5 Ways to Dramatically Reduce the Cost of College

Don’t let the sticker price of college scare you away from getting your degree. Few students pay the asking price. Here’s how to reduce your net cost.

The sticker price of college keeps rising – fast.

As state budgets shrank between 2007 and 2012, some public schools hiked tuition 40 to 50 percent. In 2010, outstanding student loan debt surpassed credit card debt, and the gap continues to grow. Outstanding student loan balances totaled $1.19 trillion at the end of the first quarter of 2015, up $78 billion from a year earlier, according to the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

A recent College Board report says average tuition and fees for four-year public universities were $9,139 for in-state students during the 2014-15 school year; up $254 from 2013-14. And tuition and fees for private nonprofit schools were $31,231 this past school year, up $1,100 from the previous year.

These are the numbers you see in the headlines, and they’re scary. But don’t succumb to sticker shock. Because what the news stories leave out is that most people don’t pay sticker price, the College Board says.

The average net price at a public college is $3,030 a year; at a private nonprofit four-year college, the average family pays $12,360 annually.

College sticker prices these days can match the price tag on a Ferrari, says Money Talks News financial expert Stacy Johnson. But there’s a big difference between college and cars: While no dealer will cut the cost of a car in half based on need, there are resources available to students that can radically reduce the cost of college.

While it’s true that those from high-income and high-net-worth families may find it more difficult to find help, nearly every student willing to look can find some relief. Here are five ways to go about it:

1. Start with a net price calculator

The Department of Education website has a tool to help you estimate net prices for the specific schools you’re interested in. Put in some information and get the estimated net price: the estimated cost of attendance (tuition, fees, books and supplies, room and board and other related expenses) minus estimated grant and scholarship aid.

Every college has been required to offer this information since October 2011. The department’s College Affordability and Transparency Center can also lead you to information about how fast tuition has risen at the school, what majors are offered, and records for campus safety and graduation rates.

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