeless, don't. There are a lot of keys to college hacking and escape undergraduate school without a mountain of debt. Those keys include getting ahead in high school, having a part-time job, understanding your finances (what you have saved vs. what you'll need for school), and researching to understand all the money that is potentially available to you through grants, scholarships, and other avenues.

Taking the road less traveled and finding creative ways to save money on college costs could make a huge difference in your Financial Independence journey. Keep reading this ultimate guide to college hacking to learn 20 ideas that could dramatically reduce the cost of earning your degree and your student debt at graduation.

Table of Contents

Start College Hacking During High School

1. Earn College Credits In High School

One of the smartest college hacking strategies is to eliminate college courses altogether by earning the course credits in high school. Here are four popular strategies for high school students to earn college credits.

IB And AP courses

Taking advanced classes can be one of the simplest ways to earn college credits in high school. The two prevailing advanced class programs in the United States are the Advanced Placement (AP) and the International Baccalaureate® (IB) programs.

With both of these programs, you'll have the opportunity to take tests at the end of the year that can count for college credit. In addition to helping you earn college credit, advanced courses look good on college applications. It shows admissions officers that you're able to handle college-level coursework.

Advanced class availability depends on the high school that you attend. Some don't offer any advanced class programs. Others may only offer one of the programs above, while others actually offer both. Both IP and AP courses are free to take, but you will need to pay a fee per exam.

Dual Enrollment

With dual enrollment, students are able to take courses that count for both high school and college credit. Typically, dual enrollment courses are offered at community colleges, but some larger universities have dual enrollment programs as well.

Most states have funding set aside for dual enrollment programs that make the cost of these courses incredibly affordable. In some cases, dual-enrolled students can graduate from high school with their associate degree–essentially cutting out two years of college!

But it's important to point out that not as many colleges accept dual enrollment credits as those that accept AP and IB credits. However, if you plan to attend an in-state public university, the chances of your dual-enrolled credits being accepted rise dramatically.

Related: How My Son Saved 2 Years And $18,258 In Collge Tuition

CLEP Exams

CLEP (the College-Level Examination Program®) is a program spearheaded by the College Board that makes it possible to earn college credit by taking exams that cover introductory-level college coursework. Currently, there are 34 CLEP exams and the College Board says that over 2,900 universities accept CLEP exam credits.

If you'd like to prepare for a CLEP exam, you can purchase the latest CLEP exam study guide. Or you can take free CLEP prep courses courtesy of Modern States' Freshman Year For Free program. You'll typically need to pay an $89 non-refundable fee to sit for a CLEP exam, but military members qualify for free testing.

DSST Exams

Like CLEP exams, DSST exams are Prior Learning Assessment exams that can count towards college credit. Originally only available to military members, DSST exams opened up to the general public in 2006. There are currently over 30 exams offered and Prometrics (who owns and administers the DSST program) says that over 1,900 universities accept DSST credits.

Students must pay $85 per DSST exam. But, as with CLEP exams, DSST exam fees are waived for military members. Find a DSST test center near you.

2. Work In High School

Working in high school was one of the biggest reasons I was able to graduate college debt-free. And there are two major reasons why. First, like most high schoolers, my expenses in high school were minimal. Because of this, I was able to save almost 100% of my high school income. And that helped me sock away a nice nest egg for college before I ever received my first tuition bill.

Second, I had more free time in high school than during college. Depending on your degree path, it may be difficult to work more than a few hours per week during college. But, in most states, 16- and 17-year-olds can work up to 30 hours per week. Personally, I worked 20 hours per week during my junior and senior years.

Did I have less free time than my friends? Yes. But I knew that a big college bill was coming soon and I wanted to be prepared. And looking back, it ended up being one of the best financial decisions I've ever made. If you're serious about college hacking, be serious about getting a job.

3. Score Well On The SAT And/Or ACT

If you hope to land merit-based scholarships, you're going to need to kill it on your SAT or ACT exam (or both). Also, many public universities (which are much less expensive than private universities) have minimum exam score requirements. Here are some ideas to help you prep:

  • Buy exam prep books
  • Enroll in exam prep courses
  • Take a diagnostic test to identify weak areas
  • Take practice exams
  • Get a good night's sleep before your exam day

Do you think that you're one of the smartest high school students in the country? If so, you may want to enter the competition for the National Merit® Scholarship Program. In that case, there's another test you'll need to take — the PSAT/NMSQT. Learn more about the National Merit® Scholarship Program.

