How To Cut Costs in College
When it comes to figuring out how much college will cost, tuition is just the beginning. Carefully managing your college expenses and planning out ways to pay for them can reduce the likelihood of overspending and accumulating unnecessary debt.
Here are a few steps you can take to help you afford these additional college expenses.
So you’ve picked a school that will give you a lot of “bang for your buck.” You are studying hard to keep all your scholarships.
And you have a little bit of cash you are bringing to afford some of college life.
Now what? College can still prove way too expensive if you don’t note the leaks in your piggy bank.
There are ways to reduce costs and still maximize your college experience. I’m not talking about starving yourself to save money, or avoiding your parents to save on gas.
So before you go apply for student loans, see if you can use the following tips to fit your lifestyle inside your budget.
There are many methods of saving money on college costs. The two main methods include enrolling at a cheaper college and cutting living expenses. One can also save by increasing income.
Choosing a Cheaper College
#1 The student’ choice of college can have a big impact on college affordability. The average cost of attendance at an in-state public 4-year college is about half the cost at a private non-profit 4-year college.
Even if a public college offers a less-generous financial aid package, the in-state public college may still have a much lower net price, saving the student thousands of dollars a year.
Students can get in-state tuition by going to a public college in their legal state of residence or by participating in a regional exchange program.
Some public colleges provide in-state tuition or discounted out-of-state tuition to students from adjacent states, especially if the student is majoring in a field of study that is not offered by the public colleges in the student’s home state.
#2 Another option is to enroll at one of the six dozen or so selective colleges with generous “no loans” financial aid policies, where grants replace loans in the financial aid package.
These include all of the Ivy League institutions. The average debt at graduation at Princeton University, the school that started the trend, is less than $6,000.
#3 Enrolling at a community college for two years and transferring to a 4-year public college can save about a quarter of the cost of a 4-year degree.
However, only about a fifth of students who intend to obtain a Bachelor’s degree who start off at a 2-year college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with about two-thirds of students who start off at a 4-year college.
Taking a detour through a community college on the way to a Bachelor’s degree may ultimately cause the student to miss his or her destination.
#4 Another method of saving money on tuition includes earning college credit before enrolling in college. Options include
- Advanced Placement (AP) tests,
- College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests,
- Proficiency Examination Program (PEP) tests and
- DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST).
Cutting Living Expenses
Choosing a cheaper college isn’t the only way of making college more affordable.
Living expenses, which include room and board, books, supplies, equipment, transportation, and miscellaneous/personal expenses, represent about half of the cost of attendance for students enrolled in Bachelor’s degree and Certificate programs and almost three-quarters of the cost of attendance for students enrolled in Associate’s degree programs.
Living expenses still represent a significant part of the student budget even at high-tuition colleges.
Living expenses represent more than two-thirds of the cost of attendance at public colleges, more than a third of the cost of attendance at private non-profit colleges and about half of the cost of attendance at private for-profit colleges.
Some of the most effective ways of cutting living expenses include:
- Saving money on textbooks. Two of the best ways include buying used textbooks or reselling textbooks back to the bookstore at the end of the academic term.
- Live at home in college. While students who live at home may miss out on part of the college experience, they can save thousands of dollars a year on room and board.
- If living away from home, share expenses with a roommate
- Fewer trips home from school. Students typically go home for Thanksgiving, the winter holidays and the summer and on vacation during spring break. Cutting the number of trips can save hundreds of dollars a year on travel expenses.
- Accelerate education. Graduating in three years instead of four (or four years instead of five) can save a year’s tuition, fees, and living expenses. Alternately, one could earn two degrees for the same money. Planning a path from matriculation to completion can help keep the student on track, especially when some classes are offered less frequently or one needs to take prerequisites first. It can also help to crystallize the choice of an academic major as early as possible. Switching academic majors or transferring to a different college can add a term or two to the degree, which increases costs.
Live like a student while you are in school, so you don’t have to live like a student after you graduate.
The primary purpose of going to college is to get an education, not to party. Eating out and entertainment can increase college costs.
For example, students pay for a meal plan, but don’t always like the cafeteria food, so they may eat out often. Purchasing a $10 pizza each week can cost $2,000 over the course of a 4-year college career.
