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Getting financial help with college was one of the major reasons why Benjamin Armstrong joined the Marine Corps. But when the veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars finally started using the G.I. Bill to attend Texas State University in 2004, he accidentally missed out on the Marine Corps College Fund, which would have paid $12,000 toward his education.

“I was not prepared at all” to make the best use of the military’s financial aid, Armstrong says.

After a few early stumbles, Armstrong earned his bachelor’s degree in 2008 and his master’s in 2011. And since G.I. Bill covered the vast majority of the costs, Armstrong finished school with minimal student loan debt.

“I basically got two degrees for $2,000” in student loans, he says. “I just feel blessed and excited.”

Costs Are Rising

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the cost of college. The average university student graduates with over $25,000 in student loans, according to the Project on Student Loan Debt.

Americans owe more than $1 trillion in student loans, more than they’ve charged on their credit cards.

But there are ways for students of all ages to earn college degrees without racking up mountains of debt. Some, like the G.I. Bill, are well-known, and have been around for generations. Others, including law school programs that wipe away graduates’ student loans in return for work in the public interest, may be less well-known but just as helpful.

Whatever the mechanism, most of these alternative ways of paying for college share a similar goal: Helping young people enjoy the opportunities that come with having a college degree without the crushing debt that prevents many graduates from enjoying those opportunities.

“We want to make sure that concerns about debt or income are not stopping any of our students from going out and changing the world in whatever way they choose,” says Janet Conroy, a spokeswoman for the Yale Law School, which offers a generous loan repayment program for graduates who pursue low-paying jobs or public service.

Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of Credit.com, recently proposed a new National Service Corps that would help hundreds of thousands of young Americans pay for college in exchange for two years of service to their country. While larger and broader in scope than any existing service program, there are many precedents for this kind of aid. Here are some of the more popular programs people already use to help pay for college and graduate school.

 The Military »

Image: Richard Lawrence Cohen, via Flickr

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