Applying For College

4. Fill Out Your FAFSA

Some people may be surprised to see “fill out the FAFSA” as an idea on a college hacking guide. Many assume that the FAFSA is just for people who are trying to apply for income-based grants. But it’s so much more than that. Many scholarships and grants that aren’t necessarily need-based will only consider applicants who have completed and submitted their FAFSA.

Also, if you do end up needing to take out student loans in college, you can’t qualify for federal loans unless you’ve filled out your FAFSA. And that's a big deal. Not only do federal loans come with low fixed-interest rates, but they offer other benefits that private student loans can't match like Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans and forgiveness programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Here's a quick video from Federal Student Aid's YouTube channel on how to fill out the FAFSA.

5. Apply for Scholarships and Grants

So many students assume that if they don't have the cash to pay for college themselves, student loans are their only option. But FREE money, in the form of scholarship and grants, is college hacking at its best. And these should always be your first funding choices.

Think that applying for scholarships and grants is a waste of time? Think again. By using smart techniques, it's totally possible to pay for your entire college tuition with free money (or even get paid to go to college!).

Here are some tips and tricks that can help you or your child outperform the competition. Special thanks to Elizabeth Woodfield for sending several of these ideas our way!

Related: Demystifying College Scholarships

Start Early

Start thinking about your story, extracurriculars, your passions, early in the game, as early as 8th or 9th grade. This will help you begin to build your college resume throughout your first few years of high school. Plus, not all scholarships are for seniors. Some scholarships can be earned as early as your freshman year.

Check out this list of 36 scholarships for high school freshmen and sophomores.

Look for Local Money First

Talk to your high school guidance counselor and try to find out if there are businesses, country clubs, or individuals who have created scholarships or grants specifically for local residents.

Be Intentional About Where You Spend Your Time

Create a theme of your extracurricular activities. Choose your 1-2 passions and things you want to weave together to create a common theme in everything you do. Extracurriculars are so important to show you are well-rounded, help you stand out, and reflect the impact you want to have on the greater community.

For example, a lot of Elizabeth's volunteer work, work experience, and story, related back to her work in women's empowerment initiatives and growing up in poverty. Do not try to do everything. Show depth in a few things that, again, relate back to your theme or focus in life.

Write Out Your Story

You need to stand out. Your story must create an ethos (emotional appeal) for the scholarship judges when they are reviewing hundreds, or thousands, of applications. Continue to iterate on your story over the years to reflect the themed approach mentioned above.

Be resourceful. Elizabeth said she started with her school's published bulletin of scholarships and built from there. She searched online, asked every company she encountered about scholarships, even places like restaurants where she was just going to get some food. And she talked to every person in her network about scholarships. Make sure people know that you are on the lookout for scholarships!

Make the Time

It's important to set aside time in your schedule to proactively research and apply for scholarships. It can take as much time as a part-time job. It will be worth it if you stick to it! Elizabeth found a direct correlation between the number of hours she put in and the number of scholarships she received.

Take Advantage of Scholarship Search Engines

Create profiles on sites like Big Future (College Board), Scholarships.com, Chegg, or Fastweb, and start searching for scholarships. When comparing scholarship opportunities, try to take the road less traveled. If a scholarship or grant opportunity only asks you to fill out your name (like the scholarship “sweepstakes” that you see all over many scholarship sites), your chances of winning the money are slim.

Look for scholarships that require a lot of work. Yes, they’ll take more time, but at least you’ll be competing instead of essentially gambling for scholarship money.

Learn How to Write an Eye-Catching Essay

On most scholarships, the essay question is where you really get the chance to set yourself apart. Don't just use bigger words to give the same answer as everyone else. Truly to find a unique take that can truly make your essay stand out.

Look for School-Based Scholarships

Once you’ve decided upon a college, check their financial aid page to see if they have an exclusive scholarship or grant opportunities. Also, ask one of your college’s financial aid counselors for help.

Looking for more ideas on how to find scholarships? Check out this webinar from College Board.

