How To Cut College Costs

A college education can cost as much as a small mortgage. But, there are several ways to cut the sticker price of a college education. These tips can help you find a less expensive college.

[See also How To Pay Less For College for additional tips.]

Follow a half-dozen or so tips on how to find a lower-cost college.


Tips for Getting College Credit before College

Take Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests in high school to earn college credits.

Dual Enrollment programs can let high school students take college classes at a nearby college and have the classes count for both high school completion and college.

Unfortunately, some of these programs will count just for general college credit and not satisfy prerequisite requirements.

Tips for Finding a Less Expensive College

Use a net price calculator to get a personalized estimate of the net price of the college. The net price is the amount you’ll have to pay for one year of college after subtracting grants, scholarships, tuition waivers and other gift aid. The net price may increase after the first year, especially if the college practices front-loading of grants.

An in-state public college is often your least expensive option. An in-state public college can cost as little as a quarter of the cost of a private college. Look for tuition exchange programs which let you qualify for in-state or reduction tuition at colleges in nearby states.

A community college can cost even less. Community colleges are great options if you are seeking a Certificate or an Associate’s degree. However, if your goal is to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, taking a detour through a community college may cause you to miss your destination. Only about a fifth of students who start off at a community college, intending to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, succeed in doing so within six years. That compares with two-thirds of students who start off at a 4-year public or private non-profit college.

Apply to a second or third tier institution that offers academic scholarships if you’ve got good grades and test scores. About 300 colleges offer a discount of at least half tuition for students with top academic performance.

Colleges with generous “no loans” financial aid policies may be less expensive on a net price basis. These colleges replace loans with grants in the financial aid package. However, no-loans colleges tend to be among the most selective colleges, making it harder to get into these colleges.

Enroll full-time in college. You may think you’re taking a full-time course load when you’re not. Although 12 credits a semester is considered full-time for financial aid purposes, you will need to take at least 15 credits a semester to graduate on time.