College is expensive. We can’t change that. Still, there are ways to bring the cost down. Here are three real ways to lower your cost of college.
Make better borrowing choices
Don’t assume you don’t have control over your borrowing choices. Here are some ways to minimize college borrowing costs:
- Borrow less. In particular, you can accomplish this through working more. Talk to your financial aid office about work study. Even an extra $500 per school year in earnings instead of borrowing could save you $4,000 or more over the life of the loan.
- Borrow in the right order. Undergrads should borrow through the Perkins loan program (if available), then the direct federal loan program, and then private student loans. In that order. Max out each loan type before borrowing through the next. Grad students should borrow through the Perkins loan program first (if available; ask your school) and then investigate whether the next amount of borrowing should be through the Direct Graduate Student Loan (sometimes called “GradPLUS”) or through a private student loan. Rates on private student loans can be cheaper, although eligibility and repayment provisions tend to be more flexible on GradPLUS.
- Shop around. If you need to borrow through private student loan programs – either because you’ve maxed out availability of federal loans or because a private loan is a better alternative – make sure you shop around. There are many loan options on the market. Private student loans come in different structures (fixed rate, variable rate), have different repayment lengths and in-school deferment options. And of course, every lender offers different rates. Some lenders offer “borrower benefits,” essentially discounts for a variety of reasons. You need to compare your options carefully before committing.
Study abroad somewhere cheap
Studying abroad is a great, valuable experience. Often times, though, study abroad programs involve paying via your home institution – at full tuition rates, plus the cost of travel. If you’re willing to be intrepid – and able to negotiate full credit transfer with your own institution – you may be able to find an international university that will enroll you directly. The cost of doing so can be dramatically lower than the tuition you’re currently paying. The challenges are finding a school that lets you enroll directly and whose course credit will be full accepted by your institution. Make sure you confirm that second challenge with your home school’s registrar well before heading overseas.
We’ve all heard about the “five year plan,” where college students take five years to complete their undergraduate degree. But what about the “three year plan” or the “three and half year plan”? It’s doable. Depending on what your college offers or allows, you might be able to add a course for several semesters and/or take a summer course or two to get ahead. 25% or 12.5% less is a substantial discount off the full cost of attendance – and when you consider inflation, eliminating the final one or two semesters can skew the savings even higher.
It’s easy to be resigned to the idea that college is just expensive and there’s not much you can do about it. Truth is, you do have options to significantly reduce the cost.
Benjamin Franklin once said nothing is certain but death and taxes. We’d like to amend that list by adding a modern certainty: college costs will always go up. But that doesn’t mean getting an education results in going broke. Stay smart, spend less, and start budgeting. Here’s how:
- Calculate your costs. There’s nothing worse for your financial future than not knowing how much money you have or how much money you’re spending. Avoid catastrophe by budgeting for the entire semester. Don’t only include the obvious expenses like tuition and textbooks. Include living expenses like food, utilities, cell phone bills, and transportation. And perhaps more importantly, know where your money is coming from before you need it. That’ll help you avoid borrowing money last minute at high interest rates.
- Practice self-restraint. College is an expensive experience in large part due to the cost of staying entertained — going out to eat, drink, going to movies, concerts, buying video games, and a myriad of other distractions. Try having free fun instead. Start by checking out your college’s event schedule.
- Shop for function, not status. Why buy new when you can buy refurbished or used? This is especially true for things like clothes, appliances, and furniture, and can even save you bundles on electronics.
- Make lists and stick to them. Whether you’re going to the grocery store or the shopping mall, write down what you need ahead of time so you don’t end up buying everything you want. There’s a big difference between the two.
- Borrow less. If you’re funding your education with student loans, remember the following mantra: every dollar you don’t spend is a dollar you don’t have to borrow. In light of that, only borrow for necessities like tuition and textbooks instead of borrowing money for extras like a new computer (when an old one will do) or a spring break vacation.