6. Take Advantage of Your Military Education Benefits

Are you a military vet? If so, there are several college funding programs designed specifically for you. If college hacking is important to you, here are five military education benefits that you need to know about.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

Most military members who have served on active duty after September 11, 2001, qualify for education benefits through the Post 9/11 GI Bill program. Recipients receive up to 36 months of benefits including:

  • Tuition: The full cost of public, in-state tuition and fees
  • Housing: Based on the cost of living in the area where your school is located
  • Books and supplies: Up to $1,000 per academic year
  • Moving expenses: One-time payment of up to $500

Don't plan to use your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits yourself?  They don't have to go to waste. The VA will allow you to transfer your benefits to one of your dependent children. Here's more about how that program works.

Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD)

To qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) program, you must have served on active duty for at least two years. The benefits that are offered through this program are very similar to those offered with the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

But the main difference is between the two programs is that veterans who served before September 11, 2001, can qualify for Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty benefits. Depending on the situation, veterans who served as far back as the 1970s could qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty program. Here's more about the Montgomery GI Bill Active duty program.

Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)

The Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) program offers up to 36 months of education benefits for members of the following reserve units:

  • Army
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Marine Corps or Coast Guard Reserve
  • Army National Guard
  • Air National Guard

To qualify, you'll need to commit to a six-year service obligation. You'll also need to complete your initial active duty for training (IADT) and
get your high school diploma (GED) on your own.

Yellow Ribbon Program

With this program, you could qualify for money to help pay for things that the Post 9/11 GI Bill won't cover like higher-priced tuition for out-of-state or private universities or grad school programs. There are various ways to qualify for the program. But, in most cases, you'll need to be a military veteran who served on active duty for at least 36 months. Learn more about the Yellow Ribbon Program here.

Tutorial Assistance

If you're using VA benefits to pay for college and you need a little extra help mastering the course material, this program could help pay for the cost of a tutor. To qualify, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You’re enrolled in an education program for at least half-time
  • You’re taking a course that’s considered “difficult”
  • The course that you're struggling with is a program requirement

If you qualify, this program will pay up to $100 per month toward your tutorial fees. Here's more about Tutorial Assistance.

7. Choose The Right College

This might be the most important college hacking tip in this guide. Each year, the College Board releases the average price of tuition at different types of schools. And the latest numbers illustrate what an important role school selection plays in college affordability:

  • Public Two-Year College (in-district students): $3,730
  • Public Four-Year College (in-state students): $10,440
  • Public Four-Year College (out-of-state students): $26,820
  • Private Four-Year College: $36,880

These numbers are astounding. One year's tuition at a private university is equal to nearly 10 years of tuition at a two-year community college. And you'll pay nearly 2.5 times more to attend a four-year out-of-state university than you'll pay at a public university in the state of your residence.

If you want to save the most possible money on college tuition, you need to pick a public university in your state. Spending all four yours at a four-year in-state university will save you over $65,000 when compared to an out-state-school and over $105,000 in comparison to a private university. And if you spend your first two years at a community college, you'll save another $13,000 on average.

Related: 5 Ways To Save Money On College Tuition

8. Choose The Right Student Loans

So far, we're focused this college hacking guide on how to graduate without student loans. But even after following the tips we're laying out, you may still have a funding gap. In that case, you'll want to make sure you pick the right student loans. Choosing the wrong student loan type could cost you a lot of money both while you're in college and once you start repayment.

Federal vs. Private Student Loans

Federal student loans offer a bevy of benefits that private student loans can't match. First, you'll have the option to pay on an income-based plan. Second, you'll be eligible for federal forgiveness programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness. And, third, most federal students loans come with low, fixed-interest rates without the need for a cosigner or credit check.

The downside to federal student loans? With the exception of PLUS loan (Parent PLUS and Grad PLUS), federal student loans come with annual and lifetime borrowing limits. In most cases, you should only take out private loans if you've hit your annual borrowing cap and still need additional funds.

Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Federal Student Loans

Subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans both come with fixed interest rates of 4.53%. But with subsidized loans, the government will pay your interest charges while you're in school and during your six-month grace period. That's a nice benefit. But to qualify, you'll need to demonstrate financial need.

Unsubsidized student loans are available to everyone regardless of financial need. The government, however, will not cover any of your interest charges on these loans. So interest will accrue while you're enrolled in schools and your loans are in deferment.

