Before signing up for the financial commitment of student loans, there’s the undoubted sticker shock that comes from discovering how much tuition will be at the college or university you’d like to attend.
Average tuition for a 4-year public university for in-state residents was $9,410, $23,893 for out-of-state students, and $32,405 for private colleges (2015-16 year). On the whole, tuition and fees account for 39 percent of in-state students’ total budget.
It’s easy to resign ourselves to the notion that tuition costs are set in stone, non-negotiable, and unavoidable, but that’s not always the case.
The fact is that there are several lesser-known and surprising ways to get a tuition discount, so you can borrow fewer student loans and save money in the long run. Consider some of the following to get started.
1. Attend a tuition-free school
The biggest tuition discounting effort you can make is to simply attend a school that charges no tuition. But nothing is ever really free: For most of the tuition-free colleges and universities, students will need to pay for room and board, and to compensate for the lack of tuition, you’ll need to fulfill certain obligations.
Students at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, for example, are required to work on campus for 15 hours a week and full-time during breaks. Others include Berea College, which admits students based on economic need, and the scholarship-driven Webb Institute.
2. Get a tuition waiver
Students with special extenuating circumstances may qualify to have their tuition partially or fully waived according to the school you’re attending.
Families in financial need may qualify for subsidized student loan deals, but may also have some tuition waived at certain schools. Columbia and Texas A&M Universities, for example, offer free tuition to households who fall below a certain gross income threshold.
- Native status
Schools in several states across the country offer a full or partial tuition waiver to students who qualify as one-quarter Native American or belong to a tribe acknowledged by the US government.
If you or your family have faced economic or other types of hardship (like surviving a natural disaster), you may qualify for a tuition waiver at schools in select states. For example, descendants of victims involved in the September 11 attacks qualify for in-state free tuition at public schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
- Adoption/foster child eligibility
Students who were adopted or have lived in foster care may also be eligible for a tuition waiver at certain in-state public schools. Other outside groups, like Foster Care to Success and the National Foster Parent Association, also offer some financial aid.
- Employment status
Working in the public sector, for example, may be enough to grant you a tuition waiver. That’s the case at the University of Washington in Seattle or Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Likewise, if you’re out of work due to economic, health, or other reasons, inquire if your school offers a tuition discount. It may vary according to school and by the amount you may receive off your bill.
3. Work at your school
Finding a paid internship or school-subsidized work study program are some ways to offset your tuition, but what about an in-school way to attend at reduced tuition?
Become an employee at one of your prospective school’s departments before you attend, and your school may waive your tuition if you begin attending as a student. (Oftentimes, the spouse, child, sibling, or grandchild of a university employee may also qualify.)
4. Receive a military discount
If you’re an honorably discharged member of the US Armed Forces, your GI Bill benefits will pay your full tuition up to 10 years after you’ve ended your military service. For students attending either private or international schools, the tuition limit is up to $21,970.
5. Inquire about different tuition repayment alternatives
Check with your prospective school’s financial aid office to see if a flexible or alternate payment plan offers tuition discounting.
Like paying any other bill, signing up for automatic debit via your checking account may come with some sort of tuition reduction. Other schools may grant students a discount for paying their entire tuition in advance or on other various proprietary payment plans.
6. Apply for regional exchange programs
Overseas exchange programs won’t save you money, but a regional exchange might — that’s a program that allows students to receive in-state tuition at select out-of-state schools. Not only can this save you money, but it can broaden the scope of schools you’d like to attend without the trouble of proving residence in that state.
The Western Undergraduate Exchange and Midwest Student Exchange programs pay up to 150 percent of resident tuition, for example. You’ll want to seek out the program that serves your region: The Academic Common Market covers many states in the South, the New England Regional Student Program serves New England, and so forth.
7. Look into “legacy” student status
Have an older sibling, parent, or grandparent whose alma mater is your current school? Relatives of school alumni may qualify for discounts on their tuition.
The University of Kansas offers a discount up to $50,000 over four years for incoming students whose parents or grandparents graduated from the school. Eligible students at Southern Illinois University pay 80 percent of the original cost for freshmen or transfer students.
8. Attend school off-season
One way to save money on college costs is to attend classes during summer vacation and get some credits out of the way, lessening the amount of time you spend in college.
Enroll during those off-peak times and you could get a discount. Indiana University is one school that offers a 25 percent discount for taking courses in the summer versus during regular fall or spring semesters.
Like negotiating for better auto insurance rates, credit card APRs, or monthly rent, you can do the same for tuition rates with your school.
Even when you’re still in the application process, don’t be afraid to contact the head advisors at the schools you’re looking at. Tell them you’re actively interested in becoming a student at their school, but you’d need to reduce the number of expenses entailed with attending.
If you’ve been accepted to both a public and private school, ask the private college if it’d be possible to bring down their rates closer to the public school level. Learn more about negotiating your rates here.
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