Rather than go further into debt for his college education, Joshsua Samuels decided to try the website GoFundMe.com, where he appealed for help to friends and strangers. Within two months, he had raised the $3,380 plus GoFundMe's 5-percent-per-donation fee.
Crowd funding, as this practice of Internet soliciting is called, is better known as the purview of startup companies looking to raise cash. Education is now the second most popular category on the GoFundMe site, says founder Brad Damphousse.
Students in need can pick from a range of sites; other popular ones are Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Parents, meanwhile, can start crowd funding when their kids are toddlers. At GradSave.com and GiveCollege.com, which are tied into 529 savings plans, parents can solicit donations to college savings accounts.
Succeeding at getting donations requires students to be resourceful. Most sites advise crowd funders to post catchy videos as part of their campaign strategy, and they provide tools for publicizing crowd funding efforts on Facebook and Twitter.
Samuels advises setting your sights higher than the amount you need for tuition, so as to cover expenses like books and the fees you'll owe to the crowd funding sites. "You have to raise more like 110 percent," he says. But the effort is worthwhile, he thinks, if unwieldy debt is the other option. "Go for it."