Everybody knows that college is expensive. That doesn’t mean you need to spend every last dollar you have to pay for a degree. Before you open up your wallet or even apply for the first student loan, you need to follow these tips to pay for college without going broke.
Search for Scholarships
Even if you do not land a full-ride scholarship, it is possible to get scholarships for several hundred dollars. You can browse national scholarships at Fastweb. As these scholarships can be very competitive, also look for scholarships offered on a regional basis or from an employer.
If you have already picked out your college, also apply for in-house scholarships and grants that can also reduce your tuition expenses.
Complete the FAFSA
If you plan on applying for federal loans, you will need to complete a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application. The FAFSA can also allow you to qualify for federal grants. Many states and schools also base their grants and additional forms of student aid from your FAFSA data.
Choose an In-State School
Choosing an in-state school can be cheaper than going to an out-of-state public college or a private college. Even among all the public state colleges, annual tuition and fees can vary widely. You might choose a smaller school that doesn’t have the same name recognition but is also cheaper to attend.
Attend Community College First
As the first two years of college are primarily “general” classes, these can often be taken at your local community college and transferred for credit to an in-state college. This can be a cost-effective option for two reasons.
The first way you save money is because community colleges charge lower tuition than four-year schools. Same class for less money, it’s that simple. This can help you save money with summer school too.
A second way attending community college saves you money is that you might have the option of living at home. Even if your parents charge rent, this can be cheaper than on-campus housing and buying a meal plan.
Compare Graduation Rates
Most people think it only takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree. In reality, approximately 68% of students complete a degree within four years that return for the second year. Each additional year of study means more money you need to spend to earn a degree.
Choosing a college with a higher graduation rate doesn’t guarantee you will earn a diploma in four years (or less), but, it means most graduates are. Use College Scorecard to assist in your research efforts. You might be surprised at some of the results.
Test Out of Classes
Your college probably won’t mention this option, but, you can oftentimes take a test to earn college credit without taking a class. This is called “credit by examination” and the most popular test is CLEP.
At $80 per exam, you can easily save hundreds or thousands of dollars by. Exams cover a variety of topics from language arts, history, world languages, social sciences, and mathematics.
Each school has different acceptance policies so you will have to visit the CLEP website or ask your school what exams can count for credit. It can be possible to earn the equivalent of one or two semester’s of academic credit from these exams.
You might be required to live on-campus your first year. After that, rent off-campus to save money. Finding a roommate can help you save money as well. If you can still live close enough to walk, bike, or take the bus, this can also be cheaper than finding an off-campus apartment that requires you to drive (and maintain) a car.
Make Your Own Meals
Eating at the school cafeteria is convenient. But, it can also be more expensive than packing your own meals. By living off-campus, you have access to a kitchen and refrigerator. Going to the grocery store will allow you to make the similar meals for a fraction of the cost. This doesn’t mean you can never eat at the cafeteria, but, just don’t make it a daily habit.
Find a Job
In addition to being a full-time student, find a part-time job during the school year. You might be able to find an on-campus work-study job or also work in the community. You can use the money to help pay for college expenses like books, class dues, and tuition.
Working during the summer can also help you save money for the upcoming academic year. If you are serious about working to avoid borrowing money, you might also consider taking a year off of school between high school graduation and your first year of college to build up your savings account.
Related: 18 Ways to Make a $100 This Weekend
Buy or Rent Textbooks Online
Textbooks are another variable cost you can control.
One of the last places you should buy your textbooks from is the on-campus bookstore. There are plenty of websites that will sell you the same book for a lot less money. You can even rent textbooks to save even more money.
When it comes to selling back your books, list them online first as you will often get more than your school’s bookstore is offering.
Apply for Interest-Only Loan Payments
When you do have to borrow money for college, consider interest-only loan payments. During college, you will pay the interest that accrues each month.
If you choose to defer all principal and interest payment in college, your lender will send you a “surprise bill” of all the accrued interest that needs to be paid before your loan enters repayment status or it will be added to the principal and increase your monthly interest payments.
It’s not required to pay the accrued interest before it capitalizes, but, paying it monthly during school can be easier than having to find several hundred dollars right after you graduate.
Use 529 Funds
Another way to pay for college is a 529 college savings plan. These plans need to be created by your parents and all contributions grow tax-free. By using money that was set aside in the past for college means its less money that you need to borrow or spend from your savings account today.
While some college expenses are unavoidable, we all have options to control costs as much as possible. This is possible by taking certain financial steps like choosing cheaper schools, living arrangements, and rethinking the traditional college experience. By taking steps to be more frugal, you can acquire the same college degree for less money.