Skip to main content

How to Pay for College

March 11, 2022

The commitment to earn a college education ranks among the most impactful life choices a person will make. Many may feel overwhelmed with the financial aspect of attending college, but they have multiple options available to reduce costs.

The following methods for finding college financial support apply to students fresh out of high school and working adults who want to earn a degree. They work for students completing a bachelor’s degree online or those taking courses on-campus.

No one path works for everyone. The key for every student is starting with the basics and then exploring the variety of financial aid options for which they are qualified.

College Financial Aid Options

The first step in learning how to pay for college is not getting caught up with the listed price. Colleges and universities publish the full tuition cost as a matter of full disclosure. But few students pay the entire amount. Instead, they choose from the following main options.

Fill Out the FAFSA

All students should start their financial aid search by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid which determines how much grant money and loan money a student can receive. The U.S. Department of Education also offers information on financial aid designed for adult students.

Federal student aid typically falls into three categories: need-based grants that students do not repay, work-study programs that allow students to earn money at campus jobs, and loans that students repay with interest.


Like grants, scholarships offer money to college students they do not have to repay. Scholarships come from many different organizations. Some tie their scholarships to areas of study. Others support students of a specific ethnic background, race, or gender. Local organizations also offer scholarships to students in the community.

Employer Support For Tuition

For working adults, the company where they are employed may provide a financial aid option. Some employers realize the benefit of having college-educated employees and help pay college costs through a tuition assistance program. Typically, employees have to agree to stay with the company for a set amount of time or repay the money the company paid toward tuition.

Generous Transfer Credit Policies

Many working adults have earned college credit but did not finish their degree. To maximize the benefits of that past work, students should seek colleges that give them credit for what they have already learned. That can save them a great deal of money toward earning their degree. The best policies also give credit for experience gained through employment or training.

Payment Plans

Payment plans present an attractive option for students who might not otherwise have the money needed to pay for college immediately. A payment plan spreads out tuition costs over a longer period of time, allowing students to better manage costs.

Student Loans

As a last option, consider a student loan. However, it’s wise to exhaust all other avenues first. Students who seek a student loan should focus on federal loans rather than private loans. A federal loan offers advantages most private loans do not, including repayments based on income and loan forgiveness programs.

Merrimack College’s Approach to Tuition

Merrimack College takes a straightforward and affordable approach to tuition. For example, the college designed its Pathway Bachelor Degree Completion program with an understanding that working adults have other financial obligations.

The program provides many ways for students to lower and better manage college costs. They include:

  • free online application
  • Up to 90 credits for previously completed college courses, work experience, and training
  • A payment plan allowing students to pay tuition over four to six months rather than one lump sum
  • tiered tuition plan that bases costs on the number of credits a student needs to earn

Merrimack College offers online, competency-based programs that give working adults an affordable, convenient option for advancing their education. For students concerned about paying for college, Merrimack provides a variety of ways to make earning a degree a reality.