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18 Ways to Reduce College Costs, Plus One Huge Bonus Tip

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.

college costsThe 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.

Students taking the SAT or ACT entrance exams should attend a prep class in an effort to boost the overall score.

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. 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?

Image at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Next Post: How to Save Money and Cut Taxes by Hiring Your Kids

Prior Post: The Basics of How to Pay For College

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  1. Helpful tips to start college in right way as well as affordable for you. Thank you for sharing this one, it is a great article from yours.

  2. Great advice! The biggest thing that matters is what you take away from the college experience, not where you attend. It’s ‘the program’ not ‘the name’. For the most part, accreditaion levels the playing field, so the important thing is to maximize the return on the investment of time and money.

  3. Stapler Confessions says

    I second the negotiation approach — I did that when I was deciding between law schools. Now, if only I’d chosen to attend the school that gave me a $30k/year scholarship … :/

    I saved money on rent and food by being a Resident Advisor — it paid for half of my room and board and didn’t take up too much of my time. Plus, I got to have a single room 🙂

    • There has to be a story there…turning down a 30k a year scholarship? I think I’d like to hear that one. 🙂

      • Stapler Confessions says

        Brian, let’s chalk it up to “the stupid things we do for love.” No, make that “the VERY stupid things we do for love.” Especially when I broke up with him a year later! If I hadn’t met my husband in law school, then I would really regret turning down that scholarship.

  4. These are all great ideas! I think saving money on rent is the easiest way to save money once you are in college. If you aren’t willing to give up your 1 bedroom apartment and/or are unable to live at home, I think you have to be willing to work a part-time job to avoid consumer debt and keep money coming in to fund your lifestyle.

  5. Lindsey@ Sense & Sensibility says

    I love that idea of renting college textbooks! I had no idea such a thing existed – that is such a great idea. Thanks for sharing these tips!

  6. John S @ Frugal Rules says

    Great options to look at Brian! My wife took quite a few AP classes and was able to shave off nearly a year off her time in college. She’s the smarter one of the two of us, so I went the community college route which helped save a good chunk of money. In today’s age, I think the research aspect is so vital so you don’t get to college and want to “discover yourself”. I know some of that is inevitable, but it can lead to a very costly discovery. 😉

    • “…don’t get to college and want to “discover yourself”. I agree completely with that statement. This is a real issue. If you don’t know what you want to do then either take the required freshman college classes first to get them out of the way or don’t go until you are sure what it is you want to do. You don’t need to spend all that money on college tuition to get a B.A. in General Studies.

  7. Get good grades? What kind of buzzkill are you? Haha, actually that’s a really great point that, for as simple as it is, I don’t really hear talked about all that often. Being a good student definitely gives you more options. Thanks for bringing it up!

    • I know…you were expecting something dramatic. I made that point for all my students who seem to not realize those homework assignments and tests they take can lead to big dollars later.

  8. Kim@Eyesonthedollar says

    Through AP and testing out, I was able to skip History 100, English 100, and Intro Chemistry (which was a 5 hour class, 3 lecture and 2 lab). That’s 11 hours of classes done, so yes, take those in high school, study, and pay attention! I’d agree with don’t go if you don’t know what you want to do. Getting a degree is not worth the money if your job can be done without one. I also think there aren’t enough people who consider going into skilled trades. A plumber might not sound sexy, but look how much they get paid an hour and you can never find one available, at least in our area!

  9. I was the worst student in high school so I didn’t go that route. loll Although I did eek by with a partial scholarship based on merit, don’t ask me how! I think you’re right though in that unless you’re going to an ultra prestigious school, name doesn’t seem like a huge factor anymore.

    • The school name is becoming less and less important to career success. Success is more based on experience, personal attributes and connections (who you know). Online classes are even now widely viewed as positive when once they were seen as negative and second-rate.

  10. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says

    Brian, so glad you mentioned CLEP here, and that you mentioned not going to college too! Being in the homeschooling world, I’ve seen dozens of students save huge money on college with CLEP. It can be a great asset for a lot of people. And you’re so right when you say college is not for everyone. Rick didn’t go, he doesn’t regret it one bit, and he’s doing great and moving up quickly at an engineering technician job he has for a major corporation. He started in this field in 2002 with no training and it’s been great for him.

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