If you qualify for subsidized student loans, you should always start there. And if you can restrict all your borrowing to subsidized loans, that would be a big bonus. However, that can be a difficult task for students because the borrowing limits on subsidized loans are much lower than unsubsidized loans. See the annual and lifetime borrowing limits.

Undergraduate vs Graduate Student Loans

Federal student loan options and borrowing caps are much more restrictive for graduate students. You can only borrow up to $20,500 in unsubsidized student loans throughout the entirety of your graduate program. After that, you'll have to take out Grad PLUS loans which come with much higher interest rates and loan fees.

If you plan to work in the public sector, Grad PLUS Loans can still be worth it because they qualify for PSLF. But if you plan to stay in the private sector, private loans could be a better deal for some graduate students.

Related: What Are the Best Types of Student Loans?

Setting Yourself Up For Success Before You Start College

Once you've done the preliminary worry and gotten into a school, now we take the college hacking up a notch and start to look at how to hack your want through college. You start by looking at the classes you're taking.

9. Schedule Classes Efficiently

Rather than spreading your classes out throughout the week, why not try to schedule as many on the same day as you can? Vicki Cook, from Women Who Money, did that and she said it allowed her to spend time on her free days studying and earning money at her part-time job.

One of the ways to cut down on the days that you spend on campus is to look for classes that meet two times per week instead of three. Not only could that help you save time and transportation cost, but it could also help you get better grades. According to a study by Hanover Research, classes that meet twice per week are more likely to produce better student outcomes.

10. Take Extra Credits Per Semester

Another college hacking tip related to scheduling would be to max out your course load per semester. Marc, from Vital Dollar, said this helped him reduce his tuition cost. At his school, the base tuition was for 12 to 18 credits, so it was no more expensive to take 18 credits than 15 (which was the average). Marc said that since he usually took 18 credits per semester, he was able to finish a five-year program in four and a half years.

I used a similar schedule hack in college. With the degree program that I was a part of, most students needed to take summer courses in order to graduate in four years. But by taking extra credits in the fall and spring, I was able to take off each summer. That allowed me to work a full-time job during those summer months and save up for my fall tuition.

By just taking a few extra credits per semester, many students can knock a semester or two of their time in college. And that can make a big difference in how much you pay in college fees as well as food, room, and board.

11. Cut Your Textbook Cost

There may be no activity that defied the ethos of college hacking more than paying full-price for college textbooks. There are simply too many ways to get books at a discount. Whenever possible, don't buy brand new books from the campus bookstore. Try these five alternatives instead.

Buy Used

New editions of textbooks tend to add very little new content. In many cases, you’ll be just fine with buying a used, older edition. I did this all the time in college. Popular sites to search for used textbooks include Abebooks, CampusBooks, and BookFinder.

Borrow From Friends

If one of your friends has already taken the class that you’re planning to take, ask them if they still have their book. If they do, ask if you can borrow it for the semester. It saves you money and it saves them shelf space (temporarily at least).

Rent Textbooks

There are now a number of websites that will allow students to rent textbooks for a semester for much less than you'd pay to purchase it. A few popular college textbook rental sites include Chegg, Amazon, and Bookbyte. Typically, highlighting is allowed with college textbook rentals. However, these are used books, so don't expect to get an access code.

Buy Digital Versions

This might not work for everyone, especially if you really love having a hard copy of a book so that you can write in it and highlight portions of it. But if you don’t mind digital books, this could save you a lot of money. You can buy or rent digital textbooks on a variety of platforms such as Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Google Books, and eCampus.

Sell Your Textbooks Back

Let’s be honest. Most of us never look at our textbooks again after the semester is done. Recoup some of that cost by selling back your textbook to another student online! Most of the top college textbook platforms have an area of their site dedicated specifically to textbook sellers.

Related: 9 Best Places To Buy Textbooks

Making Good Choices While You're A Student

College hacking doesn't stop when you get into school or even sign up for classes. No, college hacking continues all throughout your college career. Here are tips for continuing to make smart financial choices while you're a student.

12. Work for Companies That Offer Tuition Reimbursement

Tuition reimbursement is a perk that more and more employers are offering to attract top-notch young talent. Tuition reimbursement is a great college hacking idea because the money you receive doesn't count as taxable income.

