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Reducing the Cost of College

Updated on November 18, 2015

A Degree is Necessary

Some people are frightened away from college because tuition has become so expensive. However, deciding not to attend, because of the cost, is probably a big mistake.

That's because a degree is your ticket into the working world. More education is now needed for positions that used to require just a high school diploma.

The fact that you might have the skills to do these jobs, without spending four years on campus, is irrelevant. Right now, it's an employers market, so people without a degree don't stand much of a chance, with so many graduates competing for work.

It is true that going to college has never been more expensive. Tuition, plus room and board, at an elite private school may cost as much as $60,000 a year, not including a number of other expenses, such as books. Going to a public university could set you back about $25,000 a year.

We've all heard stories about student loan nightmares. This is because some people borrowed heavily to attend a school they really couldn't afford. Or. their parents mortgaged their financial future with large Parent PLUS loans.

Living on campus is often considered a rite of passage. But fewer and fewer students can afford to do this. If you can't, there are still a number of ways to obtain a degree for much less. Also, if you are a top student, colleges want you. They'll extend the welcome mat in the form of generous merit scholarships and other deep discounts.

Do Well in High School

Earning top grades can save you tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, over the course of four years. If your high school GPA puts you at or very near the top of your class, and you do exceptionally well on your SAT exams, you may be offered full tuition scholarships. Sometimes, in addition to this merit money, you'll also be given various grants to help with housing costs and personal expenses.

If your family is needy, but you're an excellent student, you may even receive additional need-based grants and/or work study opportunities, which allow you to earn money working at an easy on-campus job for about 10-15 hours a week. If your income falls below a certain level, you may also be eligible for federal Pell Grants. All of this aid, which doesn't need to be repaid, can usually be "stacked" in order to greatly reduce your tuition bill.

I can't stress enough how important it is to keep your GPA up, if you want to bring college costs down. Rising tuition has priced many people out of the four-year college market. Among those hardest hit are students from middle-income families who have good, but not excellent grades and SAT scores. They may receive a little merit money, or a grant or two, but not nearly enough to make living on campus a reality.

Many Americans are priced out of college.
Many Americans are priced out of college. | Source

Take College Courses in High School

My own son, and several of his friends, were able to take college courses during their junior and senior year of high school. Most of them were able to earn at least a semester's worth of credits before graduating. Some were able to complete a full year of college before leaving high school.

Dual enrollment programs are widely available. In most cases, the cost is much less than if you were to take classes on your own or enroll in these courses as a college freshman. Sometimes, if your high school has an agreement with a community college, courses may be offered at no cost or for a negligible amount, such as $30 for three credits.

Public universities generally allow you to transfer all community college credits. However, if you plan to attend a private school, you may want to check to see if these credits are accepted, before committing to a dual enrollment program.

Dual enrollment is one of the best ways to reduce college costs.

It's Possible to Graduate Debt Free

Graduating from college without debt.
Graduating from college without debt. | Source

Choose an Affordable School

In general, it costs much less to attend a public college than it does a private institute. However, a very bright student may occasionally receive so much aid from a private university,that the total costs are less than what you'd pay at a flagship state university.

When applying to colleges, make sure you include at least some financial "safeties" on your list. These are schools you could more easily afford, if you don't receive a good aid package.

For many students, living at home and taking classes at a community college is an economical way to earn general education credits. However, a top student should probably go directly to a four-year college. The best financial packages are doled out to incoming freshmen, especially those with outstanding academic records. A transfer student won't receive as much aid. For a good student, heading to a community college could prove to be much more expensive than going straight to a university.

Nowadays, more students are choosing to commute to school, for financial and other reasons. At the public university where my daughter attends, about half of the student body commutes. The school tries very hard to pull them into campus life, hosting a number of events and parties designed especially for commuters.

Other Ways to Reduce College Costs

Live Off Campus
Limit Your Meal Plan
Become a Resident Advisor
Juniors and seniors often live off campus. If you have several roommates, this can cost less than college room and board.
Some schools allow you to purchase two meals a day, instead of three. You might want to keep a stash of breakfast bars in your room, if you decide not to have breakfast in the dining hall.
Older students can serve as resident advisors, or RA's, in college dorms. Typically, part of all of your room fees are waived.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Paying for College

Consider a Community College

For most students, going to a community college for two years, before transferring to a degree-granting institute, is an economical route. During this time, you can also work to save money for your education.

If money is especially tight, you might want to consider a three-plus-one program, offered by a growing number of community colleges. Such an arrangement would allow you to attend your local community college for three years, and a public or private university for your final year. Sometimes, it's even possible to complete much of your last year online, eliminating the need to live near the school.

The typical cost of a community college education is somewhere between $3,500 to $6.000 a year. Financial aid is also available.

Former Student Cuts College Costs in Half

CLEP Out of Courses

Most colleges in the United States will give credits to students who successfully complete one of the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, administered by College Board. This is the same body that administers the SAT test.

For a nominal amount ($80), students can test their proficiency in a number of subject areas. Passing a CLEP exam generally earns three or six college credits. These can then applied to an undergraduate degree.

CLEP exams are available in a range of subject areas, including English Composition, Biology, Calculus, Chemistry and Foreign Languages. If you have extensive knowledge in these areas, it makes sense to cash it in for college credit. You can also purchase books that help you prepare for different CLEP exams.

Save Hundreds of Dollars with Used Textbooks

Smart students buy used textbooks.
Smart students buy used textbooks. | Source

Buy Used Textbooks

The cost of college textbooks varies widely, depending upon whether you buy them new or used. My children, so far, have usually purchased their books. In some cases, they've rented books because this was the most economical option.

If you buy used books, and they are in reasonably good condition, you can still sell them after your course ends. Sometimes, you can save hundreds of dollars a semester by shopping for books online. There are a number of companies that sell used books, or have rental agreements. Return shipping is usually free.


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Submit a Comment
  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    grand old lady, thanks for reading and sharing.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Hi teaches, I wish I did the same as well. Thanks for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Hi Jackie, this is excellent advice that maybe I should have included. Online learning is great for non-traditional students with children, who don't have to get a sitter to attend class. Thanks so much for reading.

    Hi Arun, thank you also for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    One of my son's friends comes from a very needy family, and set his sights only on an expensive private school. Unfortunately, I don't think he'll be going there this fall. Thanks so much for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile imageAUTHOR


    5 years ago from USA

    Hi patty, thanks so much for reading.


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