How to Afford Your Dream College


You’ve gone through the whole transfer application process and have been accepted to the university of your dreams. Yet, one of the most difficult but common setbacks before even attending the school is the question of whether you and your family can afford your dream school, especially after the shock of seeing how much tuition costs or how little financial aid you received. If you have your mind set on a certain school, but cannot attend because of financial reasons, read on for tips on how to afford your dream college:

  • Consider attending a community college and then transfer in as a sophomore or junior. If you have your mind set on an expensive school right out of high school, this is a track you and your family can consider for the first few years of college. You will save money, since you’re only attending the expensive school for two years instead of four. This is also a great way to get your GE’s out of the way (but make sure your classes will transfer!).
  • Apply for scholarships. You can apply for scholarships for the following school year, even if you don’t know where you will be transferring yet. For example, the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Scholarship provides up to $40,000 a year for up to two years to cover tuition, fees, books, and other expenses for community college/2-year college students. You can learn more about how to apply to this particular scholarship here. Otherwise, check to see if you can apply for transfer scholarships for your school during the application process. Look for additional scholarships online or in your community.

When you have been accepted into your dream college, and decided you will attend:

  • If you feel that you have extenuating circumstances that weren’t reflected in your financial aid package, such as medical expenses or loss of employment, appeal your financial aid package! Many schools have an appeal process you can go through if you have a valid reason. Make sure you have proof of your circumstances, contact your school’s financial aid office, and be communicative and willing to compromise.
  • Get a paid internship/job. If you received work-study in your financial aid package, use this to your advantage! Many offices on campus will want to hire you, so check on your school’s career website and filter for work-study jobs, or attend a work-study job fair near the beginning of the school year if your college hosts one. If you didn’t receive work-study, there will still be offices on campus hiring students, as well as businesses around campus. A good resource would be your school’s career website, especially if you want a job that understands your desire to balance work and school, and is near campus. Get on this quickly to have the most options available when looking for jobs!
  • Keep applying for scholarships. There may be merit scholarships you can apply for each year through your university, or even a particular college within your school. For example, at the University of Southern California, you can apply for continuing student scholarships from the Marshall School of Business, the business school within USC.
  • Save your money! This means budgeting your money and being careful about what you spend your money/paycheck on. You can use apps like Mint or Level Money to manage your money. There are lots of opportunities to save throughout the year. For example, consider cheaper housing options, or even commute from home. Don’t buy an expensive meal plan. Buy or rent used textbooks, or even borrow from the library or your friends (learn more here). Look out for events during the school year that offer free food.

These are all suggestions for what you can do to make ends meet, especially if you don’t want to take out loans. Through a combination of need-based grant aid, as well as scholarships, paychecks, and having a budget, your dream college can be affordable.


  1. Consider attending a community college
  2. Apply for scholarships
  3. Appeal your financial aid package
  4. Get a paid internship/job
  5. Budget your money/save throughout the year on housing, textbooks, and food
  6. Take advantage of events on campus that offer free stuff

If you have other tips on how to afford your dream college, comment below.

– Michelle L.