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College Affordability and Preparedness

Five Ways to Reduce College Costs

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student loan-debt-college-expensive

College is expensive. Here are five steps you can take to reduce your costs and graduate with less student loan debt.

College is expensive and finding the funds to cover the cost can be a challenge. With college tuition rising each year, it’s more important than ever to start saving early and identify ways to reduce college costs. Here are five ways you can do just that:

Advanced coursework opportunities

One way to save big on college costs is to earn postsecondary credits while in high school. Prior learning assessments can help you get ahead and make college cheaper. Many institutions of higher education accept advanced coursework opportunities, like Advanced Placement (AP) courses, CLEP exams, and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs as college credit. These college-level courses are offered in middle and high schools and culminate in an exam that you can take to earn college credits, depending on your scores. The courses are free, but there may be a fee for the exam.

Get started by talking to your guidance counselor about what options are offered at your school. There are also some key differences between AP, CLEP, and IB that you should discuss, as well as any prerequisites, like high school-level courses that must be completed first or a placement test.

Dual enrollment programs

Dual enrollment programs can also save you money and help you graduate from high school with college credits already completed. These programs allow students to take courses for credit at local colleges while still working on a high school diploma.

Depending on the program offered at your school and your financial need, you may receive discounted tuition at the college or be eligible for grant aid set aside for these programs. Check with your guidance counselor about the options at your school and the eligibility requirements.

Community college courses

Depending on where you decide to earn your degree, tuition at your local community college is likely far cheaper than it will be at a four-year school. To save money, you can consider enrolling in community college for the first year or two, and then transferring to a four-year institution to finish your degree. You can also take courses at your local community college over the summer to earn credits.

Be sure to check with the college or university where you plan to transfer the credits first to confirm that they will be accepted. If you’re not sure where you’re planning to earn your four-year degree, you can also ask the community college about whether they have reciprocity agreements with any institutions. Most institutions typically accept credits for introductory coursework from a community college, but they may be less willing to transfer more advanced credits.

State workforce training programs

One of the easiest ways to save on college costs is by simply graduating on time. Students who select a career path and a major before enrolling and stick with this plan tend to graduate on time. If you’re still trying to make up your mind, your state workforce board can be a great free resource to get advice about in-demand careers and on-the-job experience before you start paying for credits.

Ask your guidance counselor or contact the workforce board to learn about youth employment programs and apprenticeships that are designed to provide opportunities for career instruction and growth. These programs can help guide you in the direction of the career path you’ve always wanted and help you stay on track to graduate on time. 

Save, find scholarships, and compare loan options

Even if you’re getting a late start, saving money can still reduce the amount you will pay for college. That’s because education loans are borrowed money that must be repaid with interest. Differences between interest rates may seem negligible, but they can really add up over time.

You should first look for scholarships, which may have a merit-based component,and grant aid, which is typically need-based. Social media and general internet searches can help you identify scholarships you might be eligible to receive. Online aggregators will provide lists of scholarships, but make sure you avoid scammers who want to charge you for their services. Your guidance counselor can be a great resource for finding scholarships, especially local ones that are specific to your area. Local scholarships tend to be less competitive than national scholarships, so you have a better chance of getting free money for college — and every little bit helps!

Being an informed borrower can also help. You should always exhaust any federal student aid first, but if you still have a gap and need to look at private loans, do your research and compare interest rates, fees, and repayment terms from as many lenders as possible. As noted above, finding the lowest annual percentage rate can save you a significant amount of money over time. It is possible that a state-based or nonprofit loan provider can offer you a much better deal than the larger for-profit companies.

To save the most money on college costs, you might consider one or more of these five options. Be sure to talk with a parent or guardian, your guidance counselor, and/or another trusted adviser as you make your plan. You want to make sure whatever you choose is a good fit for you and your career goals, and that you are aware of any prerequisites you’ll need to complete or meet. For more trusted advice, reach out to the agency or nonprofit organization in your state.

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