Cut Corners on College Costs

By Kay Peterson, Ph.D.

September 03, 2008

College costs are going through the roof. The average debt of a student finishing college is almost $20,000. Follow these strategies to reduce the sticker cost of your education.

Ask about application fee waivers.

The cost of applying to college, taking standardized tests and having those scores sent to schools can add up. If you’re strapped for cash, consider asking about application fee waivers. But keep in mind: Availability is limited, and you must meet some pretty stringent standards to qualify.

Apply for financial aid.

Even if you think you’re not eligible, be sure to apply for financial aid by filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This form is the first step for applying for all kinds of aid, from federal aid (grants, loans and work-study), to state-based funding (grants and other programs), to college-based aid (special awards, grants and work-study programs).

Search for free money.

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Complete some of your credits at a lower-cost school.

You can save a lot by completing your general education requirements at a community college or less expensive school and then transferring to complete the degree. Talk to an admissions counselor to be sure your credits will transfer, and learn as much as you can about the financial aid policy. Some schools restrict financial aid for transfer students.

Get to know the financial aid officer at your college.

While specific rules apply for financial aid calculations, financial aid officers still have a certain amount of leeway in determining how aid is allotted. It’s important to let your financial aid officer know about any special circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college.

Look for ways to pay in-state tuition.

Most public colleges and universities charge considerably less tuition to in-state students in comparison to students from out of state. Pick a college in your state to keep costs down. Or if your heart is set on going out of state, consider moving a year before starting college. After you’ve established residency (usually one year), you should be eligible for in-state tuition. Policies vary from school to school, so be sure to check with your school of choice.

Accumulate credits before college.

You’ll save a lot in tuition by earning college credits while you’re still in high school. Take Advanced Placement courses or think about taking courses at a local community college to get a head start on your college career.

Combine degrees to save time and money.

If you’re planning to earn multiple degrees, you can save a year’s tuition by enrolling in a combined degree program. Some schools will allow you to combine a bachelor’s degree with a master’s degree or a master’s degree with a doctoral degree.

Live at home during college.

You can save a lot if you live in your parents’ home when you go to college. You might miss out on the dorm experience, but your food and housing bills will be a lot lower. If you really want the residential college experience, compromise by spending some years at home and some years living on campus.

Apply for “life experience” credit.

If you’re entering school from the work force, you may be able to earn college credit for your employment and life experience. Some schools administer their own tests and standards while others allow you to take CLEP®(College-Level Examination Program) tests for college credit.

By keeping costs down and maximizing financial aid, you can graduate without accumulating a mountain of debt.

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