How Can I Lower the Cost of College?

The financial burden of post-secondary education is a heavy one for students and families, but there are many ways to lower the cost of college tuition and other fees. Budgeting for college should start as soon as possible in a child’s life. No matter their eventual career path, planning ahead to cover post-secondary financial needs can help cut down on both the costs and the anxiety associated with college expenses.

Start Saving Early

Don’t wait for the high school years to start putting pennies away for college. If you plan ahead, 529 college savings plans can help offset the costs of tuition. In most education savings plans, the choice of college is not affected by the state the plan is from, meaning a 529 savings plan can be used either in or out-of-state.

Consider Dual Enrollment Courses While in High School

Students can take control of this anxiety and get a jump on their college career by taking college-level courses while still in high school. Depending on the state you reside in, the cost of the college courses could be absorbed entirely by the institution, or provided at a significant discount. Dual enrollment not only gives families an opportunity to save money in advance of starting college, but it can also shorten the future college stay, thereby saving even more money.

Take Summer Courses

Many colleges lower their tuition fees for students who attend during the summer. As with dual enrollment, this has the short-term advantage of immediate tuition discounts. It could also shorten the college stay, which saves money in the long run as well.

Limit Living Expenses

Housing and meal plans are another major part of college life that should not be overlooked when making a budget.

Off-Campus Housing

School dorms can be expensive, and students should always consider their off-campus housing options. Living at home is the cheapest option, but only if you live close to the college. Often times there will be shared houses available to rent close to campus.

Meal Plans

If you know how to shop (and cook!), preparing meals at home can often be considerably cheaper than using your school’s meal plan. If you’re good in the kitchen, consider reducing your meal plan, or dropping it altogether.

Study Abroad

This sounds counterintuitive, right? After all, traveling anywhere, let alone out of the country, is expensive.

But college in many countries, especially in Europe, is significantly cheaper than schools in the United States. Some schools even offer English-language programs, and you’re still getting a first-rate education and the benefit of the cultural experience.

Studying in Germany, Norway or France can be a great option if you’re bold, adventurous, and looking to explore the world!

Start at a Community College

Community college tuition is considerably cheaper than that of more traditional four-year institutions. You can start your college career at a community college for one or two years, and then transfer your credits to a four-year degree program.

You can save thousands going this route.

Apply for Financial Aid

Federal Student Aid

The first step to receiving aid for college is to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). By filing your FAFSA®, you’re applying for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. In addition, your school may use your application to judge your eligibility for school and state aid.

Keep in mind financial aid forms should be completed each year, even if you don’t think you’ll need it or whether or not you qualify.

Remember that student loans are not free and must be paid back. If there are student loan funds left over after your expenses are paid, it’s a good idea to return the funds to your lender sooner rather than later to cut down on interest payments.


There are millions of scholarships awarded each year, totaling billions of dollars in aid. Scholarships are offered for the following reasons:

  • Merit-Based Scholarships: These funding opportunities are awarded to students based on academic, special talent or athletic achievements.
  • Need-Based Scholarships: These scholarships are designed for students who demonstrate an appropriate level of financial need. You’ll typically need to fill out the FAFSA® to qualify for one of these.
  • Demographics-Based Scholarships: These funding opportunities don’t depend on your grades or your level of financial need. Instead, they’re awarded to college students who fall into certain categories, such as ethnicity, religion, or gender.

Search high and low to find scholarships that pertain to your child’s talents, interests or background. Here are four databases to help make your search easier:

Unlike grants, most scholarships will require students to prove their candidacy, although this typically means you’ll have to write an essay on a specific topic. When applying for multiple scholarships, it’s important to stay organized and keep track of deadlines and requirements.

Cut Down on Textbook Costs

The cost of textbooks can add another few hundred dollars or more to your college bill each year but there are ways to cut this particular expense. From sharing with a classmate to checking the used bookshelves, there are always cost-saving options when it comes to getting all the resource material on the syllabus.

College tuition fees continue to rise, but starting your financial planning early and following tips like these can help take the edge off of post-secondary education costs.