Your tuition and academic expenses are going to be the top of your list of priorities when it comes to budgeting through your college years. This is also going to take the biggest chunk out of your money. With tuition fees higher than ever and costs of living rising, the sad truth is that this is not a cheap time to be a student.
According to polls conducted by Gallup, more Americans than ever before describe themselves as “very worried” about not being able to afford the cost of a college education for their kids- this number has now jumped ahead of the amount of Americans worried about saving for retirement.
College could be causing your parents a lot of anxiety, so ease their pain (and yours) by finding as many ways as possible to cut down those costs.
1: Keep It Short And Sweet
We know, college is fun and you’d like it to last as long as possible before embarking on the next scary step of your journey. That’s understandable, but you can actually save yourself a huge amount of money by limiting the total amount of time that it takes you to get your degree.
- Get college credits during high school. You can ignore this tip if you’re already on your way to college, but if you’re still in high school then consider avoiding the senior slump and committing to AP classes. Advanced placement classes offer college-level education to high schoolers, giving you the chance to earn college credits before you even get there. What’s best- you’re not paying any expensive tuition while you’re at it, so you’re technically getting some college in for free, and shortening the time it will take you to rack up enough credits to graduate.
- Try out joint enrolment. Alongside your AP classes, you can earn college credits by enrolling in a local community college for a course at the same time as your senior year of high school. You’ll have to check that this is okay with your school, but if you think you can handle the increased workload then you could be on your way to your BA before you’ve even graduated high school. Community colleges tend to be far cheaper than state or private universities, and you’ll save money on board by still living at home, so this could slash your overall tuition expenses.
- Becoming a doctor?Good for you! If you’re planning on doing a medical degree, you might have thought that you have to do four years of undergraduate studies for your bachelor’s, and then go on to do four years of medical school. Actually, there are colleges out there that will allow you to combine the two degrees into one six-year program. This could save you two years worth of tuition and all of the expenses that come with college- and will fast track you to earning big bucks even sooner.
- Fill your schedule. This won’t suit you if you’ve got a huge load of extra-curriculars or an easily overwhelmed temperament, but if you think you can take the heat then why not grab as many credits as possible from the start? Don’t limit yourself to the minimum course load each semester- take more classes than you need to and you could get enough credits together to graduate early.
- Take summer classes. First check that these credits are transferable, but if they are, then consider adding some classes in over the summer to boost your credits before next semester even begins.
- Plan wisely. This is something that takes a fair bit of planning and thinking ahead, but it could save you money and time. Sit down with your academic advisor and have a good talk about what you want to get out of college and what sort of major you’re considering. They should be able to help you to pick the classes that will support the kind of majors you’re interested in. Try not to switch around too much once you’ve made your mind up.
- Look at accelerated degrees. There are colleges and universities out there that offer three-year courses for students who are especially motivated and focused, and who definitely won’t swap and change majors and minors during the degree. If you really want to get to graduation quickly and save yourself a year’s worth of tuition, this could be a good option for you.
- Keep it together. Staying on track during your degree and not allowing yourself to fall behind on your studies can help you financially in the long run, as well as sparing you some mental anguish. If you miss out on credits, fail classes and flunk tests, you’ll only end up having to pay for additional semesters and even years. Save yourself some money and some stress by staying organized and putting your academics first.
2: Community College
It may not have been your dream school, but doing at least part of your college degree at a community college can really cut your costs. The tuition costs are lower and you can save even more money by staying at home while you complete the course. We’ll deal with accommodation costs in a different section, but attending community college and going in from home can save you tens of thousands of dollars, and you’ll still come out with a worthwhile degree at the end of it all.
You don’t have to spend your entire college career at community college, of course. You can just do the first two years there and then transfer to a bigger state or private college to get a taste of the university experience. You’ll still have made a substantial dent in your tuition and accommodation expenses.
3: Get Career Funding
Although tuition can be eye-wateringly expensive, if you already know what you want to do as a career after graduation then you may be able to get help with your education fees. Do your research on your future career of choice to find out whether funding or grants are available to help you fulfil your dreams. These are a few of the funding options currently available to students for students with specific career aspirations:
- Join the army. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the military, or just wouldn’t mind doing a stint in the army before moving on to something else, then you could receive help with your college tuition. The military will pay for a certain amount of tuition and training depending on how many years you are willing to give back in return in the form of active duty. There are limitations on the amount you’ll get from the military for your tuition and variations depending on which specific service you’re interested in.
