The cost of a four-year degree can easily surpass the value of a modest home these days, so it’s not surprising that many students (and parents) experience sticker shock when reviewing college tuition rates. Unfortunately, as states cut back their funding of higher education, more colleges are forced to pass the cost on to the students. The average tuition at a public four-year college increased 15 percent over the last few years, but some states, like Georgia, have seen increases in tuition as much as 40 percent. It’s no wonder why some students may be questioning whether a college education is still worth the investment of time and money. Although you can’t typically haggle for a better price (like buying a new car), students do have other options for lowering their tuition bills. Here are five simple steps most students can implement to help reduce the cost of their college education.
1. Submit the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) may be one of the most overlooked resources for reducing a student’s college costs. Many students and parents simply count themselves out by believing their family income is too high to qualify or that it’s too complicated to complete. With the help of the IRS Retrieval Tool and online forms, students (or parents) can now complete the form in about an hour or less. Even if a student believes his/her family earns too much money, submitting the form may open doors to other available financial aid, such as merit-based scholarships or other institutional awards. Every student who plans to enroll in college should consider investing the time in submitting the FAFSA to ensure he/she takes full advantage of any available federal or institutional financial aid.
2. Search for Scholarships
Along with the FAFSA, students should be actively searching for and applying to scholarships for college. Students can register for one of the many free, online resources as early as 13 years old, and should check in frequently with their guidance counselor for information on available local programs. Since scholarships come in all shapes and sizes, there’s usually something for everyone, including awards for merit (grades), financial need, athletics, music, volunteerism, writing, and more! Students should set aside time each month to focus on five to ten scholarship programs, taking time to review guidelines and edit their work. Even if a student wins a small award, that’s still less money coming out of his/her pocket for college.
3. Enroll in an Accelerated Degree Program
Students can save big bucks by shortening the time it takes to complete their degree. Luckily, several colleges are now offering accelerated degrees that allow a student to earn a master’s in as little as four years. For those seeking a medical or legal career, there are also programs that can be completed in less than seven years. Not only can students reduce their overall college costs, but they also have the ability to start earning money in their intended careers earlier than their classmates.
4. Start at Community College
For those who find the price tag at a four-year college to be a bit much, starting at a community college might be a good choice. Community colleges typically charge less per credit hour and usually do not include many of the other fees included at a larger university. Although students may not be thrilled with living at home for an additional year or two, the money saved in housing fees can really add up. Additionally, many community colleges now have transfer agreements with area colleges. Students can work toward their associate’s knowing they will be guaranteed admission and may have the opportunity to earn additional scholarships through the transfer program.
5. Attend a Tuition-Free College
While other colleges continue to raise tuition and other fees, there are some colleges that are offering students the opportunity to earn a tuition-free degree. Although most of the schools are small and require some work in return for the free education, students who have few financial resources may want to consider this option. Students may still have to pay for housing and other fees, but four years of free tuition can really help students save a bundle.
Students should not be discouraged by the sticker prices at most colleges. Many offer attractive financial aid packages which may reduce the overall costs significantly. Before ruling out any college, it’s a good idea for students to use either the school’s net price calculator or another free online tool to help estimate their bottom line. With a little research and planning, students can make an educated decision about college and hopefully keep their student loan debt to a minimum, as well.
Please Note: The WiseChoice website will be discontinued later this month. Before the site becomes unavailable, we
encourage you to download & save any stored documents you may want to keep from your account. Email us if you have questions.