Tips to Lower the Costs of College (Before & During)

It is not cheap to go to college. Education costs, including tuition, books, and living expenses, can quickly mount. You can save money on school expenses while still in college by doing things like comparing food plans, living off-campus, and even leaving your car parked at home. These simple measures will help you save money while you are in college.

Tips to Lower the Costs of College (Before & During)

It is not cheap to go to college. Education costs, including tuition, books, and living expenses, can quickly mount.

You can save money on school expenses while still in college by doing things like comparing food plans, living off-campus, and even leaving your car parked at home. 

These simple measures will help you save money while you are in college.

Let’s dive in.

When Applying for College

1. Apply to Generous Schools

 If you want to lower your college expenses, look for schools that have a history of excellent financial aid and are likely to accept you. For students in the top 25% of the most recently enrolled freshmen, financial help is more likely to be offered as an incentive to enroll in the college. You should look for schools that cover a considerable percentage of a student's financial need without adding loans to the mix. Do not make a decision on a college early. Compare aid offers to get the best bargain. Do not make a college pick until you have all of your financial assistance packages in front of you.

2.  Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Each year, millions of dollars in grants and scholarships are up for grabs. The federal, state, college, and commercial sectors all offer some form of "free money" in the form of grants and loans.  Thousands of scholarships can be found through the College Board's Scholarship Search, which is completely free. Fastweb.com and Scholarships.com are all free resources for finding financial aid on the internet. Some area scholarships may be available only through high school guidance counselors. Professional or religious organizations, as well as some businesses, offer financial assistance to employees and their families in the form of scholarships. If you have a particular interest or a specific major, you may be eligible for a scholarship. 

Tip: With so many scholarships to choose from, the process of finding the appropriate one can be intimidating. Stay away from companies that promise to give scholarships in exchange for a fee. These scholarship search scams defraud more than $100 million a year in unsuspecting victims and are pointless in terms of locating available financial aid.

Do you want to skip the hassle of looking for scholarships? We can help! Get 55+ monthly scholarships for $5/ month sent to your inbox.

How to Lower the Costs of College?

3. Minimize the Length of College Attendance

Fewer than half of first-year college students finish in four years, and only about two-thirds of those who begin college complete their degrees within six years, according to a study from the National Center for Education Statistics. 

When comparing elite private schools (where 87% of students graduate in four years) with public institutions, the gap between those who graduate quickly and those who don't is focus (25 percent graduation rate in four years). Due to the cost of delaying graduation, the entire cost of an elite private university education may actually be cheaper than the total cost of tuition at a public institution.

Here are a few ways you can graduate within a four year timeframe:

  • Achievement Tests and Courses for College Credit. Through the use of advanced placement (AP), dual-credit courses, or CLEP (college-level examination programs), students can receive college credit without ever having to set foot in a classroom. Colleges' AP and CLEP credit policies vary, so check with the college you're considering before committing. Keep in mind that AP credit is awarded solely on the basis of performance on the succeeding AP tests. In spite of your strong performance at school, do not disregard the test.
  • Attendance all year. By going to summer school, students can earn an extra 6 to 12 credits per year. This not only shortens the time it takes to get a degree, but some colleges also lower the cost of tuition during the summer. This makes summer school a win-win when it comes to lowering the total cost of education. Just remember that some types of financial aid don't cover summer school, so you may need to reapply for special help to pay for it. Talk to the office that handles your financial aid to find out more.
  • Online classes instead of classes on campus. Most colleges will let you get credit for online classes as long as you take most of your classes on campus. Some classes are self-paced, while others go at a steady pace over the course of the semester. In general, tuition and fees for online courses are less than those for traditional courses. This lowers the average cost of attendance.

4. Reduce Taxes By Using College Expenses

There are a range of tax-advantaged college savings options to assist you save for the inevitable costs of education. For example:

  • 529 Savings Plans. Nearly every state has a variation of a 529 plan, which allows your contributions to grow tax-free (there is no federal income tax deduction for contributions, although some states allow contributions to be deducted from state income taxes) as long as the funds are utilized for college tuition. In most states, there are two types of programs available: a prepaid tuition plan, and a college savings plan.
  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. A Coverdell ESA can be used for pre-college and college expenses. Bear in mind that, a Coverdell ESAs are only available to families that fall under a designated income level.

5. Start at a Community College

The advantages of attending community college for two years to obtain an associate's degree are numerous, especially when tuition prices can be significantly reduced. 

The majority of the courses required between freshman and sophomore years can be taken in community colleges and transferred to four-year public universities. Certain private or out-of-state universities, however, may not recognize the credits earned. 