- Become a member of the US Health Service Corp. If you’re studying to become a member of the medical profession, you could have your education funded by the National Health Service Corps. This organization offers several different funding and scholarship opportunities; all you have to do in return is agree to work in certain “Health Professional Shortage” regions once you’ve completed your training. The body also offers grants for disadvantaged students, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re from a lower income background and are hoping to get into a healthcare field.
- Want to be a teacher? The government offers a TEACH grant (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) to people looking to pursue a career in education. This can get you an extra $4,000 a year to help with tuition, in return for you working in a “high needs” field and in an area with lower-income students. If you don’t complete the requirements for the grant, it will be transferred into a loan.
- Get reimbursed later. Certain employers will make tuition reimbursement part of your financial package when you come into the job, offering to help out with your student loans if you’ve entered the world of work with a huge pile of debt. This is another one that tends to apply mainly to those in healthcare fields, but it’s always worth checking with an employer to find out whether this could work for you, too.
4: Fill Out The FAFSA
This section is all about the really dull, depressing stuff that we all hate to think about: loans, debt and repayments.
FAFSA, or the Free Application For Federal Student Aid, is the necessary first step for any student looking to get any kind of financial aid from the state or federal government. Colleges, both private and public, also look at your FAFSA details to determine your eligibility for various grants and programs.
The latest version of this form is available from January 1st each year, and you’ll want to get started early to ensure that all of your paperwork is in on time in order to qualify for aid.
You may be thinking that you’d rather avoid applying for federal loans to pay for your tuition- that’s pretty understandable! Nobody wants to be in debt, so if you have the means to pay for your tuition without taking out loans, then that’s obviously the preferable option.
However, with the rising costs of education, many students and families find it necessary to get loans to cover these expenses. As we see it, the federal route offers the most secure solution to those families who do need loans. Here’s why:
- Repayment plans: Federal student loans give you several different options for organizing repayment once you graduate. You can choose a standard ten-year plan– this offers the highest rate per month but holds the least amount of interest. If you don’t feel that you can afford this option then you can choose an extended repayment plan, which allows for a longer period of time to repay at lower monthly rates, but it accrues more interest over time. If you begin on a lower salary and earn more as the years progress then you could consider a graduated plan, in which the payments start out lower and increase over the years. If you think you might qualify for better rates then you could also go for an Income-Based Repayment, which calculates a plan based on your personal income and family circumstances.
- Consolidate your loans: The federal option allows you to consolidate all of your debt into one repayment process, which will make things simpler and easier for you in the future when it comes to managing your debt without a ton of stress.
- Late payments: If you find yourself in a difficult situation after graduation and are struggling to meet your repayments, a federal loan offers more flexibility than most of the private options. You’ll have the opportunity to enter into deferment, which means your loan repayment will be temporarily suspended until the situation improves.
- Help from government schemes schemes: If you really fall on hard times or have a spiralling debt issue later in life, a federal loan will gives you access to government repayment programs, such as “Public Service Loan Forgiveness.” Students who received private loans wouldn’t be eligible for these sorts of programs, and could have a harder time dealing with their debt in the future.
There are several different types of loans available when you apply through the FAFSA. You can get all of the information in detail from the government’s website, but here’s a quick overview of a few of the main loans available for students;
- Perkins Loans: This type of loan is available for students who demonstrate “exceptional financial need.” It’s available for undergraduate, graduate or professional studies and is made through colleges themselves, with funding from the government. If you qualify for a Perkins Loan then you’re in luck- this type of loan has no fees and has exceptionally low interest rates.
- Subsidized Stafford Loans: This loan is an option for students with financial need, and the government will pay the interest that is accrued while you’re still studying.
