9 Ways To Make Your College Experience More Affordable

One of the common complaints we hear about college is how expensive it is. Even worse, the cost of tuition increases every year, making it out of reach for most American families. Almost all students graduate with some student loan debt, which they spend the next ten or more years repaying. With so much focus on the high cost of tuition, it’s easy to forget that college is supposed to be fun too. So, how can you make college more affordable?

Private student loans can help you afford college, but here are some things you need to know

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College is so much more than just classwork, homework, assignments, tests, and evaluations. Making friends and doing fun things with them is just as important. 

Here are 9 ways to make college more affordable so you can free up more money to spend on fun activities.  

1. Search For Scholarships

Scholarships are the best way to get free money for college. Sure, you have to spend time searching for scholarships that you qualify for. Then you have to work on your scholarship application and essay. But it’s time well spent when you consider that any award money you win is yours to keep. Unlike loans, you don’t have to return the money with interest. 

Every year, thousands of dollars in scholarship money go unclaimed only because of a lack of applications. Besides checking online, also scour your school noticeboard and local newspaper. Many businesses offer scholarships to local residents as a way of giving back to the community.  

2. Earn College Credits in High School

Another way to make college more affordable is earning college credits even before sending out your first application. There are a couple of different ways you can do this. One is by earning high scores on an AP test. Another is by dual enrollment. Earning college credits in high school allows you to graduate early, which will lower the cost of college considerably. 

Make sure to find out all the details before you consider this option. Your high school advisor is the best person to ask for advice on the different opportunities available and the enrolment requirements. 

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3. Consider Attending Community College 

Consider attending community college for two years and then transferring to a 4-year university to complete your bachelor’s degree. Community college costs a fraction of what it costs to attend a 4-year public college. This 2+2 plan will instantly cut your total college costs by a few thousand dollars. Think about what you could do with that money! 

Worried about the not-so-impressive reputation of community colleges? Don’t be. They may not have the lavish facilities that 4-year public or private colleges offer. But what they offer is a solid academic foundation at less than 1/3rd of the cost and that makes it so worth it.  

4. Explore In-State Schools First 

It’s tempting to want to go to a college far away from home. But the cost of travel, housing, and out-of-state student fees can add up quickly. Starting your search closer home, in your resident state can save you a lot. 

Many states offer in-state tuition discounts to students who choose to attend a public in-state college. These discounts can bring the total cost of college down by a few thousand dollars. Explore all your in-state options first and only consider an out-of-state school if none of the available options tick all the boxes for you.  

5. Explore Colleges That Offer Free Tuition

Surprising as it may sound, yes, there are a few colleges that offer free tuition and that list is growing every year.  Enrolling in one of these schools will make your college experience more affordable than you could ever imagine. 

These are some schools in a growing list of schools that offer free tuition: 

  • William E. Macaulay Honors College At CUNY (NY)
  • The University of Colorado Boulder (CO)
  • Alice Lloyd College (KY)
  • Deep Springs College (CA)
  • The City University of New York (NY)
  • Barclay College (KS)
  • Berea College (KY)
  • Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades (PA)
  • College of the Ozarks (MO)
  • US Service Academies 
  • St. Louis Christian College (MO)
  • Webb Institute (NY)

6. Buy Used Textbooks

A large chunk of your college budget can go towards buying new textbooks. It’s not worth it, especially when you consider that they’ll come in handy for one year only. It’s far better to buy used textbooks or if you can, borrow them from other students. Ask around to find out where you can buy used books. Online and your local campus bookstore are good places to start. If you know any students, ask them too. They may have friends looking to sell their old textbooks. 

The next year, when you’re done with your books, you can sell them off to get some of your money back. Put the word out that you want to sell your books. Ask new students or ask your school if they’ll buy them to be re-sold. If none of these options work out, look for places online that buy and sell used textbooks. Amazon.com is one such online marketplace. 

7. File Your FAFSA Early For Financial Aid

You MUST file the FAFSA every year to avail of federal financial aid. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Filling out this form qualifies you for several different types of federal financial aid including scholarships, grants, student loans, and work-study. 

Although FAFSA applications are open for several months, the aid is disbursed on a first-come-first-served basis. The allotted funds are often all given out towards the end of the application deadline. The earlier you submit your application, the better your chances of getting the maximum aid you qualify for. 

Also, your FAFSA is valid for one year only. You must apply every year to get financial aid for that academic year. If you don’t, you won’t receive any free or cheap aid. Instead, you’ll have to take private student loans, which are much more expensive. 

8. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

Many online and offline establishments offer generous student discounts on all types of amenities. You can get great discounts on computer hardware and software at Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. Local businesses, from restaurants and supermarkets to movie theaters and department stores, offer discounts too. Terms and conditions may vary among stores but it doesn’t hurt to ask. 

Don’t overlook the small discounts. Those small savings on essential items can add up, freeing up enough cash to splurge on fun things.  

9. Get A Credit Card, But Use it Wisely

Getting a credit card is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can help you establish a credit history. In addition, you can also avail of attractive rewards and discounts, which lower the purchase price of everything you buy with the card. That’s money in your pocket. 

However, on the other hand, it can be tempting to spend when you have a credit card in your wallet. This can send you spiraling into debt very quickly. 

Only get a credit card if you know you will use it wisely and can resist the temptation to swipe it for impulse purchases. Make it a habit to only buy as much as you can afford to pay back on your card by the due date. Nothing more. 

The key is to look for ways to free up money for fun experiences without compromising on the quality of your education. Implementing at least some of the tips listed above will set you on the right track. 

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