Four Ways to Cut College Costs

I previously wrote in a post about how expensive college is. As a parent, trying to fund your child’s education while also funding your own retirement along with dealing with your current living expenses can become overwhelming. Most times, something has to give and that something is the child’s education account. The result of this is the child taking out student loans to pay for college and then being saddled with the repayment of those loans for decades after graduation. But there are some ways you can cut the cost of college. Below I list four such ways.

cutting college costs

Determine Your Expected Family Contribution

Your expected family contribution is calculation that you perform to see how much you would be expected to pay for one year of college. If you never performed this calculation before, site down before doing so. Many times, the result is more (in some cases) much more than you can afford.

Regardless of what your expected family contribution is, you can get financial aid. If you have a low expected family contribution, apply to colleges that provide a lot of need-based aid. On the other hand, if your expected family contribution is high, you can apply to schools that provide merit scholarships to wealthy students.

Check Graduation Rates

It shouldn’t be a surprise that going to college for four years is going to cost you less than if you went for five years. You would be surprised at how few students actually graduate in four years. Many times they graduate in five years because of a change of major. By looking at the graduation rate, you can get a sense for how the college handles those that change majors and still graduate on time.

Also, if your child might change majors, see if there are any lower level courses they could take over the summer at a community college. The cost will be much less. This usually only works for lover lever courses as many majors will not allow upper level course credits to be transferred.

Use Net Price Calculator

Every college now has a net price calculator, which will provide you with a personal estimate of how much a college will cost. As I mentioned above, all colleges have these calculators; in fact, they are required by the federal government.

These calculators are great because they will provide you with a good estimate of how much the college will cost you. So before you apply, you can see if you can reasonably afford the college. If you find the price is too high, you can save yourself the time of applying and move on to a lower cost college.

Apply for Scholarships and Grants

You should take the time to apply for all of the scholarships and grants that you can find. Millions of dollars in scholarships go unfunded each year. It may take a little bit of time finding and applying for the scholarships, but getting a couple thousand dollars will be more than worth it. If you were planning on taking out loans, every dollar you earn in scholarship money is worth more than a dollar in loans because of the interest you are going to have to pay on that loan.

There are plenty of books and websites you can use to help you find scholarships you are eligible for and how to apply. You might also want to contact one of your school’s admissions representatives if you have any questions regarding financial aid. In most cases, this representative will advise you to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, which is used to determine how much financial aid you need. Depending on your financial situation, you could be eligible for federal grants that will go towards your education. Even if you do not qualify for any of these grants, you are likely to receive federal students loans to help pay for your education.

Bonus Tip

As a bonus method to cut college costs, you can attend a community college for two years and then transfer to a four year college. You can read all about how it’s OK to not go to college.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to cut the cost of college. I have only outlined a couple. You need to do everything you can to cut college costs. You don’t want to become a statistic of owing huge amounts of student loans. Trust me, having to pay back this money is not fun. It limits you from saving for retirement or a house. Many others who have had student loans can attest to my statement. The more you can cut your college costs, the better financial footing you will be in.

10 Responses to Four Ways to Cut College Costs

  1. I like your community college advice. A good friend of mine at Michigan State spent two years at Delta Community College first and saved tons of money AND was in smaller classes. The only downside to a community college? I think you have to be pretty focused. There are lots of people in community colleges who are only there because college has become an “expectation” and they’re filling a chair fulfilling someone else’s college dream. I recently took a community college class and it was horrible. The instructor was great, but the people around me were (mostly) people who shouldn’t have been in college.

  2. As someone who paid their way through undergrad and is currently in grad school, a few additional words of advice:

    1. Have your kid work through school. I know, I know. They should be focusing on school, and it will take away from ‘the experience’. But the fact is that most of my friends who worked through undergrad got better paying jobs and subsequent pay raises as a result. We also knew the value of a dollar upon graduation. That is priceless!

    2. Apply for student housing. It isn’t always ‘fun’ applying for and living in student housing, but this choice alone is saving me well over $30 THOUSAND dollars over the next two years.

    3. Apply for need based scholarships even if you think you don’t qualify. NEED is relative. Depending on the school, your upper-middle class salary may be quote ‘need enough’ to get you some scholarships.

  3. I think it is important to keep in mind that for most degrees, the school you actually graduate doesn’t have much effect on your job in the end. Companies are looking for qualified, well-rounded people with real world experience. In my professional career of have not heard a single person comment about which school they attended.

  4. Great tips Don! One of the best advice I’ve heard from a friend is to make the kids work through school/college. I used to think otherwise but when she gave me the reasons why, I began to see the advantages. Of course, it gave parents some breathing room for their finances, they do not need to shell out all the money needed for their kid’s education, but what the kids get in the process are more important for they learn the value of hard work, money, and savings, learn how to deal with people at an early age,and it gives them an edge over other graduates since they already have something more than just their educational background on their resume when they apply for work.

  5. Graduation rates are important. I remember my first week at college during out of our orientation events one of the speakers said something to the effect of, “look around you in 4 years half of you won’t be here to walk across this stage”. I remember thinking, “maybe they won’t be here, but I’ll be here”.

  6. Scholarships are so awesome! I paid for my school through scholarships, I had almost $100,000 in scholarships once I added it all up. Pretty crazy…

    In order to get good scholarships, get good grades, be involved in extra curricular activities, write great essays, and apply! Rinse and repeat.

  7. Cook yourself!. Making your own meals are not only more nutrious but will savings you hundreds of dollars, if not thousands over the duration of your time in college.

  8. I was lucky enough to get the 21st century scholarship which pays for the tuition of any public Indiana school. I’m still going to apply for as many scholarships as I can. I want to see how close to going to college for free I can get! And what about off campus housing, and cooking your own meals? That can save a few thousand bucks over a few years.

  9. Another idea that will cut costs on the whole is to have a better idea, through planning and counseling what program of study or type of degree to get into.

    I know there is a lot to be said for the experience, discovering yourself, etc. but I really can’t price it at 100k+ in loans like so many of my colleagues do.

    Parents, family, friends and counselors are hardly being honest with prospective higher education students about choosing the right college and the right program for what one truly wants and needs. Encouraging them to just do what they like has proven to be an expensive piece of encouragement.