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.


Key to Earning More College Scholarships

Guest post by Nell Stranburg of Your College Advisor LLC

What would you say if I told you I have a student, Caitlin, who received $471,000 worth of scholarships from seven colleges and her best combined SAT score was 1230/1600?  She earned more scholarship money than the National Merit Finalist I worked with this year.  How did she do it?

Many students believe they must cure cancer, have a 4.6 GPA, and belong to every club at their school to get scholarship money for college.  This is not true.  There are many colleges that give merit aid to students, but the student must be desirable to the college.

Being desirable means the student will be a good addition to the campus; but more importantly, the student will accept the offer of admission given by the college.  Colleges see their report card as the position they receive from the US News and World Report rankings.  One of the biggest components is the yield, or the number of offers of admission that are accepted.

When families are looking for scholarship monies I tell them it is the school that chooses them, not they who choose the school.  What I mean by that is the family needs to listen to a college consultant knowledgeable in college financial aid methods who can direct the student to colleges that are generous with merit aid and the student must be in the top 25% of the applicant pool.

Caitlin met these criteria did everything I asked her to do.  What did I ask her to do?

1.  Demonstrate interest

The smaller private schools have more merit aid to dispense and they are driven by demonstrated interest of a student.  This means a student must visit the campus at least once and go on the official tour.  An email thank you sent to the admission counselor and anyone else who helped you during the visit is important.

Caitlin sent an email thank you at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday to one college president after seeing him at a special junior visitation weekend.  Within 20 minutes she had a reply and the financial aid office was cc’d.  Do you think her email made a difference in the offer she was given?

2.  Be open to suggestions from your college consultant

A college consultant can give you a list of schools where you may be eligible for significant scholarship money.   Do not dismiss schools you are not familiar with since there are 2600 colleges and you probably only know a handful of them.  Caitlin accepted my suggestions, researched each school, gave me feedback, and was willing to investigate schools.

3.  Develop a relationship with your admissions counselors

To increase your odds of receiving that money you need to form a relationship with your admission counselor through email and personal visits. Your goal is to have the admission counselor receive your application and say, “I can’t wait to read this application after getting to know him through email and his visit.”  Think about your chances of receiving a hefty scholarship if that is the counselor’s attitude versus seeing your name for the first time on your application.

4.  Start building a strong record freshman year

Remember that each year in high school is important in building your record.  Make the best grades you can in the classes that challenge you, make a difference in your community—whether school or city, and plan ahead.  Colleges look at your high school involvement as an indicator of your college involvement, so give them a reason to choose you and pay you to come to their college.

Caitlin wasn’t a valedictorian, but she was in the top 10% of her class.  Her SAT scores and activities were above average, but not the best I’ve seen, yet she earned almost half a million dollars in scholarship offers.  Make earning scholarships your top priority, work with a knowledgeable consultant, and follow these tips and you may find yourself is a situation similar to Caitlin’s.


Where did Caitlin apply?

  • Agnes Scott
  • Eckerd
  • Florida Gulf Coast University
  • Oglethorpe
  • Rollins
  • University of North Florida
  • Wesleyan College (GA)
  • Florida State
  • Jacksonville University
  • Flagler


Nell Stranburg, founder of Your College Advisor LLC, works with students in the Tallahassee, Florida area.  For more information, visit her website at

Encouraging Juniors To Begin The Scholarship Process

Guest post by Monica Matthews,  Scholarship Expert

College scholarship searching and applying are traditionally done in a student’s senior year of high school.  High school juniors, however, can take a huge leap in the process by starting before their crazy-busy senior year begins.  There are many benefits of starting the college scholarship searching process early.

First, the competition for scholarships aimed at the high school junior is much less than for those directed at high school seniors.  Most students and their parents are not even aware of college scholarships that are just for high school juniors, such as the Nordstrom Scholarship and the Discover Card Scholarship, to name a few.  Encouraging students to search for and apply for these scholarships gives juniors experience at writing essays, personal statements, and calculating community service hours.

Another benefit of applying for scholarships as a junior is making early contact with high school teachers and asking them to write letters of recommendation.  A high school junior can prepare a scholarship resume, hand it to their favorite teacher, and show that teacher how serious they are about winning scholarships to help pay for college.  When those same teachers are swamped with letter of recommendation requests from seniors in the fall for college and scholarship applications, high school juniors who have already applied for scholarships will have their letters in hand ready to submit.

There is a lot of money out there to be won in the form of college scholarships.  The earlier a student can prepare and apply for them, the better their chances of winning.  Becoming comfortable with the scholarship process early gives students feelings of confidence and takes away the fear of the unknown that often accompanies writing essays, filling out applications, and asking for letters of recommendation.  For more tips and advice on winning college scholarships, visit


Would you risk college admission on your English essay?

I’m just curious. Why would a student want to work with you on their college essay? I don’t mean this in a negative way, but our high school has students do their essays in Senior English class. Isn’t that enough? I just don’t understand why the application would be that difficult.

For those of us who applied to school way back when –  when you could have typed your essay on a typewriter instead of a computer – things were different.  When I applied to college, there was no SAT prep in my area, application deadlines were February or later, few schools required essays, and most colleges admitted almost everyone who applied.  Today things are different.

College admission is more competitive.  Applications aren’t impossible, but more is riding on those essays, short answers, activity lists, and letters of recommendation.

So why would a student work with me rather than just work with an English teacher at school? While English teachers are very knowledgeable about writing essays, they are not necessarily well informed on what colleges are looking for and the types of writing beneficial in the admissions process.

I’ve seen good suggestions backfire when the entire senior class works to write college essays en masse.  I had one young man come to me and say: Mrs. Dorsey, my English teacher says we need to have to have two instances of dialogue in each of our essays. Dialogue can work well in a college essay if it’s done well, but effective dialogue is difficult to write.  Two pieces of dialogue in each essay from every student from that entire school!  What used to be unique now is commonplace and all essays begin to sound alike!

Why would a student want to work with me? I spend a lot of my time specializing in college admissions, attending professional conferences, and speaking with admissions officers. I know what colleges do and don’t want to see in an essay.

  • I get students to tell their unique stories in the most effective way.  Colleges don’t want to hear essays that sound like I wrote them. They also don’t want to hear the same formulaic essay from every student at a particular school. They want to hear the unique, educated voice of a teenager.
  • I understand that the college essay is a student’s best opportunity to show-off abilities, talents, and strengths. The essay is so much more than the question presented and if students provide a direct and literal answer, they often overlook an essential opportunity.
  • I can help a student step back, put the essay in the context of the entire application, and formulate a response that answers the question while promoting key factors that highlight strengths not mentioned elsewhere in the application.

Yes, it’s good to have someone proofread essays and English teachers are good at doing this.  But if you know your essay might be the difference between an admission or rejection letter, you may want specialized application coaching.  I know it is a cliché, but when students submit college applications, they only get one opportunity to make a good first impression.


To learn more about Megan’s College Application Success Camp program visit: