1. Get out of college on time! Plan to finish in four years. Every additional semester costs you more money.
2. Take a full course load. Full time students take 15 hours a semester and can complete a 120-hour degree in four years. Some programs such as engineering or architecture may require more hours. Students who relax and take only 12 hours a semester cannot graduate in four years and will end up spending more money for the same degree.
3. Budget for fun. Social activities are an important part of the college experience and they don’t need to be extravagantly expensive. Discuss and plan a budget for the following:
- Clothing – Campus fashion may be different than your current wardrobe.
- Fun – Concerts, movies, etc are often available at a reduced student rate.
- Food – Most meal plans cover the basics, but don’t forget pizza, snacks.
4. Don’t change your major after junior year. Freshman and sophomore years are perfect times to explore courses of interest to you, but by junior year students should declare a major and stick to it. Changing your major after junior year will make it almost impossible to graduate in four years.
5. Rent your books. A lot of classes require a textbook, but you don’t always have to get a new one. The market for used books is very vibrant. Recently, a number of textbook rental companies have expanded their services. If you will only need the book for a semester or two and won’t need to keep it for future reference, textbook rental may be an option.
6. Keep in mind that sororities and fraternities can be very expensive. Above the initial costs, remember to factor in clothes for formals, ticket prices for events, and all the extras. Talk to friends and neighbors who are currently involved with the Greek system to estimate your actual costs.
7. Make sure your credits will transfer before taking courses at another school. Community colleges can be an affordable way to complete some requirements, but your money will be wasted if your college won’t accept the credit. Ask before you enroll.
8. Remember the cost of college includes books, housing, food, travel, necessary living expenses, and entertainment. If you can barely afford tuition, room, and board, you probably can’t afford to attend that school because it is unrealistic to assume you will have no other expenses during the year.
9. Travel home can be costly if you go out of state for college. How often do you and your parents expect to fly? The fewer trips you make, the more money you save. (Someone from school will let you go home with them for Thanksgiving and you can spend spring break eating ramen noodles in the dorm.)
10. Watch for “retail therapy” costs. Freshman year is very stressful as students adjust to a completely different environment. Some students try to relieve their stress by spending (clothes, beer, video games, concert tickets, meals out, etc). Watch for it.
It is unrealistic to evaluate colleges without looking at the cost. Paying for college should be part of your family discussions as you work through the college search process. There are ways to limit costs, but students and parents need to be in agreement.