Saving Thousands in College Costs

by Tim on February 13, 2012

Last year, the average tuition costs for a private college increased by 4.3% according to College Board. Think that’s bad? The average public university saw increases in tuition equal to 8.3% in 2011. It doesn’t take a math major to see that the cost of attending college is getting quite expensive these days. At that rate, we can expect to see public tuition double in about 9 years!

So what’s been causing tuition and fees to increase in price so dramatically? Some blame it on less state and federal funding, while others point out that schools are spending more and more on technology to become more competitive, which increases the costs. Unfortunately we can’t control the reason why college costs are skyrocketing – but we can control some aspects of college costs.

If you or your child is considering attending college, don’t be completely discouraged by the hike in tuition. There are some alternatives and suggestions that will help you to lower your overall college costs. After all, who wants to be a part of the growing number of students trying to pay off student loans (at an average of $23,186 per graduate! – finaid.org).

Consider a Two-Year College First

The average cost of a two-year college is about $2,963 per year according to College Board. Compare that to a state school at $8,244 and a private university at a whopping $28,500 per year.

The numbers don’t lie folks. Going to a two-year community college can save you 60-90% for your first two years of college. For parents who are behind on saving for their children’s college, this could be the extra help you needed to get them through with as little debt as possible.

Just be sure you contact the 4-year school that you plan on attending afterwards. You’ll want to make sure they accept your credits – otherwise you’ll be wasting your time and money.

Complete College Credits in High School

Most high schools will allow students to take AP courses (advanced placement), which provide an opportunity to test out of a full three-credit college course. Based on the figures above, a three credit course at a public university will cost about $700-$1000. The fee for an AP exam is $87. Do I really have to do the math for that? Get creative and tell your child that if they pass the AP exam, you’ll split the cost of a college course with them. Whatever you do, take advantage of those opportunities while you can.

CLEP Courses When Possible

Even if you didn’t get the chance to take an AP course, you can still test out of classes once you start college by taking a CLEP test. CLEP stands for College Level Examination Program and gives you the opportunity to test out of classes ranging from English literature to biology. The cost of a CLEP test is around $85 and can save you thousands of dollars. There generally aren’t limits as to how many CLEP tests you can take, which means that you can trim off full semesters of college with these test (I’m living proof!)

Use Work Study and Campus Employment

Most schools will have work-study and campus employment opportunities available for students. You’ll need to apply for financial aid with the FAFSA to qualify for work-study, so make sure you get started on it right away. The FAFSA deadline varies for each state, but usually comes earlier than you think.

If you don’t qualify for work-study, you may still be in the running for campus employment, which is usually open to any student who applies. For graduate students, make sure you inquire about assistantships and fellowships that could lead to other scholarship opportunities.

Did you attend college? How did you pay for the tuition? What tips would you give readers?

Tim is a personal finance writer at Faith and Finance a Christian financial help blog that provides financial insights for individuals, businesses, and churches. Outside of finance, Tim enjoys spending time with his wife, playing the saxophone, reading economics books, and a good game of RISK or Catan. Find him on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to the Faith and Finance RSS feed.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

DIY Investor February 13, 2012 at 6:44 am

Great post! I wonder why more people don’t go the community college route. I would suggest that the community college student first sit down with the college counselor. These people know what transfers and not. I would also pay attention to the job prospects of the major. Too many people graduate with huge loans and a major is an area where there are no jobs or the starting salary is less than you can make running a cash register at the local pizza joint.

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TekGems February 13, 2012 at 10:20 am

First lesson in college is that your counselor may be a community college counselor for a reason. Always verify what you are told with someone else you trust. It is very common to receive bad advice. My wife was delayed graduation by a semester because of a college counselor. The counselor mistake cost us thousands of dollars.

