12 Ways to Make College Cheap
There is much talk today of how to make college cheap. Unfortunately, you cannot get much cheaper than talk, and so far, that’s all there has been remitted toward the problem. Politicians have differing ideas. The President-elect wants to send education back to the states while his opponents believe it should be mostly federalized. Each method comes with a specific set of cost factors that could either help or hurt.
The reality: you can make college cheap right now without any outside help from your government. You just have to formulate a plan and stick to it. In that spirit, we’ve put together a list of the 12 Ways to Make College Cheap no matter where you are in the process. Let’s get started!
Make College Cheap, Method 1. Choose a less expensive school.
You don’t have to stay in-state in order to capitalize on a cheaper college experience, though you may need to jump through a few hoops first. For example, out-of-state tuition will always make a college more expensive than it would be if you first establish residency. Rather than jumping right in, you might consider first moving to the place where you would like to go and take a year or so to find yourself.
It varies, but a year is generally enough time to establish residency. From there, you can start going to the college of your choice for the same rate as the people who were already residents. Just how big of a difference can it make? Some studies have pegged it at as much as $9,000 more per year. This wil largely depend on the institution, but the fact of the matter is, it’s an unnecessary expense and you should avoid it at all costs.
2. Go to a state college.
Whether in-state or out-of-state, your best bet to make college cheaper is to attend a publicly-funded state college. That’s not to say these institutions of higher learning are of a lesser quality. In many cases, they are the best places to go in their respective states. But they do try to accept as many students as they possibly can, and many of these students come from low-income households, so affordability is essential.
You can make this detail work to your advantage. Just how much cheaper is a publicly-funded state school compared to the average private college or university? College Data notes that in the 2014-2015 School Year, it was about $9,000 per year vs. $31,000 per year — a difference of $22,000. Over a four-year period, you’re looking at nearly six figures just for an undergraduate degree! Now grant it, you likely will qualify for some loans and awards, but unless you’re a top-of-the-line prodigy, don’t expect it to cover enough of the bill to keep you out of debt for years to come.
3. Look into reciprocity agreements.
If you are hoping to attend an out-of-state college and do not have the time to establish residency, then look into reciprocity agreements. Some states establish them with neighboring states, such as in the case of Minnesota, which has reciprocity agreements with “Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota, as well as an agreement with the Canadian province of Manitoba, and a limited agreement with Iowa Lakes Community College in northwestern Iowa,” the state writes on its website.
These reciprocity agreements allow students from one state to attend colleges or universities in another state without having to pay the hefty out-of-state tuition fees. These agreements are not across-the-board, so you may still have to pay more than the average in-state resident, but it can still save you thousands of dollars each year on your education bill.
4. Go tuition free.
The Best Schools has put together a rather lengthy list of the best tuition free colleges in the country, and these include the following: Deep Springs College in California, Cooper Union in New York City, College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, and the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, New York.
While the tuition free thing is definitely an attractive quality to have, don’t jump at it until you’ve done all the necessary homework. For example, in the case of the Webb Institute, “Student costs are limited to room and board, books, laptop, and software” with room and board estimated to be $13,200. In other words, the no-cost tuition may not necessarily help matters when you’re paying two or three times the amount it would take for room and board at a college closer to your back yard. Still, if you can work out the details ahead of time, it is entirely possible to get a tuition free college with a more agreeable living arrangement that doesn’t spike up your ancillary costs too much.
5. Earn college credit in high school.
The expensive side of paying for your master’s and doctorate degrees may never be avoidable, but you can lighten much of the load by reducing the undergraduate side of expenses. And what better way to do that than to take advantage of college credit hours while they are freely available to you in high school? Most secondary education schools offer high school students the opportunity to earn college credit hours at little to no expense.
The offerings may not be as diverse in some areas, but they can be enough to put a dent in your first two years of undergraduate degree work. Some students are even able to have their associate’s completed at the same time as high school graduation, thus enabling them to launch into their degree plan when most students would be just getting started. If the average cost of a year at a local college or university is $9,000, that’s a savings of $18,000 right out of the gate. If you plan to attend an out-of-state university, the number could rise to as much as $31,000 a year or a savings of $62,000 off the total cost of your college education — no small feat.
6. Attend summer school.
Summer school hours are often offered at a cheaper cost than the fall and spring semesters, and they also give the student a chance to chip away further at his degree plan so that he graduates a semester or two sooner. Think of what that might mean to your overall savings when combined with the No. 5 option. In other words, you shave off two full years before ever starting college and a third through reduced summer school costs throughout the life of your degree plan.
No, summer school alone won’t make college cheaper to the point that you avoid large amounts of debt, but when combined with some of the other suggestions on this list (and financial aid), it adds up! The only real caveats: some schools are offering less options during the summer to save on overhead, and, let’s face it, going to school all summer long can be pretty lame.
7. Max out credits each semester.
Are you the type of student, who just isn’t into the whole summer thing? Then you may want to consider skipping summer school and simply piling on a few more hours to your spring and fall semesters. Of course, there isn’t much simple about taking 18 or — in the case of my senior year, 21 — hours worth of credits, but it can get you through the process faster while taking advantage of your work-ready state of mind.
