Just how desperate> are people getting about saving for college? Last month, an anonymous parent in the Boston area posted an ad on Craigslist offering to sell his body parts to pay for his kids' $200,000 in student loans. "Use my body for anything legal, or medically experimental," read the post, which has since been taken down. "Simply pay off all of my children's loans and you can use me anyway you need."
Few would ever go to such alarming lengths, of course, but many students faced with the double whammy of soaring tuition costs and shrinking financial aid are discovering some rather un-orthodox ways to pay for college. Forget toiling for minimum wage at the local burger joint or shelving books at the college library, these resourceful students are bringing in extra cash by starting their own businesses, soliciting donors online and even selling sperm or eggs.
It's easy to see why college kids are getting so creative. The average cost for a private college rose 4.3% in 2010 to nearly $37,000, including room and board, according to the College Board. Tuition at a state university now runs $28,130 for out-of-state students (up 5.6% from last year) and $16,140 for residents (up 6.1%). And scholarships and awards only go so far: Of the $3.5 billion available in private scholarships, only one in 10 students receive an award, with the average size being just $2,815, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the FinAid Website and the author of "Secrets to Winning a Scholarship." At the same time, many cash-strapped states are capping grants and raising eligibility standards for student aid a trend expected to continue as they shift more of the costs of college to students and their families.
To make up the difference, students are doing more than ever to chip in on education costs, say experts. Nearly 72% of college-bound high school students think it's their responsibility to help pay for college, according to a January survey by the College Savings Foundation. Almost 60% plan to cover more than a quarter of the costs, and 18% more than a half. Below are some non-traditional ways they're helping foot the bill.
Do for Others
It's true -- helping your fellow man can also mean doing well for yourself. Consider AmeriCorps, a national network of more than 3,000 nonprofits and faith-based organizations, including Teach for America, the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. While regular wages are low around $11,000 for 1,700 hours of work (10 months) students who serve a full stint also could earn a scholarship of $5,500 (double that for 3,400 hours).
Additional scholarships are available to students who attend one of the 75 or so colleges and universities affiliated with AmeriCorps, including Duke University, Brandeis University and Syracuse University. One such beneficiary: Marc Schleif, 20, who decided to delay his junior year at Bentley University to work for City Year, an urban "community service" program. For his full-time work as a mentor to "at risk" students in a Los Angeles elementary school, Schleif makes about $140 a week. Once he completes his 10-month commitment, however, he'll receive a $20,000 scholarship from Bentley to go with his $5,500 award from AmeriCorps. Before discovering the program, Schleif said he was planning to transfer to a state school or go deeper into debt. "If I didn't get this I would have had to take out $20,000 on top of the $10,000 I already owe," says Schleif. "It's the best experience I've ever had, but someone shouldn't do it just for the money. Your heart has to be in it."
Be up for anything (even being a lab rat)
Since relatively few students are eligible for on-campus jobs as part of their financial aid package, experts recommend that incoming freshman immediately check in with their school's career services departments and online jobs board, as well as scan local bulletin boards for part-time gigs. That strategy has paid off for Caroline R. Tarpley, a 22-year old senior at Boston University who says perusing the school's online jobs board has helped her find several decent paying jobs from catering a party ($15 an hour) to passing out flyers ($10 an hour). One of the best gigs, she says, was participating in a sleep study at the university's medical school. For sleeping two nights at the lab under surveillance, and keeping a dream journal, she received $200. "It was well worth it," says Tarpley, who also works part-time in two university labs. "I just slept there, and they videotaped me."
Create your own company
When Melissa Larson, 22, a senior at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, got engaged in September 2009, she started looking online for wedding supplies. Quickly discovering there wasn't a decent site, the business management began plotting her own. Less than a year later, she launched Birdcage Bridal, which pairs buyers with sellers of new and used wedding items like dresses, necklaces and centerpieces. So far, the site has made enough money from Google advertisements to help Larson pay for her text books.
Similarly, Raymer Maguire, a senior at Bentley University, started his own company as a way to earn extra cash for school. Called Boston's Designated Driver, the service takes people home in their own cars so that the vehicles aren't left over night on the street to be ticketed or towed. He currently earns about $100 a week and employs more than a dozen other part-time employees including some students. Business has been so good, in fact, that a few weeks ago, he sold 41% of it to a group of investors for $85,000. "This is my job, and luckily I'm able to pay myself," says Maguire. His advice to other potential entrepreneurs "When you are in college it is the best time to experiment with entrepreneurship and start your own company," he says. "For me the number one resource was other students."
Sell yourself. Literally.
Walk through college towns like Boston or New York, and you can't avoid the advertisements on bulletin boards and school newspapers for smart, healthy people willing to sell their eggs or sperm. To be sure, selling sperm is not quick and easy, and typically takes several months to get approval and multiple visits after that for six months to a year. That time commitment is one reason why places like the Sperm Bank of New York prefer mature graduate students, says Albert Anouna, director. Donors often earn anywhere from $1,300 to $5,500 for their services, depending on how often and for how long they participate, he says.
Egg donors can make out even better: Healthy women in their 20s with high SAT scores and a college education earn the best pay, which usually starts at around $5,000 for each donation but can be as high as $10,000. One 29-year-old Chicago medical school student, who asked not to be identified, has participated four times. She says she decided to be a donor to help women with fertility problems, but admits the money has gone a long way toward helping her paying off those hefty medical school bills. "I'm probably one of the first graduating medical school without debt," she says.
Beg for help
When Kelli Space graduated with a degree in sociology in 2009 from Northeastern University, she also had about $200,000 in private student loans. Worried she'd never be able to keep up with the $800-a-month payments which are scheduled to double this June last month Space launched twohundredthou.com, a blog where she writes about her struggles with debt and asks for donations. While some online media outlets including the Huffington Post and several bloggers have been critical of Space's efforts, she has managed to raise $10,000 so far from generous strangers. "They've accused me of not having a job and being lazy," Space says of the critics. "Actually, I'm pretty hard working, and had to cover 100% of my tuition." One upside of drowning in debt, she says: You learn better money habits. For example, the office manager at a New York internet company says she saves money by living with her parents in New Jersey, always bringing lunch to work and almost never going out. "I've had to become thrifty and crafty."