3 Ways I Got a Free College Education (The First 2 Years)

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Are you planning to go to college soon or thinking about it?  If so, learn how to make it cost you nothing.

I was blessed to not have to pay for the first two years of college or much of any of my education.  (Yes, it took me a few years longer than expected to transfer over to a university to choose and finish a bachelors program.  No, my parents didn’t pay either.)   I received federal grants that covered all my tuition as a full time student for the first year of college.

The following year I had to pay for my college tuition out of pocket, but I got it all back in taxes.  Then after that I was lucky enough to find a job with a company that reimbursed me for all my tuition costs, at the community college level, for the next couple of years.

Read on to find out how you can do the same.
Compare the costs.

Per credit hour it currently costs $86 at my local community college and $490 at a local public university.  That’s a difference of $404 for a single credit hour.  Or $4,848 if you’re attending full-time with a total of 12 credit hour semesters.

That would be a grand total of $4,128 (community college). Compared to $23,520 (College University) for the first two years.  So you could save $19,392 just by choosing the community college experience over the college university one.

 COLLEGE ROUTE Y1 Y2 TOTAL
Community College 2,064 2,064 4,128
College University 11,760 11,760 23,520
Go to a community college the first two years.

Save your money.  The prestige of attending a college university right off the bat isn’t worth your paycheck or going into debt.

That is of course unless you have a full ride scholarship to that university or the cost is somehow less than your local community college.  Otherwise delay this college transition until year three.

#1: Apply for FASFA.

If you and your parents didn’t make over a certain amount during the previous year you may be eligible for a federal pell grant.  If your application is rejected or you’re instead offered a federal loan, then don’t worry.

I don’t encourage anyone to accept their loans, but many people take them up on this offer.  Just know that a grant is free money and that a loan has to be paid back.

Keep to your budget.

Know your school costs.  Know all your costs for that matter.  How much you’re spending on housing, food, entertainment, gas, etc.  Keep your costs below what you’re making.

Bear in mind you will be paying for an entire semester all at once.  So, save up for it if you can or consider financial assistance in the form of a federal pell grant or loan.  A pell grant doesn’t have to be repaid, but a loan does.

Make sure you make the wisest decision for your situation. Taking out a loan is a HUGE deal and means you will be accumulating debt (something you want to avoid).

So make sure there is no other way of moving forward and that you will be able to keep up on payments.  I don’t recommend taking out a loan, but that is completely your decision.

#2: Get a job or continue to work.

You can work while going to school, so find a job that fits your school schedule or vice versa.  I took many night classes and selected only once a week and bi-weekly classes during my community college years.

Maybe you can even luck out and find a job that will help pay for continuing education classes.  There are companies out there that offer benefits to financially assist their employees who are in school.

In the end you could have all of your community college tuition reimbursed by your work, making it FREE.  Taking classes and working at the same time can be challenging more so for some than others.

This is why it is so important to try it out for a semester and go from there.  Sometimes you never know what you can handle until you’re doing it.  Also, having a job will help make college FREE.

#3: Take advantage of education tax credits.

Claim an education tax credit, either the American opportunity tax credit or the lifetime learning credit on your federal taxes during tax season.  This is assuming you pay taxes and have a job.

Of course this only applies to those paying for their schooling.  If you used a federal grant, then you’re ineligible because you already accepted federal money.  Though, everyone else who paid for college courses, without prior reimbursement, is eligible.   You can check here to make sure you’re eligible.

To sum it all up if you go to that community college you can get back what you paid toward tuition.  According to the IRS the American opportunity tax credit allows tax payers to use 100% of their first $2000 to reduce their taxes.

But if you don’t owe any taxes you can receive a tax refund of that $2000.  So basically you can get an education at your local community college the first two years for FREE, or almost free if you include textbooks and all other fees.

Attention all those looking into taking out a loan this section is for you.  If you took out a loan, pay it off; the sooner the better.  You don’t want to carry around that debt any longer than necessary.  Those new shoes you wanted can wait!

Get you priorities straight and make paying off any debt the first thing on your list.

A free college education is out there waiting for you.  Nothing too complicated. Especially now that you know the three paths to making your college education free.  Choose and path and get started.

*If you’re interested in getting all 4 years free then the only routes I’m aware of are: (1) signing on with certain companies straight out of school for a required amount of years, (2) applying for full ride scholarships, and (3) joining the military.

Comment below: Were you able to get your college education for free as well?  How’d you do it? 

Tawnya is the founder of The Dancing Dollar, a blog about frugality & personal finance.  She writes about how frugal living can help other individuals & families live [happily] below their means.  She & her husband are on the path to pay off their home in less than half the time.  Click here to learn more.