The thought of how to pay for college weighs heavily on many parents and students. However, there are ways, in addition to traditional student aid, that you can reduce your college costs.
Here are just a few things you can do to keep the cost of college - and your debt - down.
- Scholarships are your best friends. This type of student aid doesn't need to be paid back, so it’s one of the best ways to reduce your college cost. Go to your school's counseling office and online to find local or national scholarships which you are qualified for and start applying. Don’t forget: Even small scholarships can add up quickly.
- Get ahead in college credits. There are many ways to do this. Some districts allow dual enrollment in high school and community college, enabling students to earn college credit while they complete their high school requirements. There's also the possibility of earning college credit by scoring well on AP® or CLEP® tests. Once you're in college you may also want to consider taking some less expensive general education courses at your local community college during the summer. It's important to note that policies on these options vary widely from college to college, so it is essential to do your research early in order to discern which option is the best choice for you.
- Think outside the box. You can also cut costs by being creative. For example, consider renting your textbooks or buying them online. Look for a job that offers free meals. Consider becoming a resident assistant. (Their room and board is generally free or deeply discounted.) Need something for your room or a class? Start your search at a thrift store.
- Remember that less can be more. Consider choosing a smaller meal plan. Keeping some snacks in your room that you can also eat for breakfast or lunch may not only save you money, it can also be healthier. Limiting the amount of money you spend on non-school related activities each month is also a good way to keep your costs under control.
- Always put forth your best effort in school and beyond. The truth is that the better your grades and the more rigorous your classes, the better your chances of receiving institutional scholarships and/or merit aid from colleges. Being active in your community may also open doors that will help you keep your costs down through scholarships, jobs, or internships.
In addition to the suggestions given above, it's essential that you be willing to keep your options open. Even though it may not be what you planned, your best choice may be a state school or a lesser-known private school that is willing to offer you student aid you will not need to pay back. Perhaps, starting at a community college will be the right choice for you. No matter your path, the most important thing is that it gets you to college.