The cost of tuition is like an endless elevator that’s always going up. That’s why it pays to save on all your other college costs. Here’s how:
1. Compare student loans. Before you even step foot on campus, get the biggest bang for your buck by obtaining a loan that has affordable interest rates and favorable repayment options. But finding that perfect loan doesn’t have to be hard—just use our free and easy Student Loan Comparison Tool.
2. If you have a meal plan, use it. If you’re paying for a comprehensive meal plan, skip the off-campus restaurants. While delicious, neither fast food nor restaurant faire treats your wallet kindly.
3. Consider living off-campus. Fees pertaining to room and board are costly. If you want to save big, research off-campus housing or apartments opportunities nearby. Then ask around to find some roommates so you can split the rent and you’re on your way to saving hundreds.
4. Don’t drive a car. To avoid the temptation of spending cash on gas and parking tickets, leave your car at home. If you need to get around, use public transportation, school shuttles, or your feet.
5. Find a job on campus. Most college campuses have facilities such as post offices, snack bars, libraries, dining halls, art galleries, and department and administrative offices. Often, student employees compose a large part of the campus workforce. The best part? Getting work means getting paid.
6. Stick to your budget. There’s nothing wrong with going off-campus to enjoy a movie or a night out, but remember that moderation is key. Keep track of your spending money and self-enforce a monthly limit.
7. Use the library. The school library houses tons of free resources: books, movies, music, online databases, internet, study space, etc. Why buy a book, rent a movie, or pay for your own internet connection (or expensive cell phone data plan) when it’s available for free?
8. Brew your own coffee. Buying even one cup of coffee per day at Starbucks or even at a café on campus packs a financial punch that’s hard to recover from. You could easily be spending $100 a month without even knowing it. To save, invest in a coffee pot and brew your own.
9. Use student discounts. If you need to spend money on getting a haircut, or if you want to visit an off-campus resource (e.g. a museum), then show your student I.D. You might just score a discount.
10. Plan your week. Small expenses add up, so plan accordingly. For example, wait until you have a full load of dirty laundry before you feed the washing machine your quarters. Remember: every penny counts.
Paying for college is hard, which is why most students have to rely on student loans to cover their costs. But the more you save on the cost of college in the first place, the less you have to borrow. In light of that, here are four hidden ways to save on the cost of college.
- Capitalize on cheaper college credits. If your school charges a flat-rate fee per semester and you’ve got the ambition, take an extra class each semester and graduate early. Or take your general requirements at a cheaper community college or an online university—just make sure the credits will transfer before you enroll.
- Claim any tax credits available for tuition costs. Tuition and college expenses may be tax deductible, and you or your parents might qualify for other tax credits, including the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit.
- Understand your expenses and their alternatives. Do the research. Are you required to live on campus? Are you required to have a meal plan? Is an apartment nearby cheaper? Do you really need a car? Knowing these answers can save you bundles.
- Switch from credit to debit. Both cards are convenient, but with debit you don’t risk spending more than you have or missing payments, which could hurt your credit score. Also, you won’t have to worry about paying interest, which is just wasted money.
1. Choose used. Before you drop bundles of cash on books wrapped in shiny plastic, do a little bit of research. Often, you’ll be able to save big if you’re willing to shop used. And as long as you shop with a seller that assures quality, you don’t have to worry about missing pages.
2. Compare prices. While you might automatically jump onto Amazon, or just use your school’s store to buy your books, you should take an extra few minutes to shop around. There are many booksellers to choose from, so make sure you score the best price out there.
3. Network with friends. Though your school probably offers a lot of different classes, you’ll likely know someone who’s previously owned the book you currently need. Odds are your friends and classmates would sell you their books at a fair price, so ask around ahead of time to ensure a good deal.
4. Shop online. With brick and mortar stores going the way of the dinosaur, there’s a whole world of savings possibilities online, especially if you want to take advantage of used books or rentals. Compare your options at places like ValoreBooks, who have 15 million titles in stock at huge discounts. You can save up to 90% on books that might otherwise cost you hundreds.