It’s no secret that college tuition is on the rise and that’s leading to higher student loan burdens on students across the country. According to Educationdata.org total student loan debt totals $1.57 trillion with the average student owing $36,510. With these numbers, it’s no surprise high school seniors and college students are asking the question of how to make college more affordable.
From deciding to forgo college altogether, to finding schools with lower tuition, there are many ways to decrease the cost and increase your ROI. But the first hurdle is getting over the notion that you need to attend one of the “Best Colleges in America.”
These lists will leave you thinking you need to attend Harvard or Yale (or another top 20 schools on their list) or else you’ve graduated from a second-class school. But the truth is there are people from all types of colleges making great livings, and probably didn’t spend half the money it costs to attend the colleges on these lists.
So let’s look at some helpful ways to make college more affordable:
Attend Community College for Two Years
Community colleges offer two-year associate degrees, career training, and other shorter term program. Students can use those credits as transferable credits into a four-year program or use those degrees to enter the workforce directly.
Combined with reduced living expenses, this option allows for a lower overall cost of attending school, potentially allowing them to avoid student loans altogether.
Community colleges simply give students a lot of flexibility at a lower price point. For anyone unsure of their path, or just looking for a more affordable option, attending community college is a no-brainer.
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Enroll in Online Classes
Online courses can be a great way for students to avoid the costs of commuting and going to school full-time while still being able to complete their coursework. Taking online classes can also allow students the ability to earn credits toward a degree at various universities.
Just keep in mind, you’ll want to confirm the transferability of these courses before making the commitment. As with community colleges, they typically have agreements with certain colleges that agree to accept the credits.
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Attend an In-State Public University
Your in-state public universities are almost always going to be one of your best values when it comes to college. They are generally much less expensive than private or out-of-state institutions and offer similar degree programs.
Not only can you save on tuition costs, but you may also save on living and transportation expenses because you’re closer to home. If you’re close enough to live at home with your parents and commute to school, you might be saving yourself tens of thousands of dollars.
Watch for Private and For-Profit Colleges
Private and for-profit institutions are typically more expensive than public universities. That’s not always the case, especially if you qualify for financial aid, but it’s something you need to think about.
Some of the schools can also have a great ROI if they are well respected within the area of study you are considering. But for generic degrees, it’s often difficult to make the argument for these schools versus a public college.
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Apply for Scholarships and Grants
Every student should apply for applicable scholarships and grants. This is the most sure-fire way to make college more affordable since you don’t end up paying anything out of pocket. That’s because most scholarships and grants don’t need to be paid back as a student loan does.
Work While in School
Working while in school can be a great way to save money. Working part-time allows students to earn money to help pay for expenses such as textbooks, room and board, and other living costs. In addition, working can help students learn important time management skills and how to balance work with the school.
Find yourself at a job that’s relevant to the degree you’re working on, and you get even more benefit. You’ll be building your resume for a post-graduation job as you make your way through school.
Consider Getting a Certificate
Certificates can be a great way for students to save money on their education. Certificate programs are shorter and less expensive than traditional four-year degree programs. You can most often take these certificate degrees and enter a certain profession immediately. In fact, many employers prefer certificates because the courses are more focused and relevant to the workplace.
If nothing else, similar to attending community college, you can use a certificate as a launch pad for a bachelor’s degree and beyond.
Related: High Paying Certificate Programs
Live at Home While Attending College
One of the best ways to save money while in college is to live at home. This can be especially helpful for students who are attending a university that is far from home.
Living at home allows students to avoid paying for room and board, which can add up quickly over the course of four years. In addition, by living at home, students can save on transportation expenses since they will not need to pay for gas or public transportation.
Take Advantage of Government Programs
Many government programs, such as the Pell Grant and subsidized student loans, can make a huge difference in getting an affordable college education. These programs help ease some of the financial pressures that students feel when going to school.
Accelerate Your Graduation
Graduating in less than 4 years can be a great way to save money. Taking just a few extra courses each semester can help students graduate in less than 4 years. This will not only allow them to avoid the costs of going to school for an additional year, but it may also give them a head start on their career if they are able to finish school sooner.
Attend an Online School
Attending an online school can be a very affordable option for college. These schools tend to offer high-quality education that is comparable to traditional brick and mortar institutions but at a fraction of the cost.
In addition, there are many online schools that will allow students to receive college credit for the previous coursework they’ve already completed at a traditional or community college. By doing this, they can reduce the number of courses they need to take and graduate sooner.
Take Advanced Placement Courses
Taking AP courses can be a great way to get college credit. In many cases, students who take the AP test after completing an AP course will receive college credit for that class. Students can use this money-saving opportunity to get ahead in their degree by starting off with more credits under their belt.
Take Dual Enrollment Courses
Dual enrollment courses can be a great way to make sure students are on the right academic track when they enter college. These college courses allow high school students to take classes at a local community or technical college that will count towards their high school diploma and then transfer over to a university later.
This is a great way for students who are unsure about what they want to study in college to try out a few different programs while still in high school.
Take Summer Courses
Taking summer courses can be a great way for students to get ahead. In addition, taking summer courses allow students to save on the costs of going back to school in the fall and winter since they will not need to take out any loans for the additional semesters.
This will enable them to get their degree and enter the workforce faster because they can avoid taking time off for breaks due to vacations, holidays, and other school-related events.
Look for Regional Tuition Exchange Programs
Some colleges and universities have regional tuition exchange agreements with each other. This allows students to be able to attend college in one state but pay the in-state tuition rate, which can drastically reduce costs for students who want to study closer to home yet still at a top research university.
Joining ROTC, or the Reserve Officer Training Corps, can be a great way for students to save on tuition. In many cases, these programs will provide full scholarships that will cover all the costs of college such as room and board and textbooks.
Save on Textbooks
Textbooks can be a large expense over the course of earning a college degree. You can save money on textbooks in a number of ways, including renting, using digital textbooks, or finding deals on used textbooks.
Take Out Student Loans Only As a Last Resort
Seeing as student loans can result in decades of debt, it is best for students to avoid taking them out unless absolutely necessary. By weighing other options such as attending a community college or going part-time, students may be able to graduate with less debt overall.
If taking out student loans still seems like the best option, then doing research into federal vs private loans is another smart plan before committing.
The Bottom Line
Taking the time to research ways to make college more affordable can really help students be successful in graduating with less debt. More than anything, understanding that you can be successful without going to a big-name (and expensive) school is one of the first key steps.
But if you decide a large school is best for you, make all attempts to attend in-state universities and/or maximize the number of scholarships and grants you receive.
You can also improve college affordability by taking AP courses, dual enrollment courses, spending less time partying, and taking out student loans only when absolutely necessary.
All of these tactics can help you graduate with less debt and much less stress after graduation.