Yes, You Can Afford College: 6 Money-Saving Tips

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Editor’s note: This is the third part in a three-part series on making college affordable.

If you have your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application completed and you have applied for scholarships, you are well on your way to getting an education that you will be able to pay for.

Here are six good tips for saving money that can keep you from getting strapped with extra debt once you have your degree.

1. Test out of as many classes as you can

There are 33 College-Level Examination Program or CLEP exams available on the College Board website. It costs about $80 to take a CLEP test, which is worth three to six credits. Those are inexpensive credits compared with college courses, which can cost hundreds of dollars per course or much more than that. When you consider the added cost of housing and other expenses for day students or technology fees for online students, this is quite a dramatic savings.

The College Board says more than 2,900 colleges and universities accept CLEP test credits. Check the College Board site for cooperating colleges, study tips, test locations and available preparation materials.

I was able to take an American literature CLEP test that was worth six transfer credits with minimal preparation because I was well-read and had a solid knowledge base of the subject. I worked much harder to prepare for my college algebra CLEP test, but I felt as if I had achieved a gold medal when I passed that test — worth a three-credit college algebra course.

Also check your high school for available advanced placement classes. AP classes show colleges that you have taken rigorous coursework, and they also have an option to take a completion test that earns college credit for entry-level classes. This website has more information on the available AP courses.

If your school doesn’t have the course you want to take, it may be able to hook you up with the online version of the course. Don’t be afraid to ask, or even pester those teachers and counselors. Assertiveness is a high-dollar skill when college costs are at stake.

2. Talk to your high school counselor about dual credit options

Many universities are offering to work with high schools to grant college credit for work completed while in high school. Those credits will also qualify for high school credit.

3. Check for available three-year degree programs

Many universities are beginning to offer a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree that can be completed in three years, rather than four, saving you thousands in tuition and related expenses. Saving a year of your life is no small thing, either.

Here’s another possibility: Money Talks News editor Karen Datko completed a four-year degree in three years because she took five courses each semester and had AP credits from high school (and she had a work-study job).

4. Consider community college for general courses

Community colleges are usually much more economical than four-year schools. It can even be easier to get scholarships from a community college, because the competition is not as stiff. I got my best financial aid from a community college before I transferred to my four-year school. In fact, I was able to avoid any school debt while I earned my associate of arts degree there.

5. Don’t rule out expensive schools because of their high price tags

Many Ivy League schools offer better financial aid than less-expensive colleges do. Harvard University’s website says that “approximately 70 percent of our students receive some form of aid, and about 60 percent receive need–based scholarships and pay an average of $12,000 per year.”

Don’t be discouraged or scared away from the school you want. You may be better able to afford a more prestigious school because of the availability of resources it has.

6. Be persistent

If you don’t get the answers you want from your school counselor or teachers, check with the universities or do your own research.

In my experience, people are more than willing and ready to help a person get an education if they sense that you are sincere and hard-working. People involved in education tend to be passionate about it and will do a lot to help others who are passionate and resolute.

Tenacity and effort really pay off in your desire to afford a college degree. With a little determination and some time, you can achieve your goals and have a more successful life.

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