The escalating cost of higher education is making it harder, even impossible in some cases, for families to afford college. Therefore, students and their families should consider creative ways to lower their net expenses. As we continue this series on ways to pay for college, there are several ways for families to find outside sources to help subsidize college.

Visit here for traditional ways to prepare and help pay for college. Here we’ll cover the creative and unique ways to help families.

Advanced Placement Courses

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college-level courses offered to high school students and accredited by the College Board. The College Board audits these courses to ensure the courses meet minimum requirements. AP designation is offered mostly for core courses such as English and math. Other qualifying courses, however, may be available.

The benefit of these courses is that they often carry over into the first year of college and can reduce a student’s time spent in college and, therefore, the amount of money they spend on college. There are no costs for taking AP courses in high school, but students must qualify for them and receive a 3 (qualified), 4 (well-qualified), or 5 (extremely well-qualified) on their final exam to have the AP course count towards their college credits.

Each college has its own AP course policy. Students should work with the college of their choice to learn more about these requirements.

Private Scholarships

College scholarships are monetary awards specifically for education. They come with certain requirements, such as work or internships both before and after the scholarships are awarded. Requirements are usually tied to grade-point averages (GPA) or to a specific number of credits that must be accumulated each semester.

Grants and scholarships rarely require repayment. They do, sometimes, require an agreement to work for a particular company or industry for a term.

Grants and scholarships are often tied to a study or career, such as medicine or teaching, and are sometimes designed to correct shortages in those fields. Many organizations offer grants and scholarships. You can apply for and accept as many as you like, and it doesn’t hurt to seek out as many as you can get.

The competition to win high-dollar scholarships is often quite competitive. The trick is to apply for the lower-dollar scholarships that often have less competition. More work may be required of the college student, but those smaller scholarships can add up to cover a decent chunk of tuition.

Government Grants and Scholarships

Most grants and scholarships are offered by the federal government, state governments, and schools.

Students should first research and apply for grants that are appropriate for them. Then, fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application at to apply for federal student loan assistance authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 covers Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, and the Federal TEACH Grant, along with other grants, loans, and work-study programs.

Finally, students should research for additional grants for which they may qualify.

Each state offers grants and scholarships and has its requirements and incentives. Information can be found on student’s home state’s Department of Education or state grant agency websites. A simple way to search for available scholarships is through

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Essay Contests

There are many of essay contests that award $500 to $70,000 (and more) to winners. Essay contests cover a range of topics, including book and author reviews, political and social topics, among many others. Writing winning essays takes time. The reward may mean a free education.

For a search engine customized to finding essay contests, use Another source is from the previous section.

Employer Reimbursement

Many businesses offer incentives to employees and their children to help pay for college. Some of these employers include UPS, Apple, Google, ADP, JM Smuckers, Starbucks, and Home Depot.

Ask your company’s human resources or benefits department for details. Reimbursement usually covers up to a certain dollar amount in each year and doesn’t require repayment. It does typically require that the student meets minimum GPA requirements.

Note that tuition reimbursement over $5,250 may generate a tax payment for the employee.

Tax Credits

Students might consider applying for education tax credits. These include the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Hope Scholarship Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, and more. These tax credits reduce the amount of taxes students pay in a given year. Requirements to qualify for tax credits are more intricate than the above suggestions — such as not being a dependent and having income limits. Visit or talk with an accountant to learn more.

Extra-Curricular High School Activities

When looking for sources to help pay for college, it pays to be creative. There are some extra-curricular activities and student programs that assist in paying for college.

For example, Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) in Denver CO is a tax-exempt and non-profit with the mission to inspire underserved grade school and high school students to get into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. ELK’s Tim Crisman Memorial Scholarship awards $1,500 scholarships to qualifying students and has awarded over $750,000 to date.

As with anything related to money, it’s important to understand the tax consequences.

Through creative searches online, networking and talking with high school teachers and counselors, college admissions offices, business, and non-profit organizations, students can find additional funding for college.

Some of these methods do require more time and research to help pay for college. These strategies combined with at least one of the 4 Traditional Ways to Make Saving for College Less Painful and More Profitable will set families on a path to make obtaining a college degree more affordable. All that will make the effort worthwhile.

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John Schneider

John Schneider

John is a personal finance writer and speaker. His work has appeared in Yahoo Finance, Business Insider, Time and others. He writes about money at Debt Free Guys and talks about money on the Queer Money podcast, a podcast about the financial nuances of the LGBT community. He can be found on Facebook and Twitter.