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.