Just to give you an idea of how it can all add up, bumping your full-time status up from 12 hours per semester to 18 hours per semester (challenging but manageable), is like taking three full-time semesters in a year instead of two. Using bits and pieces of this concept, I was able to graduate in three and a half years. Smarter people (of which there are plenty) could do it even faster. Just make sure that you’re not rushing it so quickly that you’re not getting a good understanding of concepts. After all, no one is really going to be impressed with how fast you graduated if you’re not competent at what you do.
8. Give the Twin Award Program a shot.
This one may not be of much use to you if you don’t have a twin. Then why include it, you may be asking? Well, a study by the University of Texas found that approximately 32 out of 1,000 of the U.S. population consists of twins. That’s around 3.2 percent, or 10.24 million people who could potentially be reading this and needing use of it. Besides families with twins have extra financial hardships for the simple fact that they have twice the expenses of the average family. When those expenses hit at the same time, it can be next to impossible to keep up.
To help there are a number of award programs — some of which you can read about right here through the College Scholarships website — that give special financial assistance to families going through just such a situation. Again, this probably won’t be of much value to most of you except to say that every little bit of assistance can add up to a tremendous relief.
9. Tuition remission.
Tuition remission is an option available for some classes provided you are a full-time university employee or a spouse, registered domestic partner, or child of an employee. Awards may be anywhere from 50 percent to a full 100 percent. It really depends on the institution. Just as an example, here are the guidelines for tuition remission at NYU:
“In order to be eligible for Tuition Remission you must be a full-time, regular employee in an eligible job category. Your spouse/registered domestic partner and dependent children (age 23 or younger as of the end of the calendar year) are also eligible to participate in the Tuition Remission Program. Retired employees who meet University eligibility requirements and retirement criteria are eligible for the same Tuition Remission benefits for which they were eligible immediately prior to retirement. Certain former employees and their dependents who meet the service and eligibility requirements may be eligible for Tuition Remission … You must be accepted and matriculated in an NYU degree, maintain the same academic standards as any other applicants or students, and must comply with all student rules and regulations. Certain waiting periods may apply.”
10. Tuition exchange.
A wider network of tuition remission known as tuition exchange offers the same type of deal but does it across multiple colleges and universities within a given network. The best example of this is the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and its Tuition Exchange Program (TEP), which was established “more than 30 years ago when a small group of member presidents suggested that CIC create a program with minimal rules and low fees that they could offer as a benefit to employees,” the website states.
It continues: “Today, 436 colleges and universities (roughly two-thirds of all CIC Members) from 48 states and five countries are participating. Over the decades, thousands of employees and their spouses and dependents have been able to attend college tuition-free. This year alone, more than 1,700 students were able to fulfill their educational goals thanks to CIC-TEP.”
11. Alumni referrals for fee waivers.
Okay, so this isn’t just the biggest deal in the world. Most application fees clock in at around $50 or $60. But when you are a cash-strapped high school student, that can be somewhat of a big deal. For starters, you may not have the money. Secondly, financial aid doesn’t typically cover it. So where to come up with the coinage?
Most universities have some type of alumni referral program that can get you past the application process without laying down any money out-of-pocket. To give you an idea of how this works, we’ve pulled some information from the University of Oklahoma. Their words:
“Because we know alumni are our best recruiters, we are asking for you to join us in an innovative pilot program. With your recommendation, we will waive the $40 application for one prospective freshman you think would be a great fit for OU*. … The process of providing a student an OU application fee waiver is simple! After you’ve identified a great applicant, share the code (that you can get from the OU Alumni Association by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org) with that student and tell them to enter that code, along with your first and last names when prompted, in the University of Oklahoma section of the Common Application.”
12. Pay tuition monthly instead of in one lump sum.
The major issue with paying your tuition in one lump sum is that it’s a few thousand dollars at once any way you slice it. Who has that kind of money? Deferred repayment plans are more like interest-free loans, so by paying monthly you’re not doing any extra harm to your bank account and you’re not placing yourself in any cash-emaciated positions that lead to charging through credit cards with exorbitant interest rates.
For a broader overview of how it works, College Data explains. “Deferred payment plans, also known as installment plans, are a convenience to help you manage college expenses. Instead of paying your college bill for a semester or quarter at once, you pay in monthly installments. Your bill, which includes charges for tuition, and room and board if living on campus, must be paid off by the end of that academic period. Most plans do not charge interest if you pay by check or direct deposit. However, like private loans, you must have a good credit history to qualify for them.” The site recommends you sign up well in advance of day one, advising not to “show up on the first day of classes expecting to automatically qualify for an installment plan.”
The site continues: “You should discuss any payment plans as soon as possible with your college. The plan may be handled by a private company or by the college. In either case, you will usually pay a relatively small service fee. The first payment of an installment plan is normally due at registration and may be the largest. If you enroll at a college that does not offer such a plan, its financial aid office may be able to refer you to a private commercial tuition management company that does.”
Lastly, the site advises that you be leery of extra costs, which can “run as high as nearly three percent.” Some institutions also charge an additional fee for paying by credit card or making overdue payments.
The effort to make college cheaper is only as successful as the planning you put into it. But if you keep an open mind and a researcher’s eye, it can make a world of difference in the final price tag for a college education. What are some tips you feel you can take advantage of? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Image Soe Lin/Flickr Creative Commons/Resized and Cropped]