Some employers will only offer tuition assistance for degrees that are related to an employee's job. This is especially the case if you're trying to get reimbursed for a post-graduate degree. But many employers will reimburse any tuition payments made to an undergraduate degree program.

If you plan to work a part-time job in college anyway, it only makes sense to try to look first for an employer that offers tuition assistance. Some popular companies that offer tuition reimbursement include Starbucks, Chipotle, UPS, Home Depot, Bank of America, and many more. Here's a quick video about Chipotle's program.

13. Take Jobs On Campus

After jobs that offer tuition reimbursement, campus jobs may be the best way to make money in college. Not only will a campus job help you save on transportation, but they may offer other fringe benefits. Here a few popular campus jobs to look for.

Cafeteria

Many school cafeteria workers get to eat free while they’re on the job or get extra meal swipes on their cafeteria card. Drew DuBoff said that working for his school cafeteria doubled his meal swipes from seven to 14. And he got a staff meal every time he worked which was four to five times per week. That's a great deal.

Resident Assistant (RA)

The RA position may be one of the most sought-after campus jobs. And it makes sense. As an RA, you may get discounts or free room and board in addition to a weekly wage. And according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the average RA makes $14.41 per hour, for an annual median wage of $29,970.

There's obviously a lot to love about working as an RA. But you need to be aware that an RA position is technically a 24/7 job. You have to be available whenever students need help or issues resolved. And you should also expect a lot of competition from other students applying for RA jobs as well as a fairly intense application process.

Lifeguard

Getting paid to hang out at the school pool!? Sign me up!

But, in all seriousness, it takes hard work and good physical conditioning to become a lifeguard. And you'll need to pass a licensing test, such as the one provided by the Red Cross. But if you worked as a lifeguard during your summer breaks in high school, you'll already have those requirements out of the way. And that could make lifeguarding the perfect campus job for you.

Don't have any experience with lifeguarding? Check out the University of Kentucky's student lifeguard job description to see if the job interests you. If so, you may want to start working on your certifications now.

Other Campus Jobs

The three jobs listed above are nice because they offer additional fringe benefits. But really any campus job is nice because you don’t have to commute, which saves you time and gas. Other options include tutor, campus ambassador, barista, library clerk, and many more!

14. Be Smart About Your Meal Plan

Be careful about adding a bunch of swipes onto your card near the end of the year because you’ll typically lose all of them at the end of the semester. Also, if you realize that you don’t ever go to the cafeteria for certain meals, like breakfast, consider reducing your plan to fewer swipes per day.

15. Leverage Student Discounts And Campus Privileges

Being a college student comes with all kinds of little perks and benefits. College hacking pros know all the programs and take full advantage of them. Here are a few ways to max out your student privileges.

Look For Student Discounts

Need to buy a new computer or tablet for college? Most of the biggest tech companies offer student discounts on equipment including Apple, Microsoft, Dell, and more. And virtually every major car insurance company offers discounts for students who get good grades.

college hacking

Your student status can save you money around town as well. You can get a $15 eGift card by signing up for a Sam's Club Collegiate Membership.  Several restaurants like Chipotle, Subway, Dunkin, and McDonald's will give 10% discounts or free drinks if you flash your student ID at the register. And your student ID will get you a discount on movie showings at AMC theaters too.

Work Out For Free At Your Campus Gym

In the United States, the average gym membership costs $58 per month. That's nearly $700 per year. Many people feel that the health benefits are worth the cost. But the college students can “have their cake and eat it too.” Most college campuses now have on-campus gyms and access is typically free for full-time students. So cancel that gym membership and start using the gym that's within walking distance of your dorm.

Save On Amazon Membership With A Prime Student Account

Free two-day shipping can be a big lifesaver when you're buying books last-minute. So it makes sense that college students love buying textbooks and other supplies on Amazon.

But as Amazon has risen in popularity, so has its membership costs. Right now, Prime Membership will set you back $119 per year or $12.99 per month. But students get a big break. Prime Student Membership is currently offered at a steep discount of $59 per year or $6.99 per month.