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TekGems February 13, 2012 at 10:25 am

My advice is to 1) stay in-state, 2) live on campus (if you can), and 3) work on campus. Stay in-state for lower tuition. Live on campus because the people you meet will become your life-time friends. These are the people you want to stay in touch with and build a social and professional network with. Work on campus so you don’t have to waste time commuting. You will be busy enough studying and trying to make it out quickly.

Community college, while in theory, is a good idea… it entirely depends on whether the school is impacted or not. In Los Angeles county, you can’t go to a community college because there are not enough teachers nor classrooms to meet the demand. You have to at least go to a Cal State to have a chance of getting your classes. Even then, depending on your major, the classes may be severely impacted (e.g. nursing). UC would be the next level up, but will cost you a fortune.

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Sharon February 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I agree with the “stay in-state”. We have 3 kids in college (1 in grad school) and a senior in high school. All 3 of our kids stayed home and commuted. They also worked extremely hard, got good grades, studied for the SAT and got a LOT of merit money. Our oldest is now on a full-ride fellowship at grad school.

Apply early!!! Big emphasis. Make sure you have all applications done by November 1st. Get them in as early as possible and don’t go for the regular admission dates! The scholarship money is on the front end. Seriously. I’ve been through this 4 times in recent years. Did I mention, apply early?”

Community college. Be uber careful. Our son did end up graduating after 3 semesters (he did CLEPS and APs, too) and then transferred on to a local university. Here is what he encountered. Because many of his credits were not actual “sit in the class” but were CLEPs, he missed merit money by 1 credit hour. This was a $5K mistake for us. If he had waited one more semester to transfer, he would have been fine. Check and double check with the university before doing anything with the community college. An exception is if you have a dual-enrolled capability as we do here. That means your high schooler attends some classes at the comm college before they graduate HS. They get both college and HS credit and often pay a discount – high schoolers in our county get 1/2 price tuition.

Our other son’s first choice school would give him plenty of merit money if he were an incoming freshman but offered zero money for transfers. By going to the comm college, it would have been more expensive. You need to check.

PSAT – make your child study for the PSAT. This is the test from which National Merit Scholars are chosen. The summer before they are a junior in high school should be spent studying – treat it like a part time job . I’m talking 20-30 hours / week. If they complain then explain to them that a typical merit scholarship will grant them $10-$20 over the course of 4 years. Where can they find a part time job doing that? Of course, I’m assuming that they are at least honor roll students to begin with here. The PSAT only counts toward the competition during the fall of the junior year, but your child can take the test for practice in the 9th and 10th grade years, too. And any studying they do for the PSAT helps them with the SAT. These tests are more important than people realize.

We have found that God supplies all our needs in a big way. Our only child to miss out on scholarship money was also the only child to find an ongoing part-time job. He earns great money and is able to pay his portion of the college expenses. What a great God we have.

Final word – apply for about 4 schools and don’t get stuck into the “dream” school mode. Remember the local university nearby is the “dream” school for many students from other states!!

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Beau February 15, 2012 at 9:37 am

Some fantastic advice on combating the rising cost of college. I think leveraging CLEP and completing college credits in high school are the two best options.

Community colleges are definitely cheaper but, what I like best about community colleges are the smaller class sizes. At the community college level there are normally between 40 and 60 students in a class. But, at the state college level I have heard horror stories of 600 + students in a single Freshman level class.

The one thing I would add to the list is a college prepaid plan. With the cost of a four year degree expected to sky rocket over the next 15 or so years, I think these types of funds are going to play a vital role saving for college as well as keeping the overall cost down.

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Hannah February 15, 2012 at 2:42 pm

You hit the nail on the head with the high school. Many students don’t know about this program and won’t take advantage of it. My son is ready to go to college and he wants to go to a 4-year public university. I had to tell him that he can get the same education with a community college and transferring over.

With the community college transfer process, be sure to check all of the universities that you’re interested in. There’s one particular community college in my area that allows you to go to community college for the first 90 credit hours and afterwards, you can finish the 30 credits there. The total cost for tuition would run a little less than $14,000 for four years!

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