For millions of Americans, and for international students coming to the U.S. to study, college can be life’s biggest investment other than their home. And while on average, the benefits of a college education outweigh the costs by a lot, the cost (as much as $300,000 for a four-year degree) is daunting. Especially when you consider how much of it is borrowed money. The average student now owes nearly $34,000 in student loans. Here’s how you can cut the cost of college by tens of thousands of dollars.
Cut the Cost of College: Six Tips
Start at a Community College
There are more than a thousand community colleges in the United States. Many offer an excellent education, and at a price far lower than that of a four-year institution. More and more states and communities are making community college free. What’s more, attending one or two years at a community college can make it much easier to transition to the demands of a four-year college. Many top-tier universities are now working to make the transfer process from community college easier, with simpler requirements for credit transfer. Seek out a counselor or coach, and find a community college near you. Two years of community college could cut the cost of college by between $10,000 and $50,000.
Seek Out Scholarships Early
Every year, nearly $3 billion in scholarships goes unclaimed. That’s because many students don’t fill out their financial aid forms or wait too long to start applying. Start early: there are scholarships you can apply for as early as freshman year. And don’t think you have to be an academic genius or an athletic superstar. Many myths keep people from winning enough money for college. Apply early, apply often, and keep applying. It could cut the cost of college by tens of thousands of dollars.
Maximize the Benefit of AP Courses
Many colleges will accept your credits for AP courses you take if you take the AP exams and score 4 or better. That doesn’t mean you should load up your year with AP courses, but it does mean that when you take AP courses, you should take the exam seriously. Also, ask your counselor or college admissions coach whether the colleges you’re applying to will give you credit for your AP courses. You could graduate a year early, and cut the cost of college by as much as $25,000. What’s more, you’ll start earning money a year sooner, so the benefit is even greater.
Consider Small Private Universities
Public (or state) universities generally cost less than private four-year colleges. But at many state schools, budget cuts mean that you can almost surely not get the courses you need to graduate in four years. Smaller, private (not-for-profit) universities make an effort to help you graduate in four years. What’s more, in many cases these universities are also able to offer significant merit aid which makes the cost of college more affordable. So you could graduate (and earn money) sooner, and spend less.
Live at Home
One big part of the benefit of college is surely the growing up that comes from living away from home. But you can save a lot of money by picking a school that’s close to home, and commuting. Even after you count the costs of transportation, the savings could amount to $10,000 a year. So if the cost of college is a concern, this could be a great solution. You can also consider schools that will allow you to live off-campus, which is generally less expensive than living in a dormitory.
Buy Books for Cheap
Textbook costs at college can be as much as $2,000 a year. College professors assign textbooks unconstrained by costs. University bookstores are often the most expensive place to buy textbooks. So, shop around. Amazon and other large retailers are almost always less expensive and offer rental programs that cost less. You’ll still spend a lot of money on books, because textbook costs have increased much more rapidly than even medical costs over the last 30 years. But every dollar saved is worth it.
Not all these tips will apply to everyone. But nearly everyone for whom cost is a concern should be able to use these tips to get a cut the cost of college, get a great education, afford it, and get the benefits of a college education without drowning in debt.