As much as naysayers like to chide Millennials for taking on too much in student debt, it can feel like college expenses are an immovable cost. Between tuition that can reach into tens of thousands of dollars per year, room and board, and books, the cost can become staggering for even the most inexpensive of schools.
However, with careful planning and a few compromises, you can make college affordable.
11 ways to save money in college
You don’t have to be an incoming freshman to learn how to make college affordable. There are things you can do to save money in college every step of the way. Not all of these tips will work for you, but it only takes one or two to make a huge difference!
1. Test out of as many courses as possible
If you’re still in high school, take as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as possible. All you have to do is pass the class and pass a test at the end of the year, and you’ll receive college credit for that class.
If AP classes aren’t offered at your school or your grades aren’t high enough to get in, don’t worry! Another option is taking classes at your local community college during winter and summer break (or during the school year if possible).
Once you’re in college, ask your advisor about options to test out of certain courses. If you pass, you get credit for that course and don’t have to take it. It’s a great way to save money on tuition and graduate early.
2. Go to a no-tuition college
Believe it or not, some colleges are tuition-free. There have been recent measures by some cities, including San Francisco, to give away a free education. There is also a number of colleges that have been doing this for years.
It might sound too good to be true, but it’s not. Some tuition-free schools offer specific programs; others require working at the school in return for free education.
3. Get your associate’s degree at a community college, then transfer
One of my personal regrets is foregoing an option to go to a local school for an associate’s degree and then transferring to my preferred college for in-state tuition. Doing so would have saved me nearly $10,000.
Why didn’t I do it? Because it just didn’t feel like a thing you “do” if you’re looking for a four-year degree. But that was a completely incorrect and negative viewpoint.
Not only is getting an associate’s degree first at a community college a great way to eventually get a bachelor’s for less, that associate’s degree can be worth a lot more than you realize. A recent article in CNN Money explains research in several states shows community college graduates make more than those who graduate from four-year universities. Graduates of occupational and technical degree programs at community colleges in Virginia, for example, make an average of $40,000. Bachelor’s degree recipients make almost $2,500 less.
4. Stay in-state
Paying out-of-state tuition meant that I paid nearly double for my education. States receive federal funding for their colleges, which is why going out of state can cost you so much more. The College Board breaks down just how much these costs can differ:
One year at a public four-year college with in-state tuition averages out to be $9,410. Out-of-state? $23,890.
Want to save even more? Stay public. The College Board shows the average tuition and fees for one year at a private four-year college to be $32,410.
5. Live with your parents
One thing I did right was live with my parents. Even though my college was out-of-state, it was less than a 15-minute drive from my parents’ apartment.
When I was attending college, room and board would have increased my annual costs by 100 percent. The amount you could save by living with your parents depends on your college – and on whether or not your parents would charge you rent. If nothing else, this is a conversation worth having.
Don’t want to live with at home? It’s understandable. I didn’t exactly love missing out on the dorm experience. But now I’m a lot happier paying less per month on my student loans because of it.
6. Apply to become a resident advisor
If you can’t stand the thought of missing out on dorm life, you can still find a way to live on campus and save money. If you become a resident advisor (RA), you can get free room and board, and potentially a stipend as well.
Keep in mind that this can be an all-consuming job. If you don’t like dealing with people or are looking at a very labor-intensive major, think hard before you sign on for this job.
7. Apply for work-study
If you like the idea of working for your college to decrease costs but prefer not to be an RA, look into your school’s work-study program. What you can earn, the type of work you will do, and other benefits of work-study programs will vary per school. If you’re having trouble finding information on your school’s website, talk to your advisor to see what’s available.
You can improve your chances of doing this by filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid ( FAFSA) each year as soon as you can. These funds are first-come, first-served.
8. Look for scholarships each year
It might seem like the scholarships you did or didn’t get by the time you graduated from high school is all there is. Luckily, that’s not true. You can apply for all kinds of scholarships every year.
There are academic scholarships, of course, but there are also scholarships awarded based on your heritage, income, certain fields of study, and maybe even special projects you want to take on. Keep tabs on sites like FastWeb and make it a point to apply for scholarships every quarter.
9. Apply for jobs that reimburse your tuition
Another great way to lower the cost of college is to find a job that reimburses your tuition. Some companies offer tuition reimbursement for full-time workers, which means you’d have to take part-time classes. However, increasing the time it takes to graduate might be worth not having to graduate with student debt. Keep in mind some programs require you to stay on for a specific period of time after you graduate.
Some part-time employers also offer tuition reimbursement, including Starbucks. Look for companies you’re interested in working for, either part or full-time, to see if they have a similar program.
10. Take summer and winter classes
An easy (in theory) way to decrease college costs is to graduate early. You can do this by loading up on courses during regular quarters or semesters, and take extra courses during summer and winter break.
These intensives, as they are sometimes called, may cost a bit more than regular classes, but if you take enough of them to knock off a whole semester, they could be worth it.
11. Don’t take on more student loans than you need
Student loans can be quite tempting. If you’re eligible for more than you need for tuition and expenses, it’s easy to consider taking it to give yourself a nicer lifestyle.
Don’t do it.
You’ll eventually have to pay interest on those loans; taking more than you need now will cost far more than the dollar amount you’re looking at today. Instead, live like a student for as long as you can.
Looking for even more ways to save money on college? Check out this post to find out how else you can get a discount on your college expenses.
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