Related: Attention, Students! 33 Discounts Just For You

16. Live At Home

This isn’t a sexy option. But if your college is within driving distance of your home, this could dramatically cut your housing cost and could be the difference between whether you do or don’t need to take out student loans.

According to the College Board's most recent data, the average cost of room and board at a four-year public university is $11,510 per year. If you remember correctly, the average tuition and fees for these schools was $10,440 per year. So according to these stats, you'll pay more in college for room and board than you'll pay in tuition and fees.

That means if you can live at home, you'll most likely cut your education cost by more than half! While my parents weren't able to build up college funds for me and my brothers, they did allow each of us to live rent-free at home until we graduated college. This saved us a ton of money and was a big reason why each of us was able to graduate debt-free.

17. Find Flexible Side Hustles

Traditional jobs can be difficult to manage during college since you’re typically sitting in classes during regular work hours. That’s why the best college side hustles can be done online or whenever you have free time. Here are a few good ideas to help you continue hacking your way to your college degree.

Drive for Rideshare and Delivery Services

Driving for rideshare and delivery service apps are great side hustles because you have complete control over when you work. If you want to take trips for even just one or two hours you can. And when it's time to get back to your homework, just turn off the app. Also, rideshare drivers tend to get more trips on weekends, which is when you'll usually have more free time as a college student anyway.

Both Uber and Lyft will allow you to become a driver after you turn 18. But your car will need to meet an “age requirement” as well. If your car is older than 10 years old, you won't be able to drive for Uber. Lyft's requirements aren't so cut and dry, but you can see if your car qualifies here.

If your car is too old for you to drive for Uber and Lyft, delivery services can be a good alternative. Since guests won't be sitting in your car, these services typically don't care what your car looks like or how old it is. Popular food delivery services include Uber Eats, Postmates, DoorDash, and GrubHub. If you'd like to deliver groceries, you can do that with Instacart.

Freelance Writing

If you're the type of student that always prefers a term paper over an exam, then freelance writing may be a good side hustle option for you in college. Editors are always looking for talented writers with good grammar skills who can create high-quality content.

But how do you get started in freelance writing? One idea would be to pick a writing niche that's related to your degree program. So if you're in medical school, health and fitness blogs could be a good option. But if you're pursuing a finance degree, then personal finance blogs could be a better target. If you feel like you've gotten good enough at hacking your way through college, maybe you can write about that!

Next, look for blogs that have multiple authors creating content. That's a good indication that they work with freelancers. Then try to reach out to someone from the site to let them know you'd like to write. Perhaps you could offer to write a trial piece for free to prove your skills. In your introductory email, be sure to mention that you're a college student looking to make some extra money. That kind of hustle speaks volumes to professionals and could help you land the gig!

While I feel that personal emails are the best place to start for landing quality writing clients, you can also market your writing services on various freelance hiring sites. Freelancer, ProBlogger, and Contently are all popular with many of my freelance writer friends.

Virtual Assistant

If handling administrative tasks are more up your alley than creative writing, working as a virtual assistant could be a better fit. As a virtual assistant, you could handle any number of tasks for a business owner, including email correspondence, calendar management, report-building, social media management, event management, and more.

According to Upwork, virtual assistants make $12 to $50+ per hour, depending on the kind of work that they do. And the great part is that you can do your work from anywhere and at any time. Speaking of Upwork, that can be a great place to find virtual assistant jobs. Fiverr could be a good place to advertise your services as well. Or you could join a virtual assistance agency like Zirtual or Elite Virtual Assistants.

Tutor

Tutoring is a great college side hustle because it's easy to work around your school schedule. If you're tutoring elementary or high school students, you'll typically be tutoring in the evenings. And if you're tutoring other college students, they'll typically have a schedule that's very similar to yours.

According to PayScale, the average hourly pay for a tutor in the United States is $17.55. If you'd like to tutor younger students, you can apply on sites like Tutor.com or Chegg. If you'd prefer to help other college students, GetStudyRoom could be a good fit. And, finally, if you'd like to help students prep for the SAT or ACT, you may want to check out Student-Tutor.

Teach Music

Are you pursuing a Music Degree? If so, you may be able to start earning money now teaching an instrument or giving voice lessons to younger students. Ask your friends and family to spread the word that you're willing to take on some students. Or, if you'd like to broaden your scope, you could advertise your services on an online platform like TakeLessons.

