Young woman in sun hat and white T-shirt, outside in summer, fists up in triumph

5 Common Ways to Pay for Summer Classes and Graduate Sooner

Taking summer courses is a great way to get ahead and on your way to an exciting career you'll love. Here are some ways you can make it financially possible!

Summer classes are a great way to beat the heat of an overfilled fall or spring semester in college—or to get ahead and streamline your path to graduation. Along with the opportunity to spend less time in school, this strategy can also save you money. After all, the earlier all your credits are accounted for, the less time you’ll spend taking out student loans (which hopefully leads to more time spent using that hard-earned degree to earn an income). Before you can get there, however, you have to pay for and get through those summer courses. Fortunately, financial aid is available for the summer semester, along with some other resources that can help dial down your tuition bill. Here are five ways to pay for summer classes to get you that much closer to your bright future.

1. File the FAFSA

When it comes to paying for college, filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) should always be your first step. It’s where you’ll turn for financial aid during both the regular academic year and the summer. Federal student aid is often more affordable than private loans. And some federal loans are subsidized, which means the US Department of Education will pay your interest as long as you’re enrolled in school at least half-time, plus the first six months after you leave school and during periods of deferment. They also offer more flexible repayment options and may be eligible for student loan forgiveness programs.

If you’ve already filed the FAFSA for the regular school year, you may not need to file again to get financial aid for summer classes, but you should check with your financial aid office to learn more about your school’s specific requirements. And keep in mind this option will only work if you haven’t already taken out the maximum amount for the academic year. You can find out how much you have left using the National Student Loan Data System.

Related: The Best Advice and Resources for Filling Out the FAFSA

2. Look into work-study

Along with Direct Loans and Pell Grants, the FAFSA will also unlock federal work-study programs, and some may be available for the summer term. While they may not put as much money directly into your pocket as a traditional part-time job (although they are required to pay at least the current federal minimum wage), work-study has the benefit of flexibility. These programs are custom-built to fit around your school schedule, which can make it easier to focus on coursework.

Additionally, work-study programs are often centered around the industry or field you’re studying, which means you can gain real, relevant experience that could benefit you when you’re looking for your first postgrad job. And if you’re a full-time student working less than 20 hours per week, the income you earn through work-study is exempt from both federal and state taxes, which is a pretty great perk. Additionally, work-study income isn’t factored into your FAFSA, which means it won’t impede your ability to qualify for more student loans.

3. Consider an off-campus summer job or internship

If work-study isn’t an option (or even if it is), you might consider an off-campus summer job or internship instead. Many companies offer part-time seasonal work specifically designed for students who have other commitments and responsibilities, and in some cases, they may pay more handsomely than work-study would. You’ll just need to be sure you can advocate for your needs as a student and save enough time each week to complete your schoolwork and classes as well as whatever is required by your employer.

Related: 4 Flexible Summer Jobs to Get Paid and Take a Break

4. Apply for scholarships and grants

As helpful as student loans and an income may be, there’s simply no substitute for free money—and scholarships and grants are basically that. Yes, you’ll have to apply for them and meet their requirements—which in some instances can be quite specific and intensive—but if you’re successful, you’ll receive the gift of money you never have to pay back. Here’s the issue: The majority of scholarships and grants are designed to pay for the normal fall or spring semesters. But there are options out there for summer courses and awards that get paid to you directly at any time of year—you just have to do some digging. Your financial aid office may be able to tell you where to look for scholarships and help you narrow down your search.

5. Consider taking classes at your local community college

This one might sound a little less enticing, but don’t write it off! If you’re enrolled at an expensive private college or university, chances are your credit hours are significantly more expensive than they would be at the local community college down the street. As long as you confirm that you can easily transfer your credits—and that they count toward your projected degree path—taking summer classes at a different school might be a great way to maintain your degree momentum while also saving money. You could even try combining this approach with some of the other tips above to amplify your savings and make your financial life that much less stressful.

Related: Top 10 Reasons to Study at a Community College

The last thing you want to end up doing is spinning your wheels over the summer, taking classes that don’t end up benefiting your academic and financial planning. But if your school or a local community college is offering a course that can give your degree the boost you need and save you some time and money, then it’s worth putting the effort in for your future. Use these tips, explore all your options, and keep learning over the summer!

Taking classes in the off-season doesn’t have to ruin your whole summer. Check out these 5 Tips for Summer Courses to Avoid Ruining Your Break to keep the fun and get stuff done!

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About Maxime Croll

Maxime Croll is a Senior Director and Insurance Product Manager at Previously, she was the Director of Product Marketing at CoverWallet—a commercial insurance start-up—and also helped launch NerdWallet's personal insurance business. Maxime has contributed insurance insights and analysis to Forbes, USA Today, The Hill, and many other publications.


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