Cutting Your Costs

/uploadedImages/System/Images/countpennies.jpgColleges come in all price ranges and there are many, many ways to trim your costs besides formal financial aid programs. By planning ahead of time, you can save on the cost of higher education long before you're ready to enroll. Give yourself some financial aid  - check out these many ways to save.

Learn about special college savings programs: You have many options when it comes to saving for college; our side-by-side comparison chart of savings options will help you understand which is best for you (or your children).

Get college credit for training you've already taken: The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service helps you gain access to academic credit for courses or exams, such as job-related training, you've already taken outside of a degree program.

"Test out" of subjects you already know: No class time required for this one. Take a College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) test and if you achieve the minimum score required by your college, you could earn credit and save the cost of taking the course. Plus, many colleges and universities offer their own tests that let you skip certain classes or earn credits if you pass. Ask at the school(s) you're interested in.

Prior Learning Assessment: If you have substantial life experience in one or more areas, you might be able to get college credit by developing a personal portfolio that documents your knowledge. You can even earn college credit by taking a course that teaches you how to develop a portfolio.

If you are unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits, you may be eligible to receive financial help for career training from the U.S. Department of Labor. Call their toll-free Jobs number or ask your unemployment benefits office about how you can receive their help for Workforce Investment Act Eligible Training in your state. 

Earn college credits in high school: Many high schools offer classes that earn you high school and college credit at the same time, and they are often free or very low-cost. These courses are sometimes called "content-enhanced articulated courses."  Many states also have programs called Tech-Prep or Career Pathways that offer a sequence of courses in a career or vocational field that begin in high school and continue at a community college.  Subjects offered depend on where you attend high school, so check with your county school board or school counselor for information.

If you are up for serious academic challenge, you can take advanced courses in high school and pass a special exam to earn college credits. The two best known programs of this type are Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate. Check with your high school guidance office to see which one your school offers.

Save on exam and application fees: If you qualify financially, you may be able to get a fee waiver for the PSAT, the SAT, or the ACT; ask your high school guidance counselor to complete the forms for you. Some universities will also waive your admissions application fee, if you ask.

Make sure you know if you qualify for in-state tuition: If you're thinking about a public college or university in your state, be sure to check their in-state tuition policy. Costs will be lower for a resident of the state who meets the minimum time-in-state requirements. Make certain you submit any required documentation to the school to prove your residency, so you don't end up paying unnecessary fees - most schools will assume you are not a resident until you show that you are entitled to pay in-state rates.

..and if you don't, check out tuition reciprocity & exchange programs: Many states have agreements with each other that permit them to charge in-state tuition to out-of-state students.

Don't rule out favorite schools too early because of cost: Students and families are often concerned that they can't afford a particular school because the tuition is high. But, the amount of financial aid you may receive is based partly on the cost of the school, so you may be eligible for more help at a more expensive school. Sometimes, after your financial aid is deducted, it even ends up costing less than a school with lower tuition! So base your decision on the net cost to you after scholarships and grants, not on the published "sticker price." That means you should apply for financial aid from each school that interests you and to which you have applied. Once you receive each school's offer of aid, you can compare them to figure out which option is best for you.  

...but remember that a great education doesn't have to be expensive. Community colleges are a great way to save money on the first two years of an undergraduate degree. And, no matter what type of school you attend, you may qualify for federal tax benefits for higher education that will reduce your net cost.