Watch People’s Pets

My brother (who’s currently pursuing his master's degree) does this one all the time and loves it! He loves animals, so it's a perfect fit. Plus, most of the time that people hire him, it's because they're heading out of town and they'd like him to stay at their house. So he basically gets paid to watch Netflix and chill! It's a great deal.

In my brother's case, he has a lot of friends in the area that knows he likes to pet sit and house sit as a side hustle. But if you're not sure how to find dog walking or pet-sitting gigs, try using a site like Rover to promote your services. Rover says that walkers and sitters on their platform can make up to $1,000 per month.

Related: Short Term Side Hustles: Get the Financial Boost Without The Commitment

18. Save on Travel

We've mentioned several times that attending an in-state university is one of the keys to college hacking. And living at home can save you even more money. But the reality is that many students will attend schools far from home. Even in my own family, my brother traveled across the country from Florida to California to attend a West Coast college.

Attending a school that's hundreds or thousands of miles away from home can add a lot of expenses to your annual budget–but don't let that stop your college hacking. You can still make smart financial choices that help while you're in school.  Whether you're traveling home for the holidays, for summer break, or just for a quick home-cooked meal and a couple of nights at home, there are ways you can cut costs. Here are a few ideas.

Use Credit Card Rewards

Ok, so this one requires a little bit of explanation. First, most students won't be able to qualify for the best credit cards that offer the biggest sign-up bonuses. So how can you use credit card rewards to pay for travel in college? In my family's case, they found a workaround.

My parents would sign up for a credit card (that was offering a big bonus) right before my brother's school tuition was due. They'd pay for his tuition with their credit card and my brother would immediately pay them back by transferring the funds into their bank account.

My parents never had to spend any money out-of-pocket to pay for my brother's college tuition and fees. Yet, they were able to earn big credit card bonuses each semester. And they would, in turn, use those points to pay for my brother's flights back and forth from school during the holidays and summer break.

Related: Travel Rewards Credit Cards FAQs

Carpool With Classmates

During summer and holiday breaks, there's a good chance that one or more students are heading in the same direction. Why not fill up the seats and split the gas cost? Not sure where to find classmates that are heading your way? Try downloading the Wheeli campus carpooling app for college students.

Use Airfare Comparison Sites and Price Alert Tools

Rather than going to each airline's website separately, use comparison sites like Kayak, Expedia, Priceline, or Hotwire. It will save you time and probably a lot of money as well.

Not happy with any of the prices that you're seeing? Instead of booking now, you can set up a price alert for a specific destination and date. Whenever an airline advertises a lower price than what you've previously seen, you'll receive an email notification. Popular fare alert tools include Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Kayak.

Preparing For Life After College

When you're just about done with college and are looking forward to graduation, the college hacking can stop, right? Not quite yet.

If you've been following the steps thus far, the theme you might notice is being prepared. Even as you get close to completing your degree, you have to keep looking a few steps ahead and preparing for the future. By doing so, you'll get a jump on others who are content to savor their college days rather than prepare for the inevitable end of those days and the start of real life.

19. Apply For Internships

Not only could an internship help you learn whether or not you’ve chosen the right career path, but it could help you pay your college bills. Plus, it could allow you to get your foot in the door for a future full-time job after graduation. So, in reality, taking an internship is like college hacking and career hacking rolled into one!

But try to avoid unpaid internships. Not only does this not help you pay for school, but studies have shown that students who take unpaid internships aren’t offered future jobs as often as those who take paid internships. Check your school’s job board for opportunities or look for them on job sites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, or CareerBuilder.

20. Look for Student Loan Forgiveness And Repayment Programs

Even if you do have to take out student loans in college, you may be able to pay some or all of them back without any money leaving your pocket. Finding “free money” in the form of repayment and forgiveness programs may be one of the smartest college hacking ideas.

Here are just a few of the many student loan repayment programs that could help you pay off your student loans. And each of these ideas is in addition to the student loan forgiveness that all borrowers receive after 20 to 25 years of making payments on an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

If you work as a teacher, state or federal government worker, or as a non-profit employee, you need to consider pursuing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. After joining the program, you'll begin paying your loans on an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan, which will lower your payments.

