3 Tuition-Saving Tips – Plus a New Tool From Congress

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Some say the economy is on the mend, but the recession isn’t over yet. In fact, even high schoolers are feeling it these days – they’re ranking their college choices based on costs and the return on investment. Or so says the 2011 College Decision Impact Survey [PDF].

After polling 21,000 college freshmen-to-be, scholarship website Fastweb.com and consulting firm Maguire Associates found that 68 percent say the economy has “greatly” or “somewhat” influenced their college application choices this year. That’s 4 percentage points more than in 2010 and 8 more than in 2009.

“This is the third year in a row we’ve seen students’ concerns about the economy at an elevated level,” says Tara Scholder, senior VP of Maguire Associates. “As the fallout from the recession continues, institutions that want to attract quality students and engage their families need to be experts at communicating the lifetime return on an investment in their school. That means focusing on the unique value proposition that they offer.”

So, what exactly are these “unique value propositions”? According to the future college freshmen, the factors they now consider most important when choosing a college are…

  • Quality of major – 94 percent
  • “Value” of education (quality and cost) – 92 percent
  • Employment opportunities after graduation – 91 percent
  • Availability of need- or merit-based aid – 87 percent
  • Total costs – 87 percent

More than half also reported evaluating colleges based on their social media presence – and they also want to evaluate them based on net price calculators. Accordingly, Congress has mandated that all colleges provide NPCs (which help estimate a college’s costs based on its financial aid opportunities) on their websites by October.

Until then, here are some of Money Talks News’ top tuition-saving tips…

Scholarships

They aren’t just for high school seniors anymore. Scholarships are something you should seek throughout your college career, and the search is something you should never pay a fee to do. Here are some sites that can hook you up with free scholarship searches:

  • Fastweb
  • College Board
  • College Answer
  • City of College Dreams
  • FinAid.org
  • College-Scholarships.com
  • Sallie Mae’s Scholarship Search
  • Accelerated degrees

    While it’s not easy, it’s possible to earn a four-year degree in three years (at some schools and in some fields) by taking accelerated classes - essentially stuffing a full semester’s worth of work into six- or eight-week classes and/or going to school year-round. Not all schools offer this option, but those that do can save you a ton of tuition money.

    Start at a less-expensive school

    Consider a community college for the first two years, then transfer to the university whose name you’d like to see on your degree. This is probably the single biggest way to save on a college education. Not only do you save on tuition costs, attending a community college might also allow you to stay with your parents and save on housing too.

    Be careful, though. Make sure the courses you’re taking at your less-expensive school will transfer. Look for an articulation agreement from the school where you intend to graduate, which will list which schools they accept credits from – as well as the grades they expect you to maintain in order to transfer.

    For more tips, be sure to also check out:

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