In case you missed it, in Part I of this series covering college costs, I talked about the five most popular ways students pay for college.
The focus today will be on reducing the total college costs in whatever way possible. Of course things like scholarships, grants and military funding are all givens as I discussed in Part I. But what other practical things can a student do to bring down college costs?
I’ve divided the cost cutting topics into three categories: things that can be done in high school, things that can be done in the preparation phase and things that can be done while enrolled in college.
And at the end I’ll provide one bonus tip on how to dramatically reduce the cost of college.
Cut College Costs While in High School
Get good grades. Colleges are looking at your performance in high school first and foremost. Your academic record will be the deciding factor in college admission decisions and will play a role in scholarship money allocation.
For example, students who are residents of the state of Georgia have access to the Hope Scholarship to pay for college. In order to qualify, a student must graduate from high school with a 3.0 grade point average. That’s very doable with a little discipline and focus.
Check with your state to see if there is a similar program. Georgia residents can find information about the Hope Scholarship by clicking here.
Load up on AP Classes. Taking Advanced Placement classes in high school gives you the opportunity to bypass certain college courses should you score high enough on the AP exam for that subject. Any class you can avoid and get credit for means reduced savings on tuition.
For information about the Advanced Placement (AP) program click here.
College Entrance Scores. Next to your overall high school academic record, the college entrance test score is probably the next scrutinized element of your college application. It can make or break being accepted to the college of your choice or receiving that scholarship you applied for.
I would recommend taking either of these tests at least twice, as a good many students perform better in their second attempt. The best time frame for that would be to take a test once in the spring of your junior year and again in the fall of your senior year.
The six months between tests administrations will allow you to isolate weak areas from the first test and study in those disciplines. In addition, you will get into your senior level math and English courses in the fall semester, which should help on those portions of the test.
Test Out of Freshman Level Courses. Even if you don’t take AP classes in high school, you still have the option to test out of freshman level classes by utilizing the College-Level Examination Program or CLEP for short.
According to their website, CLEP is the most widely accepted credit by examination program, being accepted by over 2,900 colleges and universities. Students sign up to take a test for areas in which they excel. If they score high enough, the college will exempt them from taking those freshman level classes and simply reward them with the credit hours. My sister was able to do this and CLEP out of her undergrad English 101 and 102 courses.
Dual Enrollment. This is becoming an increasingly popular option for high school students. Many colleges will allow high school juniors and seniors to be dual enrolled students, basically taking classes at college for credit and receiving high school credit for them at the same time. A student will typically take 4 or 5 classes at their local high school and 1 or 2 at a nearby college.
Save Cash Gifts From Graduation or From Relatives. Yes, I know. All those cash gifts received at graduation coupled with that generous check from grandma would put a killer stereo system in your car. It can also pay for several semesters of book fees.
Talk to any personal finance blogger and they will tell you the same thing…don’t waste the cash you get in high school on frivolous, irrelevant things. It can and should serve a greater purpose…keeping you out of school debt.
Cut Costs In Preparation For College
Research Schools Thoroughly. It might seem like your life will be ruined if you don’t get into “that” school. In reality, it won’t be. So many schools are similar in size, attributes and programs offered that you will be able to find something just as satisfying. Consider attending a school with a lower cost structure if they offer the same program of study as a more expensive school.
The “Name” of the school is becoming less and less important for most career paths.
Look for Alumni Discounts. Consider the school your parents attended. They may offer discounts to students of alumni. (Plus that would give your parents a thrill to get back on campus and tell you about “the good ol’ days.”)
Get Credit for Life Experience. Perhaps you are a 20-something who didn’t go to college right after high school. It might be possible to find a program that gives you college credit for the life or career experience you’ve obtained since then.
Negotiate. Make colleges compete against one another. You will likely receive offers from multiple schools and the offer from school “A” may be better than school “B.” If you really want to attend school “B” call the admissions or academic offices and tell them what school “A” is offering. They may just match or beat it.
Live at Home. The room and board expenses of college are a huge part of the cost. Reduce these college costs by living at home and commuting to school. Plus, you will have access to free laundry facilities and mom’s home cooking…both a bonus.
Transfer. An extension of the living at home tip is to take classes at a local community college first and then transfer to your preferred school of graduation. Most of the courses taken in one’s freshman year are general education courses, not related to your major field of study. Get those out of the way first. Then transfer those course credits to the next school from which you will graduate.
Cutting College Costs While at College
Rent Books or Buy Used Ones. I’ve got a news flash for you…I haven’t used (nor do I still own) 95% of the textbooks I purchased new in college. The 5% I still own are boxed up in the basement. Buying new should only be done in one instance…if you have no choice.
It’s not hard to find a local business or college book store near campus selling used books. You can even track them down online at places like Ebay or Amazon.
My wife rented most of her books for her Master’s degree program in Accounting and Business Administration at Collegebookrenter.com. These were rented at a fraction of the cost of buying new. They ship the book and you send it back after the course is over. Her experience with that company was excellent.
Take Online Classes. Like dual enrollment for high school students, taking classes online is becoming increasingly popular. To their credit, colleges and universities are recognizing the value these create and are ramping up their online initiatives. Taking a class online saves in the cost of tuition, room and board, travel expenses and perhaps the greatest savings of all – time. They are very convenient and offer flexible class/study hours for students who must also work full-time.
Accelerate Your Degree Program. It may be extremely challenging to complete the degree program in less than four years. However, not spending that last year or semester on campus will save a great deal of money.
Take Cheaper Summer Courses. One way to accelerate the degree program and save money is to take those summer classes at a less expensive school. This could be at the community college that is close to home or maybe an online class. Both should allow you to transfer credits back to your full-time school.
Graduate On Time. On the flip side of accelerating your degree, you don’t want to extend your degree program if at all possible. This will happen if you fail classes or change your major late in your college career.
Food Consumption. Colleges offer meal plans for students who live on campus. If you purchase that plan then use it instead of going out to eat with friends. That cost will add up over time. Also keep a good supply of Ramen noodles or macaroni and cheese in your dorm room for those late night hunger pains. A case of those is less expensive than ordering one pizza.
Final Bonus Tip…
These tips should help you cut those college costs and save thousands of dollars off that degree. It will be a sweet deal to graduate in four years without crippling loan debt to repay.
Ahh…but before signing off, I promised you one last tip in cutting the costs for college, so…
My final tip to save money on a four-year college degree is simply don’t go.
Let’s face it – college is not for everyone. That’s fine and there should be no shame in that. There are many options for quality, well-paying careers that will allow you to raise a family and only require a technical or trade school education.
The last thing you want is to feel pressured into college, pay tens of thousands of dollars for several years and then drop out with nothing to show for it except a huge student loan. Be smart. If a four-year college isn’t for you, then choose another option to find your career path.
Questions: What other measures could you add to this list to cut college costs? Did you use the AP or CLEP route to test out of any freshman level courses? What’s your experience been with online classes?
Prior Post: The Basics of How to Pay For College