College can be expensive… but you probably know that already. What you might not realize is that tuition is only part of it.
Even after you pay for tuition, you might still have to pay for housing, a meal plan, books… the list goes on and on, and your bill adds up and up.
However, you can reduce out of pocket expenses and lower the overall cost of college. There are some major things you can do to help, as well as minor things to help ease that cost. To start, let’s tackle the three things you can do that will have the biggest impact on lowering the cost of your bachelor’s degree.
Read: Don’t Overlook These 6 Hidden College Costs
1) Start at Community College
Check out your local community college and enroll there for the first two years!
Now, I know your first reaction to this idea might not be one of pure excitement. If your vision of college is living in a dorm away from your parents and leaving your hometown, this might not have been your first choice. But, don’t dismiss it just yet.
Starting at community college can save you an incredible amount of money. Depending on which college you earn your bachelor’s degree from, starting at community college could literally save you $100,000.
Here’s how: most community college’s tuition is around $100 a credit (check your local community college website for the exact price), whereas private universities can charge upwards of $500 per credit hour. Some charge $1,500 per credit!
Save a huge amount of tuition.
Starting at community college for two years lets you save a huge amount of tuition. When you transfer, you’ll take the credits with you and still get the chance to live in a dorm far away from your hometown (if that’s what you want).
This plan works best when you join a program at your community college that’s specifically focused on helping you transfer. If you’re interested in program like that, you’re in luck! American Honors is a program at community colleges that helps students transfer to earn their bachelor’s degree, so you’re already talking to the experts!
Read: 6 Infamous Myths About Community College
2) Take AP Classes or Test Out
Take AP classes or simply test out of classes that you’re more advanced in. A simple computer basics class could cost you $1,500 at college -- and if it’s a class you could have taken in high school, or tested out of at college, then you’re wasting your money taking it at college!
Not every class will let you test out, so check into which classes will. Even if you’re paying out of pocket for the test, it’s almost guaranteed to be less expensive than an entire class and will save you money overall.
3) Study Math and English BEFORE College Placement Tests
College placement tests are designed to assess what level of coursework you can start at, which is why you need to study before you take it! Brush up on your math and English skills before taking any college placement tests.
The more you prepare, the less likely your chances of having to take a class you already know the materials for.
If you go in unprepared, there’s a good chance you won’t do as well as you otherwise would. If you underperform on your test just because the material wasn’t fresh in your mind, you could end up being forced to take (and pay for!) courses that cover material you actually already know.
A little bit of studying goes a long way.
The good news? It only takes a little bit of studying to do significantly better on your college placement test. On average, students who study 30 minutes before the math portion of the Accuplacer college placement test score 25% higher than if they didn’t do a quick brush up. Imagine if you spent a few hours the week before studying!
Other Ways To Save on College
Now that you know how to make some major decisions to save money, let’s talk about the ways you can save without even thinking about it.
Simple Savings 1: File Your FAFSA
I know, you’ve heard this before, however, it is important that you not only file a FASFA, but update it with your current tax information.
If your current incomes levels aren’t reflected on your filed taxes, reach out to your college’s financial aid office -- there are options and help out there for this.
Read: 7 Ways to Be Prepared for FAFSA
Simple Savings 2: Apply for State-Based Aid
Ensure that you have applied for state based aid as well. Often, it’s a different application than the FAFSA. This one varies based on your state, so you’ll have to do a little digging to find the details.
We recommend you start with this helpful guide to state-based financial aid from NAFSAA.
Simple Savings 3: Apply for School Scholarships
The college or university you plan to attend almost definitely offers some form of scholarships. Whether they’re merit-based or need-based, you should make sure to leave no stone unturned.
You can usually find links on the financial aid tab of your school’s website.
The most important thing? Apply! The school will only know you want a scholarship if you actually apply for it.
Simple Savings 4: Ask Local Businesses
Write a letter that you can send to local businesses to ask about scholarships. Many companies have scholarship dollars set aside each year, but don’t advertise it. So send them a letter about yourself and your achievements and see what happens... All they can say is no, right? Might as well try.
Read: 5 (Not So) Common Sense Tips to Win Scholarships
Simple Savings 5: Avoid the Bookstore
And finally, last but not least, buy your textbooks online, rent them, or borrow them! Books in a school bookstore can cost $500-$800 extra per semester -- buying them online can save money that can be used for future classes or other school materials.
Bonus Tip: Borrow Only What You Need
I know college and the price tag associated with college can be scary, above all else, work with your financial aid office to ensure you are getting all the aid you are entitled to.
The only further advice I have is to only borrow what you need, and pay down the interest along the way!