College is expensive. I can appreciate this fact – I spent nearly 12 years my own undergraduate education, master’s degree, and PhD, and now have two daughters nearing college age. Saving any dollar amount on your child’s college education can mean a lot to your budget, and as more and more colleges announce uncomfortable tuition hikes, parents are left wondering about even the smallest ways they can trim costs.
Now is the time to think creatively. To reduce college costs, we at StudentAdvisor.com have put together 8 things to consider:
1. Research various college scholarship opportunities that are awarded to students with particular talents, interests and familial or physical characteristics – from music to public speaking, vegetarians to organ donors, thousands of scholarships are available for even the most unusual of applicants.
2. If academically possible – and emotionally feasible – speak with your student about taking the maximum number of credits allowed each semester. By doing this, your child could conceivably reduce the time it takes to graduate. By graduating in three years instead of four, you eliminate an entire year’s worth of educational expenses, including tuition, housing – even laundry. To take this idea further, your child may consider going to school year-round. Some schools now offer such a schedule. Though this won’t save you much up front on the cost of the education, it saves a lot on the opportunity cost of not working, and under a year-round calendar, motivated students may complete their bachelor’s degrees in three years.
3. Talk to your child about attending a community college for one or two years and then transferring to a four-year school. Tuition costs are substantially lower at community colleges and could be a great way to complete core classes. Important tip: in considering this strategy, do the research with your child to determine that the credits are mutually recognized by both colleges and that there is sufficient course schedule availability to meet your requirements. Otherwise, he or she may wind up having to retake classes after transferring or taking much longer than two years to complete your initial studies.
4. The National Merit Scholarship Program awards scholarships to students based upon academic merit, which is founded on the results of standardized testing. The awards can be applied to any college or university to meet educational expenses at that school. Check with each school your child is interested in for the criteria for merit scholarships, and get them on the path to eligibility as early as possible. Many other scholarship opportunities are available. Check with the web site of the schools you are interested in.
5. Look into off-campus apartments if your child is an upperclassman. Rental options are typically cheaper than on-campus housing expenses, particularly when a few or more students can live together to split costs. Be sure to do the math before committing to this strategy. Take into consideration rent, utility costs, security deposits, commuting to campus, and living expenses such as internet, cable and furniture.
6. Buy or rent used textbooks or get e-books online. Shop around to find the best deal, both online and offline. Your college’s bookstore should be one of the last places you look for a textbook. With websites such as Amazon and bigwords.com – among many, many others – offering significant discounts, you can easily see a savings of hundreds of dollars each semester.
7. Don’t miss deadlines when filing your FAFSA. The FAFSA doesn’t just give you an estimate of how much federal assistance you are eligible for, but also how much state government and school-specific funding you could use as well. Be savvy about all deadlines, and file your FAFSA as soon after January 1st as possible. Be aware of other common mistakes such as spelling errors, entering inaccurate financial information, leaving fields blank, and forgetting to sign and date the application.
8. Negotiate with the financial aid office. Yes, this is possible, particularly if your financial situation has changed or the financial aid you were granted isn’t sufficient. If you have recently been laid off or have suddenly come into expensive medical bills, you have a better chance of being heard by your school’s financial aid office. Be polite and calm, explain your situation clearly, and prove your case is worthy of reconsideration by bringing as much documentation as possible.
9. Consider online education. If your child is working full-time to offset the cost of college or is planning to transition to full-time work, consider an online college, which offer the flexibility of taking classes at your own pace while working full time.
For more ways to save on your child’s higher education, check out StudentAdvisor.com‘s Parent’s Survival Guide. What are your strategies for reducing college costs?