- Unsubsidized Stafford Loans: The unsubsidized version of the Stafford Loan is for anyone, regardless of your financial circumstances. The government won’t pay the interest on this loan but the rates are fixed and the repayment terms are still flexible, so this type of loan is still preferable to many of the private loan alternatives out there. You won’t have to pass any kind of credit check to receive this loan, but you do have to be in college on at least a half-time basis. You have the option of either paying off the interest as it accrues while you’re studying, or leaving it until you begin to make repayments.
- PLUS Loans: The PLUS Loan is available for parents who have an undergraduate student that depends on them financially. It is meant to cover the college expenses for the family that are not covered by the rest of the financial aid received. Parents that apply must have a good credit record to be eligible. Graduate and professional students can also apply for a PLUS Loan.
5: Get A Grant
Along with the federal loans available, you can also apply for grants to help cover the cost of your tuition and college expenses. A grant does not have to be repaid at any point, and is generally awarded on the basis of your financial need, and the financial circumstances of your family.
Your first step when it comes to applying for grants will be the same one you took to get a federal loan- filling out the FAFSA. Your application will then be assessed to work out what kinds of federal grants and loans you’re eligible for. This isn’t the only type of grant on offer, however. There are several different options out there:
- Federal Grants: The first type of grant available from the federal government is called a Pell Grant. This is awarded based on financial need and can go up to a maximum of $5,730 per year. Students with “exceptional financial need” could be eligible for a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which is funded by the government and distributed by individual colleges. Students who had a parent that died during military service in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11 could also receive an Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. For more details on federal grants see the government’s student aid website.
- State Grants: Although the federal route may be the most well known, your state will also have plenty of grant options to help fund your college education. You’ll have to submit a FAFSA application to the state too in order to be considered for additional aid, so make sure you get all of the paperwork in on time to make the most of what’s available. State grants vary between needs based options and those issued based on merit. There are some that combine the two, selecting students from lower income families but requiring that you maintain a certain GPA to qualify for the grant. Others are specifically awarded to ethnic minorities, students with disabilities or women. If you’re going to pursue a career in a high needs field, like teaching or nursing, you might also be eligible to receive state grants. If you haven’t already looked into grants and funding yet then make sure you speak to your college counsellor for more details on what’s available in your specific state.
- School Grants: Once you’ve decided which college you want to attend, you can check out the school’s site or contact the financial aid office to find out about grants that might be available to you. Many college offer aid packages to students with extra financial need that could be exactly what you’re looking for. If the amount they offer won’t cover everything then keep trying– many colleges are more open to negotiation than you might expect.
- Private Organization Grants: Scholarships or grants are often offered by private nonprofit groups to help disadvantaged students pursue their academic aspirations. We’ll go into more detail about this sort of grant in our “Scholarship” section!
6: The Work-Study Program
When applying through FAFSA for federal aid, you can also apply for Work-Study. This is a government program that allows students with financial need to work part time, either on or off-campus, in order to help save money while in college and keep up with tuition expenses.
If you’re eligible for Work-Study, it could be a huge help- the money you receive from your work-study job doesn’t have to go straight into tuition fees; it can also be used to pay for your room, meals or other college fees. If you’re concerned that you won’t manage the money responsibly then you can arrange for it to be paid directly to your college as credit toward your tuition- we think this is probably the best option for most students, and it can allow you to walk out after graduation with a great deal less debt.
These are the basics of Work-Study;
- Earnings: You’ll earn at least the Federal minimum wage for whatever job you find, but the salary will depend on your skills and the type of work.
- Pay: You’ll be paid by the hour as an undergraduate, either into your bank account or to be kept by the college to cover your fees.
- Hours: You can only work as many hours as are covered by your Work-Study award, which is assessed according to your financial need. Your schedule and academic needs will also be taken into consideration.
- Work: The program tries to find jobs for you that will suit your major or something related to “civic education.” The job might be within your college or it could be for an external non-profit organization or public agency.
7: Look For Scholarships
Scholarships are the best way of minimising your college debt- they can help pay for your tuition without needing to repay the money. The trick is to find as many sources as possible for potential scholarships and apply, apply, apply. The more you apply for, the more likely you are to get some extra cash for your tuition.
