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.
If you’re the ambitious type, then you might have more than one academic interest, meaning you may want to major in more than one subject. Most schools allow you to do so, but urge you to really know what you’re doing if you want to double down on the intensity of your studies. If you’re thinking a double major might be in your academic cards, then here are some pros and cons to help you decide:
- You get more than one advisor. Whether you want to major in a combination of English, history, theatre, art, mathematics, physics, music, computer science, or whatever, you’re going to need an academic advisor for each subject. While setting up meetings to meet with your advisors might get hectic around the time you have to choose classes, it might be worth it to have two mentors who know you and your academic strengths well. In other words: double the major, double the faculty attention and help.
- You’ll have a packed schedule. Sometimes it’s hard enough to squeeze in all the electives you want even when you have just one major, so if you have two you’ll definitely have to make some decisions regarding which subject you’ll never get the chance to explore. That might not be a bad thing, though, as you’ll always know what your academic plan is, and your academic direction will never be up in the air.
- It’s a resume builder. If you have a double major, and when you put that on your resume, prospective employers will be able to tell that you’re hardworking, determined, resourceful, and all kinds of other positive adjectives, making you an attractive fit in the workplace. But, that being said, if you know what your career path is going to be (say, an accountant), then it won’t help to just double major in anything. Instead, play to your strengths with the future in mind, and become as qualified as you can for what you want to do.
- You’ll make more friends. Classes you take in your major will require more intense work, and you’ll be in smaller classes and seminars as you go along. So what does that mean, really? More people to commiserate with about how much you wish academics would make like a bad check and bounce, meaning more friends, and more friends is never a bad thing. The problem with a double major, on the other hand, is that you may not have time to hang out with all the friends you’ll make.
- You’ll have more to talk about. The more you major in, the more knowledge you have, making you a master of random trivia and interesting conversation. Can’t beat that.
Now that you’ve received all of your acceptance letters, you might be freaking out. After all, deciding which college to attend is a big deal, as it’s a four-year investment that leads you down a particular road in life. So while a college degree is a college degree no matter which way you slice it, every campus is a different experience. Here’s some advice to help you choose:
- Read, read, and read some more. Instead of making your decision on your own, stand on the shoulders of others (meaning: alumni or current students) and take in all the advice you can. Search the Internet and read a few blogs about peoples’ experiences at each school, look at important statistics such as retention rates, and read up on the location of your school, too.
- Talk. Take advantage of the resources around you. For example, your high school guidance counselor would be happy to help you if you’re stuck in a rut about what choice to make. Chances are your counselor will know a lot about each school, having watched other students attend them.
- Check your pockets. Like I said, college is a four-year investment—literally. College is an expensive decision, and if you go too far into debt then you’ll regret the decision no matter what. In short: be realistic. If you don’t think you can afford a particular college, then you most likely can’t; don’t delude yourself into thinking you can, and attend the school that’s within financial reach.
- Make a list. Instead of trying to keep track of everything in your head, make a concrete list of the pros and cons of each school. Make it a long list, and take everything you can think of into consideration. Then, it’s simple: the school with the most pros is your best bet.
- Take a close look at the curriculum. While it might be hard to map out your entire academic career, try reflecting on what you might like to do when you leave school. Then, once you have an idea of what you want to do, you can choose a college based on exactly what it has to offer—as some schools are well-known only for certain fields of study.
If you apply for a job or internship, chances are you’ll be contacted for a phone interview. Don’t be fooled, as this is an important step in obtaining a job. A solid phone interview often leads to an in-person interview, which can lead to a big opportunity. Here’s how to ace it:
1. Use a cheat sheet. When interviewing on the phone instead of in person, you have a major advantage: you can make a cheat sheet. Seize the opportunity to map out all of your talking points beforehand and lay them out in front of you to take the stress out of completely memorizing what you want to say. But have some flexibility. Just because you prepared for a certain question doesn’t mean your interviewer will ask it, so be ready for anything.
2. Find a quiet setting. Even though speaking with someone over the phone might seem casual, it’s not. Treat your phone interview like an in-person interview by avoiding distractions and finding a quiet place where there’s no background noise. Furthermore, sit in the place where you do work—it’s a small mental reminder that you’re on a work call, not a chat.
3. Use a good phone connection. If you can, use a landline to ensure clear sound and a trusty connection. If on your cell, make sure it’s completely charged, and check the quality of your service. If you can’t access a landline and if you’re uncomfortable using your personal phone then you can try using Skype, which has a reliable voice option if your internet is stable. There’s nothing worse, after all, than getting cut off mid-conversation.
4. Remember who you’re talking to. On the phone, it’s sometimes easy to forget who you’re not chatting with a friend. So keep an even pace, don’t interrupt, and stay professional. Every interview is different, but it’s wise to avoid telling jokes or using slang.
5. Practice. In the age of texting, Facebook chat, and e-mail, the art of speaking on the phone is getting tougher to master. But to do so, ask a friend or parent to pick up their phone and pretend they’re a potential employer. It might seem silly, but the lessons learned are invaluable. You’ll learn how to talk efficiently, how to think quickly, and how to handle pauses in conversation.
Say you’re required to take a science course, or a math course, or an English course, and none of these are your strong suits. Instead of freaking out about getting a lower grade on a paper than you’re happy with, or instead of banging your head against a wall while trying to figure out why you just couldn’t ace that exam despite your hours of studying, try showing your professor that you care about the class through participation. After all, most professors include participation as a substantial part of your grade for the semester. So, with that in mind, here are some helpful hints:
- Talk yourself into it. If there’s any participation grade at all, then why aren’t you doing your best to make sure you knock it out of the park? Participate in every class, whether you’re completely sure of an answer or not. After all, it’s called a “participation” grade, not a “you-have-to-get-this-question-correct-or-else” grade. Your professor won’t reprimand you for showing that you’re paying attention in class and attempting to get a grasp on the material. What they can do, though, is punish your GPA if you sit through their class in complete silence. So speak up.
- Practice makes perfect. If you’re so afraid of public speaking that even speaking from your chair in front of all your classmates is kind of crippling, then take some baby steps. Participate in a small seminar instead of a lecture at first, then work your way up. Or, start participating in classes where you’re most comfortable with the material, then move to the more challenging ones. That way, you’ll get a feel for what it’s like to share your opinion or an answer with others, out loud. Like any skill, participation is a muscle, so work it out.
- Ask a question. If you really can’t answer a question in class, or if you are already sharing your opinion on a topic, then don’t hesitate to raise your hand in order to ask a question. Often, a good question (and any question is a good question, right?) will push class discussion, and teachers love that. Plus you’ll probably be asking a question one of your classmates had, anyways, so you’ll be helping them out too. At any rate, you’re professor will see that you care enough to think and to ask, which can only give your grade a little boost.