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Five Ways to Cut the Cost of College

December 23, 2010 By: Category: Aid for College, Financial Student Aid, Finding a scholarship, Maximize your savings

Why pay full price for college? Here are five strategies that can cut costs by 25 percent or more and take the pain out of finding aid for college. 

Cost-Cutter #1: Get credit for life experience. The College-Level Examination Program® from The College Board lets you earn college credit for what you already know. Tests are given in 33 subjects, including English literature and writing, foreign languages, history, science, math and business.  Once you pass a CLEP test, your college should grant you the same number of credits that you would earn after taking a class. Note: Be sure to ask your college if CLEP results are accepted for credit. Ask early to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Cost-Cutter #2: Complete two years at a community college, then transfer. Community colleges are big bargains. Typical costs per credit hour range from about $100 (if you live in the county where the college is located) to $250 (if you live in the state). Most of them make it easy to transfer to bigger state schools. Another plus? All you need to get into most community colleges is a high school diploma – no SATs, no letters of recommendation, no red tape. So if you weren’t a stand-out in high school, they could be a great way to kick off your college career.

Cost-Cutter #3: Complete your core curriculum with inexpensive courses online. StraighterLine, a company that is making the news daily, offers more than 25 online courses at extremely low cost – only $39 per course if you join and pay $99 a month for unlimited access (In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an employee of this company, but I really do think it’s a great deal). All credits can be transferred to hundreds of American colleges through the American Council on Education Credit (ACE).  StraighterLine’s Freshman Year College Plan boasts that students can complete a freshman year of college for $999. If you do the math, you’ll see that’s true. It could be the most cost-effective way ever to get aid for college.

Cost-Cutter #4: Go to a three-year college. You’ll have to dig to find them, but they’re out there. Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, is one of them. Other three-year-optional schools include Chatham University in Pittsburgh and some state schools. Another option is to attend a school that combines high school with college, so you complete high school and college in six years. Bard College runs three of these programs: Bard High School Early College Manhattan, Bard High School Early College Queens (both in New York City) and Bard Early College at Simon’s Rock (located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts). Cutting down college to two years? There’s a cost-cutter for you.

Cost-Cutter #5:  Work the system after you get in. Once you are admitted to a college, you have more leverage to negotiate with the registrar’s office to get college credit or aid for college for the second language you spoke at home, for the accounting skills you learned on the job before you started college, and more. There are other “insider strategies” that can work too, such as starting French 101, then telling the instructor that the class is too easy, and asking to “place out” and move up to the next course. You can also simply take more courses every semester, and knock a semester or a year off your college program. But remember, these strategies are riskier, since you can’t try them until you’re already admitted. Also: Placing out of courses might not actually cut time from your program of study, since you’ll still need to earn a certain number of credit hours to graduate.

Save $$$, save time . . .There’s no need to pay $200,000, $250,000 or more for your college degree. These five strategies offer you significant aid for college, especially if you can apply two or three of them at the same time. So get started, save money – and learn.