Beverages from vending machines and specialty coffee houses can cost even more. If the student pays for the pizza with student loan money, it may cost as much as $4,000 by the time the loans are repaid, since every dollar borrowed corresponds to about two dollars in loan payments.
Before spending student loan money on anything, consider whether it would still be worthwhile at twice the price.
Maximize Financial Aid
Financial aid can make college more affordable. Every student should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year and search for scholarships using free scholarship matching services.
Military student aid, such as ROTC scholarships and the GI Bill, are an option for some students. Families sometimes overlook the education tax benefits, such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and Student Loan Interest Deduction.
There are also a few other ways of saving on student loans.
- Use tuition installment plans instead of long-term debt.
- Borrow federal first, as federal student loans are less expensive, with lower fixed interest rates. Federal student loans are also more available than private student loans and offer more flexible deferment, forbearance, repayment and forgiveness options.
- If borrowing from private student loan programs, apply with a creditworthy cosigner with excellent credit to get a lower interest rate.
- Sign up for direct-debit before the loans enter repayment. Not only does automatically transferring loan payments save on postage and avoid late payments, but many lenders offer a 0.25% or 0.50% interest rate reduction to encourage borrowers to make payments and receive statements electronically.
- Accelerate repayment of the loans with the highest interest rates first. There are no prepayment penalties on student loans, so making extra payments on the most expensive loans can save interest and cut years off of the loan’s repayment term.
A Quick Breakdown
- Encourage more students to enroll at community colleges. Two-year colleges cost far less than four-year schools.
2. Promote dual degree programs, which allow high school students to take college courses. These programs include Advanced Placement classes, International Baccalaureate programs, and community college courses.
3. Reform tenure. Tenure is costly and is a crutch for the professors who are least valued.
4. Offer three-year bachelor’s degrees, which are common in Europe.
5. Outsource services such as health centers, building maintenance, and recreation centers.
6. Reduce administrative staff. Some schools have more administrative staff than faculty. Bloated administrative staffs are expensive and contribute to stodgy decision making.
7. Cut unnecessary programs.
8. End the athletic arms race. Fewer than 20 collegiate athletic programs in this country make money, while many schools lose $10 million or more in their sports operations.
9. Overhaul the federal financial aid form. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid(FAFSA), which asks more than 100 questions, needs further reform.
10. Eliminate excessive academic research. One example: Academics have written more than 26,000 articles on Shakespeare since 1980. Teaching costs rise when professors spend an inordinate time on marginal research.
11. Streamline programs. States can no longer afford empire building, particularly at the graduate level. Tennessee, for instance, maintained 24 doctoral programs in 2009 with fewer than three graduates.
12. Promote collaborative purchasing. Colleges should band together to increase their bargaining power with suppliers.
13. Make better use of facilities. Schools should explore renting facilities—maybe even to departments—and utilizing space during off hours.
14. Increase teaching loads. Between 1988 and 2004, faculty-teaching loads at research universities dropped 42 percent.
15. Encourage timely completion of degrees. Most students don’t graduate in four years, and the dropout rate is a national scandal.
16. Move more classes online. The most logical classes for online instruction are large introductory courses.
17. Reduce textbook costs. Book rentals and electronic versions of books can help.
18. Downsize academic libraries. Do we really need to warehouse books in massive libraries when they can be digitized?
19. Outsource E-mail services. Technology companies like Google and Microsoft can undercut the costs of in-house campus E-mail.
20. Use new teaching methods. Increase online instruction and incorporate more technology into traditional classrooms.
21. Make transferring credits easier. Seamless transfers between colleges can make schools more competitive and reduce dropout rates.
22. Reform student aid. The student aid system is confusing, inefficient, and frequently doesn’t directly aid to those who need it most.
23. Reform accreditation. Accreditation of schools may need to be replaced by the transparency of the quality—or lack of quality—at individual institutions.
24. Subsidize students not schools. Rather than state and federal governments subsidizing universities, give the subsidy to students in the form of vouchers. This would make schools more cost conscience and prod institutions into becoming student-centered.
25. Promote competition based on value not reputation. Colleges have an incentive to spend more because reputation is a factor in college rankings. Making student outcomes known could reduce the overdependence on rankings and also put a brake on costs.
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Carefully managing your college expenses and planning out ways to pay for them can reduce the likelihood of overspending and accumulating unnecessary debt.