Cutting College Costs

There are many methods of saving money on college costs. The two main methods include enrolling at a cheaper college and cutting living expenses. One can also save by increasing income.

Choosing a Cheaper College

The student’ choice of college can have a big impact on college affordability. The average cost of attendance at an in-state public 4-year college is about half the cost at a private non-profit 4-year college. Even if a public college offers a less-generous financial aid package, the in-state public college may still have a much lower net price, saving the student thousands of dollars a year. Students can get in-state tuition by going to a public college in their legal state of residence or by participating in a regional exchange program. Some public colleges provide in-state tuition or discounted out-of-state tuition to students from adjacent states, especially if the student is majoring in a field of study that is not offered by the public colleges in the student’s home state.

Another option is to enroll at one of the six dozen or so selective colleges with generous “no loans” financial aid policies, where grants replace loans in the financial aid package. These include all of the Ivy League institutions. The average debt at graduation at Princeton University, the school that started the trend, is less than $6,000.

Enrolling at a community college for two years and transferring to a 4-year public college can save about a quarter of the cost of a 4-year degree. However, only about a fifth of students who intend to obtain a Bachelor’s degree who start off at a 2-year college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with about two-thirds of students who start off at a 4-year college. Taking a detour through a community college on the way to a Bachelor’s degree may ultimately cause the student to miss his or her destination.

Another method of saving money on tuition includes earning college credit before enrolling in college. Options include Advanced Placement (AP) tests, College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, Proficiency Examination Program (PEP) tests and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST).

Cutting Living Expenses

Choosing a cheaper college isn’t the only way of making college more affordable. Living expenses, which include room and board, books, supplies, equipment, transportation and miscellaneous/personal expenses, represent about half of the cost of attendance for students enrolled in Bachelor’s degree and Certificate programs and almost three-quarters of the cost of attendance for students enrolled in Associate’s degree programs. Living expenses still represent a significant part of the student budget even at high-tuition colleges. Living expenses represent more than two-thirds of the cost of attendance at public colleges, more than a third of the cost of attendance at private non-profit colleges and about half of the cost of attendance at private for-profit colleges.

Some of the most effective ways of cutting living expenses include:

  • Saving money on textbooks. Two of the best ways include buying used textbooks or reselling textbooks back to the bookstore at the end of the academic term.
  • Live at home in college. While students who live at home may miss out on part of the college experience, they can save thousands of dollars a year on room and board.
  • If living away from home, share expenses with a roommate
  • Fewer trips home from school. Students typically go home for Thanksgiving, the winter holidays and the summer and on vacation during spring break. Cutting the number of trips can save hundreds of dollars a year on travel expenses.
  • Accelerate education. Graduating in three years instead of four (or four years instead of five) can save a year’s tuition, fees and living expenses. Alternately, one could earn two degrees for the same money. Planning a path from matriculation to completion can help keep the student on track, especially when some classes are offered less frequently or one needs to take prerequisites first. It can also help to crystalize the choice of an academic major as early as possible. Switching academic majors or transferring to a different college can add a term or two to the degree, which increases costs.

Live like a student while you are in school, so you don’t have to live like a student after you graduate. The primary purpose of going to college is to get an education, not to party. Eating out and entertainment can increase college costs. For example, students pay for a meal plan, but don’t always like the cafeteria food, so they may eat out often. Purchasing a $10 pizza each week can cost $2,000 over the course of a 4-year college career. Beverages from vending machines and specialty coffee houses can cost even more. If the student pays for the pizza with student loan money, it may cost as much as $4,000 by the time the loans are repaid, since every dollar borrowed corresponds to about two dollars in loan payments. Before spending student loan money on anything, consider whether it would still be worthwhile at twice the price.

Maximize Financial Aid

Financial aid can make college more affordable. Every student should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year and search for scholarships using free scholarship matching services. Military student aid, such as ROTC scholarships and the GI Bill, are an option for some students. Families sometimes overlook the education tax benefits, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Student Loan Interest Deduction.

There are also a few other ways of saving on student loans.

  • Use tuition installment plans instead of long-term debt.
  • Borrow federal first, as federal student loans are less expensive, with lower fixed interest rates. Federal student loans are also more available than private student loans and offer more flexible deferment, forbearance, repayment and forgiveness options.
  • If borrowing from private student loan programs, apply with a creditworthy cosigner with excellent credit to get a lower interest rate.
  • Sign up for direct-debit before the loans enter repayment. Not only does automatically transferring loan payments save on postage and avoid late payments, but many lenders offer a 0.25% or 0.50% interest rate reduction to encourage borrowers to make payments and receive statements electronically.
  • Accelerate repayment of the loans with the highest interest rates first. There are no prepayment penalties on student loans, so making extra payments on the most expensive loans can save interest and cut years off of the loan’s repayment term.