Four Easy Ways to Save on College Costs

by Jason Dean 

booksOne of the most difficult things about starting college isn’t having to do your own laundry–it’s navigating the maze of financial aid, student loans, scholarships, and money in general. Luckily, there are a few things that you may not have considered that can help take some stress away from paying for college.

1. Get your four-year degree in four years. For real. According to research by the College Board, at a private college, you’ll take an average of 5.3 years to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, and at a public college, the number goes up to 6.2 years. It might seem like college is a good time for experimenting, but not with your classes or your major. Make sure you get to know your college adviser and have him or her keep you on track towards your degree. If you’re not sure what you want to study when you begin college, start with your general education classes. You can get that math and English out of the way while you visit the different departments and talk with students in your potential majors. Sticking to classes that you need to take will keep your bill low.

2. There’s a second way to avoid paying for classes that you don’t need: Testing out. Taking AP classes in high school is a great way to cut down the number of classes you need to take at college. When you’re visiting schools, ask about their AP policy. Many schools let you test out of general education classes if you’ve earned a high enough score on your AP tests. Even if it’s too late to take AP classes or your high school doesn’t offer them, you can always ask about testing out of classes. If you’ve taken several higher level math classes, the college might let you take the final exam for your general math class and if you can pass it, you can skip the class.

3. Consider a work study or a co-op. Most colleges have programs that allow you to work for the college, often in your chosen area of study, for pay. You can apply your wages to your tuition, or you can spend the cash for living expenses. Smart students know that the prime work study assignments fill up fast, so get to the work study office as soon as the semester starts. Working for the school is a much easier alternative than working an outside job because your new boss always understands about your class schedule and won’t try to make you work during exams!

4. One of the most important tips isn’t even something that takes work on your part–spend your savings first. Do you have a college fund that your parents have started for you? Did you get a generous gift or inheritance to pay for school? Well, it’s time to stop saving. Your personal assets count against you when it comes to financial aid. If you have enough savings to pay for one year of school, pay for your first year in full; clear out your bank account. Then the following year, you can apply for financial aid and that money can’t count against you.

Good luck!

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4 Responses to “Four Easy Ways to Save on College Costs”

  1. ChristianPF on September 29th, 2007 7:02 am

    to add to your list, I normally suggest taking the general education classes at a community college. I bounced through three different 4 year schools and finally finished my Bachelors in Business Admin – and afterwards realized that I could have taken my first two years of classes at a community college. I came out with about $30,000 of debt, my sister who took the “community college” approach for the first two years came out with a few thousand dollars of debt AND graduated from a better school than I did.

  2. Jason Dean on September 30th, 2007 10:03 am

    I agree. I went to an expensive private university right out of high school, switched majors three times, and then, after a 4.5-year “hiatus” from school, I returned to find a class I needed full… So I took it at the local community college, and to my surprise, the quality of instruction was just as high (in this case higher). From then on, I took every class I could at community college, but at that point, it was too late… I only took one more class there for my degree, but I took three more on top of that for my own enrichment.

  3. 120th Carnival of Personal Finance :: My Retirement Blog on October 1st, 2007 9:20 am

    [...] Dean from Smart Money Daily presents Four Easy Ways to Save on College Costs, and says, “One of the most difficult things about starting college isn’t having to do your [...]

  4. Patrick on October 9th, 2007 5:45 pm

    I had the best scholarship program – the military paid my costs while I was full-time active duty! Of course, the military isn’t for everyone. And it still didn’t change the fact that I had to do the work. That’s why I followed step #2. I tested out of quite a few classes. It was a great way for me to complete my degree more quickly. Hopefully, it won’t hurt me when I am applying for an MBA program!

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