6 Tips to Pay Less for a College Degree

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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

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