Scholarships can be rewarded for a range of different things. These are just a few;
- Merit (academic achievement)
- Talent (Sporting, musical, creative)
- Background (Ethnicity, military family, parent’s work)
- Religious (Some churches and religious organizations offer college grants and scholarships for members)
The main thing to know is- even if you don’t think you’d be eligible for anything in particular, there are thousands of scholarships out there and many are rewarded for very specific things that you might not even expect. Do as much research and hunting as you can, and you just might find something that’s a perfect fit.
There are tons of places to look on your scholarship hunt. Your first stop should obviously be your college counsellor or academic advisor, but you can also try;
- College financial aid offices
- This online scholarship search tool, and other web-based scholarship search sites, like this one
- The federal agency and your state’s grant agency
- The reference section at your local library (ask for help if you need it!)
- Professional associations related to the career you’re interested in pursuing
- Any organizations related to your ethnicity
- If you’re employed then speak to your employer, or ask your parents to speak to theirs
- Local foundations, religious and community organizations, civic organizations, local businesses that may run grant programs
8: Keep ‘Em Waiting
This tip might seem a little odd, but trust us on this one. If you find yourself in the enviable position of being accepted to a few good schools with grants and scholarships on the table, bide your time before accepting one or the other.
Research has shown that students who say yes quickly to one college tend to come out with smaller financial aid packages than those who wait. This could be an especially good ploy if you’re particularly desirable to a college- so if your grades are great and you know they really want you, delay saying yes and let them bid for you. The worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work and you end up picking at the last minute, but it could be worth it to score a little extra off your overall bill.
If you’ve received word back from a college and have been awarded a certain amount of financial aid but don’t feel that it’s sufficient- try and talk to them. Colleges claim that the grant and scholarship amounts are non-negotiable, but they will sometimes take special circumstances into consideration and there may be some wriggle room.
- If a parent has recently lost their job, there’s been a death in the family or some difficulty has come up, inform the college so that they can factor this into their decision making process.
- Find out what the reasoning was behind the amount you were awarded, and then see if there are any changes that can be made on your side to raise the number.
- Was the scholarship awarded based on your GPA? It may be that achieving higher grades could move you up to a better bracket of funding- so get ready to negotiate. If you can work a little harder for the rest of your senior year to drag the GPA up to where it needs to be to fit into the next bracket then it could definitely be worth it.
10: Save On Textbooks
Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to cover your tuition and all of those big expenses, you have the next step of your academic budgeting to deal with- books! We know- you didn’t think books would be a major expense, after all- you need them to study! Sadly, this essential aspect of your college life can really set you back if you don’t play your cards right.
- Buy books second hand. This is the most straightforward way of saving money on your textbooks, and it’s really easy to do. Head to your college bookstore at the very beginning of each semester to grab the books you need- you may even get a little help from someone else’s notes in the margins.
- Hit the library. Rather than paying to own the book, you can simply borrow it from the college library. This will cost you nothing– just get there early to nab your copy.
- Sell them back. Once you’ve finished with your books, get some of the money you spent on them back by selling them to your college bookstore. If this doesn’t work then you can try selling them online to other cash-strapped students.
- Borrow a copy. Don’t need the textbook for very long? Why not just ask another student who has a copy if you can borrow it for a few days? They can always say no if it’s an issue, but it’s definitely worth a try.
- Get online. Sites like Amazon sell tons of academic books at lower prices, and often have used copies that you can grab for even less. There are also sites that allow students to rent books for the semester instead of buying them- use a comparison site like Campus Books to find the best price available and get your search started.
- Save money and save the planet. Check out Chegg, where for each order you make for a used textbook, they’ll plant a tree!
- Download. Do you read most of your books on a Kindle or iPad? CourseSmart has textbooks available to rent through PDF, and Amazon also allows users to rent textbooks for their Kindle.
- Photocopy. If you only need a few pages from a particular book then it may be easier just to go to the library (or borrow a classmate’s copy) and copy the pages you want. Try not to photocopy huge chunks of the book, as this could constitute copyright violation- and end up costing you more than you intended.
- Be wary. When buying a used textbook or renting one online, make sure that the book is the correct edition for your class. While some editions may only vary slightly in content, many textbooks have updated sections that you might need, so check the ISBN number of the book before taking out your wallet!