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5 Ways to Reduce College Costs

Yesterday I made a presentation for College Week Live: “How ACT & SAT Scores Can Lower Your Tuition Bill.” You can login and listen to the 40-minute presentation here. I give multiple examples showing how higher test scores can save you money and help earn scholarships. If you are looking for a little motivation to start (or continue) test prep, you might want to check it out.

Today I’m going to give you some other ideas to help save on tuition and/or pay college costs.

1. Select the right schools.

If you do only one thing to help manage your college bill, this is the one! Add colleges to your list based on the likelihood of receiving money.

If you have estimated what your family will pay each year (EFC) using a college net price calculator or the FAFSA4caster and know your out of pocket expenses for college will be very low due to financial need, you want to look for schools that are more likely to award aid in the form of grants or work study. In other words, you want to find colleges that are unlikely to meet a majority your need with student loans. You will also want to include schools that could meet your financial need with academic awards.

If you have estimated your out of pocket costs will be high, possibly resulting in no need for financial aid, you want to look for schools where merit aid or scholarships are likely. These tend to be schools where your grades and test scores fall into the above average category for admitted students. Because you would improve the academic profile of these schools, they are willing to offer scholarships to attract you and similarly qualified students to their campuses.

Keep in mind the scholarship aspect of selecting the right schools is based on supply and demand. Highly selective universities and those with recognizable and prestigious names don’t need to entice top students with scholarship money; these schools already have more potential students than they can admit. But a student who could get into Duke, NYU, or Brown could find a number of colleges, equally recognized in academic circles, that don’t have the household name status. Those schools are more likely to offer merit money.

2. Apply for scholarships.

(Yes, this seems obvious!) By the time students have prepared for and taken the ACT / SAT, put together a resume, researched schools, written essays, secured letters of recommendation, and finally sent all the college applications, most are simply too exhausted to apply for scholarships. But you can’t win if you don’t enter the game.

I’d encourage you to come up with a reasonable number of scholarships—either total applications sent or applications per month—and stay organized. Make your initial goal manageable, maybe 5 total applications. Take on more only when you have met your initial goal.

My students who have been most successful in applying for scholarships were persistent and organized. Be ready with a well-written resume. Repurpose essays whenever possible. Make sure you double-check everything and never miss a deadline.

With the same amount of time and some effort, students can “earn” more in scholarships than they would working a minimum wage job. (Of course, they could always do both!)

3. Work.

Work and save. Some students aren’t interested in applying for scholarships or they feel with lower grades it might not be worth their time, but everyone can work.

I’ve seen a lot of creative work options over the years. One of my neighbors set up a booming business as a high school freshman. She makes monograms, the kind you could put on your car, a tumbler, or a shirt. My Yeti is personalized thanks to her talents. She’s been able to save a lot of money for college– $5 to $10 dollars at a time.

Of course good old-fashioned babysitting, yard work, and summer jobs count too. The trick is to plan ahead and have a goal.

4. Earn credit through less expensive means.

You don’t have to give up on the four-year college experience and live at home to make this approach pay off.

Many high school students have the opportunity to earn college credits by taking dual enrollment courses through their high school or by doing well on Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.

I was doing a little research on one of the colleges my daughter is considering. The cost of a single course at this private school is $4,167. A score of a 4 or 5 on the AP U.S. History exam would save us over $4,000. (Sure makes the AP exam fee of $94 look like a great deal!)

You can save 25% off the cost of your college education if you graduate in three years instead of four. Earning less expensive credits can make this happen.

5. Get free food and housing by working as a resident assistant.

Responsible college sophomores, juniors, and seniors can live on campus in a single room with a free meal plan if they work as resident advisors. Most of the job involves being open and approachable and serving as a contact point for the residents on your floor. Unless you have been assigned to “Animal House” the amount of money you save by getting a free room and meal plan will more than make up for the few hours a week you put in resolving roommate disputes and organizing activities.

 

Do you have other money-saving college ideas? Leave them in the comments below.

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