6 Tips to Pay Less for a College Degree

While college is certainly expensive, it’s often not as expensive as the “sticker price” that you so often see in the popular press. Here are six strategies you can use to make it more affordable.

Judging by the headlines, it’s easy to believe the cost of college puts it out of reach for all but the most affluent. According to the College Board, average annual tuition at a four-year private college now tops $26,000. If you just look at the sticker price, four years at a private university approaches the cost of a Rolls Royce.

But that doesn’t mean only the rich need apply. While the sticker price may be $26,000, the College Board says the average price actually paid at private colleges is less than $9,000. How can that be?

Watch this story we did for television to find out how students are cutting their college expenses in half:

So while college is certainly expensive, it’s often not as expensive as the “sticker price” you so often see in the popular press. As the expert said in our video, while you can’t walk into a car dealership and ask for discounts based on your achievements or your needs, with college you sometimes can, largely due to $168 billion of annual financial aid available to students.

Here are six strategies you can harness to get your degree at a discount.

1. Scholarships

The search for scholarships isn’t just for those just graduating from high school. It’s a process that should continue throughout your college career. It’s something you should never pay a fee for.

Start with the web. Here are some sites that can hook you up with free scholarship searches:

And don’t forget to beat the local bushes as well. Awards from the local Rotary, YMCA or Kiwanis Club may not be as big or as convenient to apply for, but there’s also less competition. You can find out about home-grown awards at your local library or high schools.

2. 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. Not all schools offer this option, but those that do can save you a ton of tuition money.

3. Start at a less expensive school

Consider a community college or other less expensive option 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 under your parents’ roof and save housing expenses as well.

Be careful. 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 to see which schools they accept credits from, as well as the grades they expect you to maintain in order to transfer.

4. Love the school that loves you

In the video above, University of Miami Financial Aid Administrator Jim Bauer says, “”You can’t shop for a college the way you shop for a car. If you walk in to buy a car, you aren’t going to sit down with a salesman and have them say, you’re a good guy, you’ve lived a good life so far, so we’re going to knock another $10,000 off. That doesn’t happen in other kinds of purchase other than essentially education.”

Why would a school make tuition more affordable for some students? Because they want those students. While Harvard might not be knocking down your door, there could be other schools that want you enough to offer enticing discounts, aid and scholarships.

What you have to do is look for the school that’s looking for you. Obviously, the more you have to offer, the more of these schools you’ll find. But consult college guides, comparing your grades and SAT scores to the averages at various schools. If you’d fit in the top 20% to 25%, consider applying.

While this strategy may not land you in the university of your dreams, there’s still the option of transferring later – and saving a ton of money in the meantime.

5. Check out schools that don’t charge tuition

According to this article in Business Week, there are at least 11 schools that offer a tuition-free education for some students. Here they are:

Admission requirements are all over the map: Some require you to work while attending school, some require excellent grades, etc. Learn more by checking out the article or visiting each school’s website.

6. Volunteer for loan forgiveness

If you’re going to incur debt to get your degree, consider exchanging post-graduate community service for federal education debt forgiveness.

Debt-forgiveness programs are available for teachers, medical professionals, lawyers, nurses and others.

To learn more about loan forgiveness programs, see this summary sheet from FederalStudentAid.ed.gov

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • ANN

    I HAVE BEEN OUT OF COLLEGE FOR AWHILE NOW…I OWE SALLIE MAE APPROX. $10,000.00…the rate is approx. 6-1/2%…the amount never seems to go down…ANY SUGGESTIONS…I am paying approx. 168.00 per month…

  • Dan Kerns1

    you may have the loan ammoritized for a long period of time. trying overpaying the loan by just a small amount and you will find the principal coming down rapidly.

  • Kristofer

    Try paying the loan you have as frequently as possible every month. In my experience these loans are compounded daily. The way that you repay your loan may not be easy to pay this frequent. But even if you pay your monthly amount divided over each week and paying this weekly you may see the principal come down quicker than you anticipated. Monthly amt. $168/4 Weeks = $42 each week.
    Tips: Pay the highest interest student loan first. Be a wise spender. Make sacrifices.

  • I just was recently accepted into the University of Pittsburgh Online, after just three, I realized that I was already over $6K in debt! This was my first experience with college really with the exception of a few classes at the community college. I am in my 40’s, and was very excited about getting my degree but found this to be extremely disappointing. Needless to say I had to drop out of school once I realized how in debt I was already, especially considering one of those classes was a required “intro to online learning” class. 
    Does anyone know if it is too late to receive grants or any kind of help to pay this debt now?? They were nice enough to help me get loans but apparently didn’t think that I qualified or needed any other help. Well, due to the latest hurricane disaster Irene, my husband is out of a job and we certainly could use the help. Any advice is greatly appreciated.
    Thanks, Tina

  • HautePepper

    Over paying the minimum on your loan is very smart advice, but the real trick is to lower the principle on the loan. The way these loans work, is that you spend years paying off the interest before you even get to touch the principle. When you send your check each month, send whatever extra funds you can afford. Then, and this part is KEY, be sure to write in the memo line: x amount to minimum loan payment, x amount to be applied to principle. The more you lessen the principle, the less interest you pay and the faster the loan is paid off. Not to mention you’ll be saving thousands of dollars. Find a financial calculator on line and figure the difference. You will be amazed. This same method works on mortgage payments, car loans, etc. It’s something the finance companies don’t want you to know because it costs them $100,000’s of thousands of dollars on mortgage and other loans, but check for yourself. It’s true and it works. If your husband is out of work, you may very well qualify for a deferment. Good luck. And beware of on line schools.

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