US News reports that the average cost of tuition at four-year colleges in 2020 equaled $10,000 for public school and $37,000 for private school. Even if your parents’ financial situation was not significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, covering these costs for four years (or more), in addition to room and board, textbooks, and other expenses, creates a seriously heavy financial burden for most families. However, there are certain strategies you can implement during your college planning to reduce costs and graduate with as little debt as possible.
- Apply Early for Financial Aid – Fill out and submit your FAFSA immediately after the form becomes available online. This application calculates the amount of student aid you qualify for and is used by many colleges to determine need-based aid awards. According to financial advisor Jack Shinn, “It’s a fairly well-known fact that the earlier after Oct. 1 the student applies, the better the chance that the colleges have more dollars to dole out.”
- Negotiate Your Financial Aid Award – If your college offered a financial aid award that was not large enough to fully cover your college costs, you can appeal your award through a professional judgment review. Families that have been impacted by special financial circumstances, such as reduced salary or job loss, can win an appeal and obtain more aid by demonstrating how their ability to cover the cost of tuition has been compromised by a change in circumstances.
- Earn College Credits in Dual Enrollment Courses – Dual enrollment programs provide high school students with the opportunity to earn college credits when taking courses from a participating institution. You can take these courses for free or reduced cost and get a head start on your degree before you even set foot on campus.
- Take CLEP Exams – Administered by the College Board, the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) allows high school students to take exams on various topics and qualify for exemptions from general education classes if they pass. Similar to dual enrollment, this option can help you save money before you graduate and begin your degree program.
- Attend an In-State Public School – Public schools are typically less expensive than private schools and attending an in-state public school offers the best value. The cost of enrolling in a public college for an in-state student was approximately $10,116 per semester in 2019-2020, less than half of the $22,577 you can expect to pay as an out-of-state student.
- Start at Community College, Then Transfer – A community college can help you earn required credits during the first year or two of your degree program without paying the cost of tuition at a four-year institution. Public community colleges charge an average of $3,730 for tuition and fees, nearly a third of the cost of attending an in-state public school. However, you should still consider directly applying to the four-state college because they sometimes offer generous aid packages that make courses more affordable. Also, keep in mind that colleges have limits for what credits they will accept from other institutions and exceeding this limit can impact your financial aid.
- Plan to Graduate in Four Years – The typical bachelor’s degree requires 120 credits, meaning you should schedule 15 credits per semester in order to graduate within four years. Although most colleges consider 12 credits per semester to be full-time enrollment, this will result in spending more than eight semesters to earn your degree. Additional tuition is expensive and rarely qualifies for financial aid.
- Reduce Textbook Costs – College students at four-year institutions spent approximately $1,240 on books solely during the 2019-2020 academic year. You can reduce these costs by applying for scholarships, purchasing used copies of your textbooks, considering digital or loose-leaf editions, checking online for free resources, using textbooks from your library, and asking your professor if an older version will suffice for completing your assignments.
Prepare for Your Future Today
To learn more about how to reduce college costs, contact College Benefits Research group today. We can help you navigate college finances, guide you through the financial aid process, and ensure you can pursue a degree without compromising your future or the financial stability of your family.