As a high school student, even your biggest financial decisions have been small. You may be responsible for paying a cell phone bill or paying for gas and insurance on a vehicle, and you may have a part-time job, but few, if any of these decisions happen on a large scale, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Attending college is an important step in your life, and one you should approach with both joy and judiciousness.
There is no denying that college is a significant investment in time and money. The financial decisions you make now will have repercussions for many years to come. With that, there are many ways to offset the cost of attending college, from minimizing initial costs, to mitigating costs while in school. We’ll break down some great ways for you to get a college experience you’ll love, while managing your cost of attendance.
1. Consider a state school, but don’t rule out prestigious universities
If your state school (or a satellite) offers the degree or concentration you’re interested in, in-state tuition can often be your most affordable choice. If your in-state college doesn’t suit your interests, investigate whether nearby state schools offer in-state tuition to qualified students from neighboring states. Remember to look at total cost of attendance, along with potential financial need-based aid, especially when it comes to prestige private schools. Oftentimes, the needs-blind scholarship process at these schools can lower the cost of attendance to below in-state tuition, or a very comparable cost.
2. Take some of your courses at a community college
Taking core requirements or electives at a community college over the summer can greatly reduce your overall cost of attendance, but you’ll have to plan carefully. Consult with your academic advisor to see which courses you’re permitted to take at other institutions to make sure those credits will transfer. The last thing you want is to spend time and money and not have it count toward your graduation requirements. Also keep in mind that difficult classes, organic chemistry, for example, should be taken at the highest level if you’re planning on applying to competitive graduate fields like medical school or dental school.
3. Graduate on time, or early
This sounds like a no-brainer — now — but only about one-third of full-time students seeking a bachelor’s degree graduate in four years according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Just over half graduate in six years. Graduating early, assuming your college’s rules and class availability permit this, can save you thousands of dollars in expenses and tuition, not to mention the fact that you can start earning money sooner! But graduating on time is even more crucial.
While you’ll likely have academic advisors to assist you with keeping on track for graduation, remember that it falls on you to complete the classes required for graduation. Check and double-check. You don’t want to hit spring semester of senior year and realize you’ll have to spend another semester taking a solitary class you need to graduate. Tuition borrowers who do not graduate on time take on far more debt in their extra years, the report found. According to data from Temple University in Philadelphia and from the University of Texas, Austin, two extra years on campus increases debt by nearly 70 percent.
4. Two words: student discount
The College Board reports that the average on-campus student spends $1,989 per year on “personal expenses,” much of which is entertainment they could have gotten for free from their school. From discounts on food and travel, to free movies, concerts, gym memberships, and so much more, take full advantage of every activity available to you. Those student activity fees you pay? Squeeze every penny! When in doubt, ask about student rates and fares.
Rent everything, except an apartment. Many of the items you “must” have for college will be useless to you once you graduate: bed lofts, mini-fridges, mini-microwaves, and books are all items you should beg, borrow or steal (well, not steal) before you buy. Those small costs can add up over four years. Where you should be wary is renting an off-campus apartment. You know what’s cooler than your own pad? Not being in debt until your sixties. Do the math and consider the total cost of moving off campus, from commuting to climate control, internet access, and food costs.
What other ways can you think of to save money while attending the school of your dreams? Share your best ideas below and we may turn them into a future blog post!