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11 Ways to Make College More Affordable

By Kayla McCormack · December 21, 2021 · 7 minute read

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11 Ways to Make College More Affordable

College can be expensive. According to The College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees at a four-year private nonprofit institution for the 2021-2022 school year was $38,070. While that fee may inspire sticker shock, there are options for students looking to make their college journeys a bit more affordable.

Students who are still in high school may consider taking AP classes. Should they meet their school’s requirements for AP testing, they may be able to opt out of some intro level course when they get to school.

Other options to spend less on college may include starting out at a community college, living at home to save on room and board, or applying to a variety of scholarships. Read on for more ideas on ways to cut expenses and make college more affordable.

Ways to Make College More Economical

1. Take Advantage of AP Credits

Taking Advanced Placement credits in high school could cut down on the overall cost of college. Here’s how — if you take an AP course and get a 3 or higher on the AP exam, colleges may count that class towards the overall credit you need to graduate.

Some colleges may require students to score a 4 or a 5 on the exam in order to get credit. You can take a look at the requirements at different schools and for different courses on the College Board website .

The average cost of one credit hour at a public four year college is $879. The more credits you enter college with, the fewer total credits you typically have to pay for, and the quicker you can jump into more advanced courses. Early graduation is one way to make college more affordable.

Of course, not all schools accept all AP credits. Some ultra-competitive schools may not let you use AP courses to reduce the total number of credits you’ll need to graduate or to skip introductory level courses.

2. Start Out at a Community College

Where you choose to go to college can have a big influence on the overall cost. Some students may consider starting their college journey at a community college and then transferring to a four-year college or university to finish their degree.

One of the financial benefits of community college is that courses can be significantly less expensive than at a four year college. According to The College Board, the average cost for tuition and fees for a student attending a two-year college was $3,800 during the 2021-2022 school year. For someone attending a public in-state institution, tuition and fees averaged $10,740.

3. Attend an In-State University or College

If community college isn’t the right fit for you, you may consider attending an in-state college or university. Typically, in-state tuition is more affordable than out-of-state tuition or tuition at a private college.

As mentioned, according to The College Board , the cost of tuition and fees for in-state tuition at a four year public institution averaged $10,740 over the 2021-2022 school year. For out-of-state students, that rose to $27,560. For private four year universities, the average cost of tuition and fees was $38,070.

4. Look into Regional Tuition Exchange Programs

Students who are attending a school in a nearby state can look into tuition reciprocity programs to see if their school offers anything. Reciprocal tuition is when states offer students from a partner state in-state tuition. For example, Minnesota and Wisconsin have a tuition reciprocity agreement. This is one avenue that allows out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition.

5. Commute to School and Live at Home

Room and Board is another major expense for students living away from home. If you are attending a school near your home, you could consider living with your family a bit longer. Living at home can help students save money

6. Live Off Campus

Living on-campus can have benefits like proximity to classes, friends, and extracurriculars. But, on-campus living can be pricey. Depending on where your school is located and what the rental housing market is like, living off-campus may be less expensive than paying for on-campus housing.

Some schools might require first-year students, or even in some cases upper-classmen, to live on-campus. Others may not have these restrictions. Often, schools will publish information on what percentage of the study body lives on-campus vs. off-campus, which can help inform what popular living situations at that school are.

7. Apply for Financial Aid Early

Federal financial aid includes scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans. Some aid is awarded on a first-come-first-served basis, so applying early could potentially help you qualify for more aid than if you had applied closer to the deadline. To apply for federal financial aid, students are required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) annually. Schools may also use the information provided on the FAFSA to determine scholarship awards.

8. Choose The Right Student Loan

There can be a lot to consider when picking a student loan. There are two broad categories of student loans, private and federal. Federal loans are awarded to students based on information in their FAFSA. Private student loans are borrowed from individual lenders, such as banks, credit unions, or other financial institutions.
When evaluating your financial aid package, make note of the type of federal student loans you are awarded. For undergraduates, there are two main federal loans: unsubsidized and subsidized loans.

On Direct Subsidized Loans, the federal government covers the interest that accrues while you are enrolled in school at least half-time and during the loan’s grace period. These are awarded based on financial need. While it can seem minor, having to pay interest on the loan can significantly cut down on the amount of money you owe over the life of the loan.

For a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, the borrower is responsible for paying all accrued interest. Financial need is not a factor in qualifying for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

If you are exploring private student loans as an option to pay for college, know that they don’t always offer the same options or borrower protections as federal student loans. Individual lenders can set their own rates and repayment terms, so be sure to read the fine print before borrowing. In general, private student loans are considered an option only after all other sources of funding, including federal student loans, have been evaluated.

While considering private student loans, evaluate a few different lenders to find the best rate and terms for your personal situation. When making lending decisions, lenders will generally evaluate a borrower’s credit score and history, among other factors.

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9. Target Specific Scholarships

A scholarship is money awarded to students to help pay for school expenses, and it generally doesn’t need to be repaid. Because of this, applying for scholarships can go a long way in reducing the amount of money a student has to spend on college.

Scholarships can be awarded by the school, or by corporations, nonprofits or community organizations. Some scholarships are merit-based, while others may have non-academic criteria like a specific talent, heritage, gender, interest or field of study, or location.

There are websites, like FastWeb and Scholarships.com that aggregate information on scholarships and can make it easy to browse thousands of scholarships at a time and narrow them down to your specific interests. The application requirements may vary depending on the scholarship so be sure to read the application and expectations completely.

10. Spend Less on Textbooks

During the 2021-2022 school year, students at four-year colleges spent an average of $1,240 on books and supplies for classes, according to The College Board. Textbooks alone can cost hundreds of dollars each. While you may only use them for a few months, if they’re required by your professors it may be integral to passing your courses. To save on textbooks, students have a few options.

Maybe the most obvious option is to buy a used version of the textbook. This can help students cut costs and used books are often readily available at school bookstores or can be found online.

Some students may rent books. This is generally cheaper than buying a textbook, and when the class is done you can send the book back to the bookseller.

Yet another choice for students looking to save on textbooks is to go digital. Some textbook distributors offer digital versions of their books for a fraction of the price.

11. Opt Out of the Dining Plan

If you’re living off campus and have a kitchen available to you, consider opting out of the meal plan offered by your school. These plans are often more expensive than buying and cooking your own food. Plus, if you are making your own meals, you have full control of what you eat.

Students who appreciate the convenience of the meal plan while living off-campus might opt for a less expensive plan. Schools generally offer different options for meal plans, such as unlimited, or tiered based on meals per week.

The Takeaway

There are options to save money when it comes to paying for college. Before you even get to college you might consider taking AP classes, which could potentially allow you to skip some intro level courses when you get to college. Another key factor in college affordability is the school you choose to attend. Some students may choose to go to an in-state school with a more affordable tuition. Other students may find that thanks to a generous financial aid package one of their other choices may be more affordable than they originally imagined.

The type of student loans you borrow can also impact the overall cost of your education. Federal loans offer benefits and borrower protections like flexible income-driven repayment plans. Students who have exhausted all other options for financing their education might consider a private student loan. As mentioned, private student loans lack the borrower protections that federal student loans have, and as a result, are generally considered as a last resort.

If you are looking into private student loans, consider SoFi. Private student loans with SoFi have zero fees and potential borrowers can find out if they qualify, and at what rates, in just a few minutes.

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