Ideas for Reducing the Cost of College

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Encourage your student to think about their future financial self

Mid-August is the time of year that our kids pack the U-Haul and head to college. And while they’re excited about a brand-new semester, it can be frightening to see the cost – and rising college debt – that comes with the college experience. What can our college students do to ease the price tag?

Last school year, in-state tuition at a public university averaged $9,970 for residents and $34,740 at a private college, according to data from the College Board. Some private colleges come in at over $75,000 a year. (And yes, private college might not be worth that extra money.)

Before you freak out, check ideas for how your student can increase their income, boost their financial aid and cut expenses.

Reduce Student Loans

Borrowing $2,500 less in student loans each year equates to $10,000 over four years. If instead you take out an extra $10,000 in federal government-backed Stafford loans at, say, a fixed 6.8% interest, you pay $115 a month for the next 10 years. That $10,000 ends up costing you $13,812 – a big burden even with repayment plans.

Avoid taking out more student loans than you need, even if you’re eligible. Make sure you take out the subsidized loans before the unsubsidized loans. Avoid private student loans at all costs.

The class of 2018 graduated with the most student debt ever, an average of $38,390, according to the Wall Street Journal. If your child is in college now, you probably don’t want their graduating class to make similar headline in the future. What are the options?

Earn More

Yes, that means extra work between courses, research papers and case studies. The rewards, though, are well worth the effort.

Your child doesn’t need a full-time job along with a full course load. They can look into part-time jobs that offer flexible schedules so they rack up paid hours around classes. If working for someone else doesn’t appeal to them, they can create their own work with a side job.

Not only will your child earn cash to help with college expenses but they’ll also earn valuable experience to put them ahead of the pack when starting a career after graduation.

Reapply for Scholarships and Grants

If you were denied before, try again. A lot can change in a semester.

If your child brought up their grades, for instance, they might now qualify for tuition help that they applied for before but missed. Check with your department chair for scholarships for upperclassman in your child’s major.

Did your child lose their scholarship? They should focus on studies to boost grade point average again.

Live Frugally

You only live once. Should your child buy a car? Get an expensive nice apartment a few miles from campus? Take a vacation between semesters?

Teach your child to live within their means and use student loans exclusively for college expenses. Frugal living means seeking inexpensive alternatives instead of automatically springing for the most expensive option. Instead of trying to live alone in a two-bedroom apartment off-campus, for example, encourage roommates (or even live at home).

Use School Facilities and Discounts

Most colleges have great amenities that students often ignore. Many services they need may be a 10-minute walk from their living space – and they already pay for these services with tuition.

If there’s a gym on campus, why pay for a membership elsewhere? If their laptop stops working, contact the campus information technology department for a possible cheap repair. Not feeling so great? Head to the school health-care center.

Don’t forget that a college ID can score discounts to events both on and off campus: plays, museums, movies and even train passes.


Four courses (12 credit hours) per semester won’t get your student walking across that stage, diploma in hand, in four years. And the more semesters they stick around, the more everyone pays: even if tuition is fixed, per-semester fees often go up steadily.

Don’t forget about opportunity costs, either: the longer your child stays in school, the longer before they start their career and secure a salary, delaying future earnings potential.

Gently push your child to do what they need to do to graduate in four years – that includes having them stop changing majors – and if possible take summer classes and use advanced placement credits from high school to finish in three years.

It takes a lot for any college student to hold a side job or get through school as fast as possible.

But if your student does the hard work now, their future financial self will thank you for the lack of debt.


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