If you are considering this option, check with the advisers at your community college, as well as the advisors at the four-year institution where you intend to transfer credits, to ensure that you will receive credit for classes taken.

6. Consider Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment enables high school students to enroll in college courses while still a high school student.

These courses are transferable for credit to both high school and college. Dual enrollment high school students typically take fewer classes in college and pay less overall for tuition. However, not all high school students are qualified to participate in dual enrollment courses. State-specific requirements vary, but normally students must be juniors or seniors and maintain a minimum GPA.

7. Consider Low-Interest Federal Loans

The federal government provides a variety of financial aid programs to college students in the form of low-interest loans. Direct subsidized loans are based on financial necessity, whereas direct unsubsidized loans do not.

Whether you choose to use federal loans or not, you should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see what loans are available to you. Take note of the application's federal and state deadlines; state deadlines vary by state, while the federal deadline is usually June 30th. Remember that filling out the FAFSA does not compel you to borrow money, but it does provide you with information about your possible aid.

When do you have to repay these loans? Repayment for federal loans begins six months after you graduate, or drop below half-time enrollment, or leave school. When repayment begins, there are several loan repayment choices available.

When You Are In College

1. Prepare your own meals

Your food bill at college can add up pretty quickly. In terms of saving money, cooking your own meals is a better option than a meal plan, and it's even better than eating out all the time. Here are some tips you can benefit from:

  • Practice mastering quick easy meals (with little effort), you enjoy eating , cooking will require less willpower.
  • Make a list of all the ingredients you'll need and buy them in bulk to save money. You'll use less food and less of your time.
  • Using a slow cooker, you can produce a plethora of low-cost meals quickly and efficiently.

Here is a list of yummy, budget friendly meals you can prepare!

2. Do Not Buy New Textbooks

To be frank, new textbooks are costly, underutilized, and frequently unnecessary. They cost more than $1,000 every semester for the average student. Here are some strategies for finding the cheapest textbooks:

  • Get your class and book lists as early as you can
  • Email professors to ask how often the book is used and if an old/international edition is ok to buy
  • Check your university library for the book (and see if it’s on reserve)
  • Find older students to buy used copies from
  • “Book gamble” – don’t buy your book until classes start (make sure you have a quick way to obtain it in this case)
  • Use a price aggregator like StudentRate Textbooks to compare prices across multiple sellers
  • And the good old saying, sharing is caring :D

3. When It Comes to Bills - Look Out for Yourself

Some college apartments will include the cost of utilities in the rent. This is a benefit because you don't have to worry if your roommate doesn't pay their share of the utilities. Also, you should try not to put everything in your name only. Split the utility bills among the roommates so that no one person has to collect all the money or pay for someone who does not have enough.Tip: when you sign a lease, check to see if you can each have your own name on it. Some college apartment complexes have this, so if your roommate stops paying rent, you would not have to move out.

4. Keep Applying for Scholarships throughout College

Yup! Scholarships aren't just for high school kids; there are plenty of opportunities for existing college students as well. And why not use this great opportunity to cut down on college costs throughout your college years. Do not miss out on that free money!

5. Utilize Your Student Discount

One of the many perks of attending college? The discounts! Make sure to make use of them when you can!

For example: 

  • StudentRate is an aggregator for student discounts – they list discounts on textbooks, laptops, clothes, travel etc.
  • Apple has student prices for Macs and iPads 
  • Amazon Student lets you get Prime for half price, which includes free two-day shipping and their streaming music/video service.
  • StudentUniverse tracks student deals on flights.
  • Most museums offer some kind of student discount (or even free admission to students on certain days). The art museum in my home city of Nashville, TN, for example, offers $10 admission to anyone with a valid college ID.

Here’s a list with other student discounts.

6. Earn money while you are in school

Get a part-time job, look into work-study opportunities, or think about becoming a Resident Advisor (RA). The majority of schools pay RAs and contribute to their room and board. Is it too difficult to work and attend classes at the same time? Working over your summer vacation allows you to save money for tuition, books, and other expenses. Look into cooperative education programs, which allow you to work full-time while also studying full-time. This type of job is not based on financial need, and you can earn up to $7,000 per year.

There you have it! 

Wrapping Up

Knowledge is essential in today's increasingly complex environment. Many well-paying jobs require a four-year college degree as a prerequisite, and those without a degree are often passed over in the hiring process. By employing cost-saving techniques, the question of whether education is worth the investment becomes easier to answer. You won't have to doubt the worth of your education if you take steps to make college more affordable.

Use these ways to lower the cost of college and you will have a fairly smooth transition and will be able to enjoy the experience of preparing for your future.  Go for It!

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