How to Cut College Costs

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Kristen Kuchar

By Kristen Kuchar

November 11, 2019

Cutting college costs is a hot topic whether you’re currently in college, dreading those student loans payments or a parent looking for ways to avoid going broke paying for college. Fortunately, there are ways you can save money on college costs, whether you’re in high school or already on your way to earning a degree. 

While in High School 

Enroll in AP classes. Use your time in high school wisely. Advanced Placement classes can count as college credit. Colleges often require a specific test score (based on a 1 through 5 scale) for the course to count. 

Apply for scholarships. Each year, there are more than $6 billion awarded in scholarship money. That’s free money towards your college education that you don’t have to pay back. Fortunately, there are several tools for finding scholarships for college at your fingertips. 

Get a part-time job. Most high school students aren’t paying a lot of money towards living expenses, so now is the time to stash away any extra cash. Bulk up a savings account you can use for college living expenses, so you can reduce what you’re borrowing.

Ask for practical gifts. If you’re fortunate enough to receive gifts for the holidays, birthdays and graduation, be smart with your suggestions. Friends and family members can use the Gift of College to contribute to your 529 college savings account.

Get a job at the college (for parents). Colleges can offer huge discounts to their employees who have children attending the college. If you’re a parent, keep that in mind next time you’re on the hunt for a new gig.


Choosing the Right College 

Take advantage of free college tuition programs. There are several free tuition programs out there for students. These programs have various requirements, such as needing to be a resident of a certain city or county or a graduate from a specific high school.

Attend a college with free tuition. There are 18 U.S. colleges that offer free tuition for students. Since you still need to pay for living expenses and other costs, this doesn’t mean that all your costs are covered.

Start at a community college. Students can save as much as $30,000 by starting out at a community college. The key is to confirm that any course you take will transfer to the college you intend to graduate from. Otherwise, students who start off at a 2-year college may not succeed in getting a Bachelor’s degree. 

Choose a less expensive college. In-state public colleges are going to cost less than out-of-state and private colleges. Compare the net price before you make your choice.

Consider the college your parents attended. Some colleges offer discounts and scholarships to children of alumni, called legacies. For example, Southern Illinois University offers children of graduates to pay only 80% of the regular tuition fees.

While in College

Fill out the FAFSA. Complete the FAFSA every year. This allows you to see what type of financial aid you qualify for, including grants, scholarships, federal student loans and student employment.

Work somewhere that pays your tuition. If you’re willing to work during college, consider a company that reimburses tuition. 

Choose the right major. It’s hard to know exactly what you want to do when you start out in college. Unfortunately, switching majors can result in taking unnecessary classes towards your graduation requirement. If you aren’t sure yet, focus on your general required courses instead of major specific ones.

Opt for an in-demand job. Some colleges offer tuition assistance for high-demand roles. For example, the University of Portland covers more than 80% of tuition for nursing students in exchange for a three-year employment contract with a specific hospital.

Meet with your advisor regularly. Your advisor can keep you on track to make sure you are taking all the necessary classes to graduate.

Keep applying for scholarships. Scholarships aren’t just for incoming freshman. Keep up the scholarship search for a chance for free money for college.

Take classes during summer break.  Some colleges offer a cheaper rate for summer courses. If you’re able to take classes every summer, you might just be able to graduate a semester early, too.

Don’t buy brand new books. Borrow textbooks from the library for free, if you can. If not, buy used books instead. Take advantage of cheap books at

Cut Costs of Living Expenses in College

Compare the cost of living on- and off-campus. Research the cost of living on campus versus the cost of living off campus to see what’s cheaper. Keep in mind that on-campus housing often doesn’t require the cost of buying furniture, rental insurance and a security deposit.  

Apply to be a Resident Assistant. Also known as an RA, a Resident Assistant is a student living on-campus doing a variety of tasks to help the residents. These can include coordinating events, enforcing policies and diffusing issues. The position often comes with free or discounted housing. 

Create and maintain a monthly budget. Keep track of what you’re spending, so you don’t spend more than you intend to. 

Don’t overspend on food. Cook at home, and limit takeout orders and restaurant trips. Meal planning, using coupons and shopping sales are other ways to save. 

Don’t spend money on entertainment. Find fun, free things to do instead of concerts, going to the bar and those ever-enticing spring break trips.

Get a part-time job. Working through college allows you to borrow less student loans, therefore cutting the overall cost of college. Bonus points if you could land a gig that offers marketable skills to add to your resume. 

Pick a part-time job with perks. If you’re getting a job, why not get one with extra financial benefits? For example, jobs at restaurants usually come with free meals and grocery store jobs often offer employee discounts.

Utilize student discounts. Score a nice student discount on just about everything. Save on cell phone plans, clothing, restaurants, entertainment and more.

Use our Student Loan Calculator to determine the monthly loan payment and total payments on your student loans.

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