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Ways to Save on College Tuition

Updated on July 1, 2014

The average cost of college tuition has been increasing at a rate that has greatly exceeded the general inflation rate for the past few decades. Students can expect a sticker price of over $22,000 if they get no financial aid whatsoever. Families are increasingly stretched by the need to pay these higher tuition rates because completing a college education is a good indicator of future financial success. In spite of the increase in average college tuition, there are some relatively easy steps that families can take to cut down on these exorbitant costs.

Twamley Hall at the University of North Dakota.
Twamley Hall at the University of North Dakota. | Source

Grants and Scholarships Cut College Tuition

The most common traditional method of alternative financing for college is through grants and scholarships. Grants frequently come from the state and federal governments. These are a great deal for those who qualify because they do not need to be paid back. Most grants require students fall into given socioeconomic parameters and are not based upon academic ability.

Students can earn scholarships in a variety of ways. The most common scholarships are related to academic achievement. Students who score exceptionally high on their SAT or ACT tests can qualify for scholarships at times. Some colleges offer valedictorians an automatic tuition remission.

Other scholarships are not related to academics, but rather upon other criteria. Some students who have part-time jobs might be able to qualify for scholarship funds through their employers. Those who are involved in community organizations or churches may get reduced tuition at certain colleges. First-generation college students can obtain scholarships on occasion. The number of scholarships that are available is immense, and just about any student can find that they fall into one or more categories that qualify for these scholarships. It just takes time to find and apply for scholarships. If awarded, the effort taken for scholarships is well worth it.

Earn College Credit in High School

Another way to cut the average college tuition is by earning credit before setting foot on a college campus. Many schools accept credit earned during high school through Advanced Placement classes. There are many courses that qualify for AP status. Students who take the test near the end of the school year and earn an acceptable score can have the class placed on their college transcripts. Not all colleges and universities accept AP exams, so it is important to check with the school of choice to make sure that the classes will work. Because these classes are taken in high schools, frequently for the cost of the AP exam (less than $100), students can avoid a large part of the regular college tuition.

Many colleges have begun offering dual-credit classes on high school campuses. In these classes, acceptable teachers present a class that is taught at a college level with college textbooks and exams. The tuition for these classes is frequently a fraction of what it would be for taking the class just a year or two later on a college campus, so dual-credit courses are a great way to save on college tuition.

Students who cannot access the two options above can still earn credit for what they already know. Most colleges will accept the results of CLEP tests that show mastery of a subject. There are CLEP tests available for a variety of entry-level college classes, and students can find that they could possibly have close to one-half of their program completed at a fraction of the sticker cost before they ever set foot on a campus.

Use Community Colleges to Save on College Tuition

Most states have a system of two-year community colleges available for students. While these colleges are frequently set up to focus upon technical skills, students can usually major in general studies and earn a two-year associate's degree. Students who are interested in business can usually earn a two-year business or accounting degree that they can use immediately. In many cases, students will find that their classes will transfer and that the costs are less than a half of what they would be if they entered a four-year school.

Other Ways to Avoid College Debt

Many students will take out extensive loans to go to school. Sometimes, these loans are unavoidable to some extent. However, there are ways to cut down on the amount borrowed. Working a part-time job will possibly qualify students for scholarship funds. It will also bring in money that can go to offset the cost of college tuition. Students who work while in college are frequently more successful and focused than their counterparts who have tons of free time to party.

Living on campus, when dorms are available, can also save money at times. This tip depends upon the market and the number of roommates that a student intends to have, so a close accounting as to the comparative costs is required to see if this will be beneficial. Of course, the cafeteria food is likely to cost quite a bit more than ramen noodles.

There is no question that college tuition rates are on the rise. However, this does not mean that a college education should be out of reach for most would-be students. By using these easy tips, most Americans will find that a college education is within reach.


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    • cprice75 profile image

      cprice75 5 years ago from USA

      I know people who have close to six figures in debt after a BA and MA. I don't think that I would have gotten a degree at that point. If I did, I would have taken about 20 years to get it from taking a class or two at a time.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I just wrote a hub on supplementing college tuition and was surprised at the high costs posted on some college sites. I have a friend who states she will owe over 60K once she graduates -- times have changed! Very good post and helpful.

    • cprice75 profile image

      cprice75 5 years ago from USA

      You are correct, Jack. Some of these people will be paying off their debts for 20 years.

    • BLACKANDGOLDJACK profile image

      Jack Hazen 5 years ago from Blitzburgh area

      My 18-year-old daughter in her first year of college is home for Thanksgiving break and she brought some potentially good news. She applied to be a Resident Advisor for next year and will be attending classes for the position starting in January. If she is selected, she will receive free room and board. She received scholarships that cover tuition and books, so if she gets this, that means her father won't be paying for it.

      It's incredible how much college costs these days. Families who don't take some of your advice end up with their children and perhaps also themselves having huge debts.