Recently, the College Board announced that tuition and fees at public, four-year colleges was expected to increase by less than 3% for the upcoming academic year. That’s the smallest growth in over 30 years, which is great news, but it still means that students will be paying more for their education than they have in previous years. In fact, there are now 10 colleges that cost close to $60,000 (or more) to attend for one year. That’s a hefty investment, especially when you consider that the average American family makes less than $53,000 a year. It’s no wonder why so many parents and students question whether a college education is still a good investment. Thankfully, there are some steps students can take to reduce the cost of a college education and keep their student loan debt to a minimum.
1. Complete the FAFSA
Students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), regardless of their income status or whether they believe they will qualify for federal student aid. This one form is the key to grants and other free money for college, including financial aid offered by colleges and universities. It will also give students access to low-interest federal loans, which offer more flexibility and protections than private student loans. Beginning in January of their senior year of high school, students should fill out the FAFSA and continue to do so every year until they complete their degree.
2. Earn College Credit in High School
A great way for students to decrease the cost of their college degree is to earn credits while they are still in high school. Students who enroll in Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Dual Enrollment programs may be able to skip certain general education classes required of most college freshmen, depending on their test scores, or even earn enough college credits to earn an associate’s degree before leaving high school. Trimming just a few classes can allow students to graduate earlier and reduce their overall college expenses.
3. Enroll in an Accelerated Degree Program
For those who have graduated from high school, but still want to reduce their costs, an accelerated degree program may be the ticket. Several colleges now offer students the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in as little as four years. There are even some schools that offer accelerated programs for those pursuing degrees in medicine or the law, which could potentially shave thousands of dollars off their college bills.
4. Start at a Community College
Attending a community college may not seem as exciting as getting accepted to Stanford University, but it’s also a lot less expensive. Not only will students pay less per credit hour for their classes, but they will save money on food and housing by staying at home. Community college is also a great place for students with lower grade point averages (GPA) to get their feet wet, as classes tend to be smaller and students may have better access to professors. Those who do well academically may also receive scholarships that can be used to further reduce the cost of their education.
5. Apply for Scholarships!
Scholarships are a great way for students to shave money off their college bills, and they don’t even need to be the class valedictorian to score one! There are scholarships for just about anything, including academics, athletics, volunteer work, talents and other skills. The important thing is that students start applying early and keep applying until they graduate with their degree. Using a free scholarship search tool, like ScholarshipExperts.com, is an easy way for students to find scholarships, but they should also check with their guidance counselor (or financial aid office), local organizations and businesses, and various social media forums, too.
6. Get Credit for Your Knowledge
Another way students can save a little cash in college is to “CLEP” some of their courses. The College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) allows students to receive credit for information they already know, but at a rate much cheaper than attending the actual class. Each 90-minute exam costs only $80 each and there are 33 subject examinations available which can help students trim both time and money off their degrees.