But the best part is that you'll be eligible for forgiveness in ten years instead of the typical 20 to 25 years. Plus, you won't owe any tax on the forgiven amount (unlike IDR forgiveness). To qualify, you'll need to have federal student loans and be working for a qualifying employer. See the PSLF Employer Certification Form.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program

Like PSLF, the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is only available to federal student loan borrowers. With this program, you could receive up to $17,500 of forgiveness on your student loans.

To qualify, you'll need to be teaching at a qualifying low-income school or educational agency. See the list of schools. Also, you'll need to work in that capacity for five consecutive years (unlike PSLF which adds all of your qualifying years together regardless of whether or not they happened consecutively).

Also, you can't pursue Teacher Loan Forgiveness and PSLF at the same time. In many cases, teachers may be better off sticking with PSLF. But if you happen to work at a qualifying school and owe less than $17,500 in student loans, you could debt-free twice as fast with the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program.

National Health Services Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program

This is a student loan forgiveness program designed for medical professionals. With this program, you could have $30,000 to $50,000 of your student loan repaid. In exchange, you'll need to commit to working at a high-need NSHC site for at least two years. If you work in primary care, dental care, or behavioral and mental health, there's a good chance that you may be eligible for the program.

To learn more about the requirements and how to apply, check out the NHSC Loan Repayment Program information page.

Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program

If you're accepted into the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program, you could have up to 60% of your student loans repaid. To qualify, you'll need to work at least two years in a Critical Shortage Facility (CSF). If you agree to work a third year, you could receive payment assistance for an additional 25% of your remaining student loan balance.

To learn more about the program, read the full Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program guide.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Programs

The NIH offers several repayment programs that could help relieve the student loan burden for health professionals. Currently, there are eight different NIH Loan Repayment Programs to choose from. With each of them, the NIH could repay up to $50,000 of your student loans annually.

To qualify, your professional focus will need to be in the areas of biomedical or biobehavioral research. To learn more about the NIH Loan Repayment Programs and their eligibility requirements, visit the program website.

Military CLRP Program

The Military CLRP program was created by Congress to help attract top talent to the armed forces. With this program, you could receive up to $65,000 of loan repayment assistance on your student loans. Each branch of the military is free to decide if they want to participate in the program and how much of the federal funding they'll take advantage of. To qualify, you'll need to be a new enlistee who's never served in the military before.

Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP)

Did you know that the average veterinarian in 2016 who graduated with debt had over $167,000 in student loans? And over 20% of those borrowers had student loan amounts totaling over $200,000. That's a crushing amount of debt!

If you're a veterinarian looking for help with your student loans, you may want to look into the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP). With this program, you can receive up to $25,000 each year over a three-year period for up to $75,000 in total student loan assistance. To qualify, you'll need to spend those three years working in a NIFA-designated veterinarian shortage situation.

Learn more about the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP).

The Bottom Line

Yes, college is expensive. But college hacking really can make a huge difference in what you pay. By taking advantage of the ideas from this college hacking guide, you could easily reduce your cost of education by tens of thousands of dollars. And you may be able to avoid student debt altogether.

Related articles:

The Ultimate Guide To College Hacking

Your Financial Resilience Toolkit

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ChooseFI seeks to uncover helpful services that help you be financially resilient. However, we may receive compensation, at no cost to you, from the issuers of some products mentioned in this article, including from CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Opinions are the author’s alone, and this content has not been provided by, reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of these entities. See our disclosures for more info.

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1 thought on “The Ultimate Guide To College Hacking”

  1. Great coverage of college hacking. All three of my kids got totally free four year degrees by using some of those! One caution is that depending on the major, like chemical and biological engineering for two of my three kids, the community college route, AP, CLEP, etc. would not have worked. Engineering majors are already expected to skip all the courses that you can take or test out of. The community college I am a trustee at for instance still doesn’t offer any math or science courses that are high enough level to gain even a single hour of university credit for an engineering student. That is getting better and it really depends on the size of the community college and how well they’ve coordinated with the state universities. I was a high income, high asset parent and even with that my kids all had more scholarships than they could spend on tuition, fees, books and room and board and turned back thousands of dollars. But the key, we found, to getting non means tested free rides was to select high demand STEM majors. It is very hard to get a non needs based free ride package at a state university for a liberal arts major, or at least is was here.

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