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5 Ways to Save Thousands on Your College Education

Michael Lux Best Of, Blog, Money Saving Tips, Student Loans 10 Comments

The best and most efficient way to pay off your student loans is to never get them.  Americans owe over one trillion dollars on their student loans.  If you want to be able to graduate without going broke, here are five tips that will each save you thousands of dollars.

1) Take Advantage of High School Programs

Most high schools offer a variety of programs for students to earn college credit.  The most common courses are AP courses.  AP stands for Advanced Placement.  At the end of the school year, you will take an AP test.  If you score well, you get college credit.

The best option is to take a class through your high school at your local community college.  Not all high schools offer programs like this, but you can save HUGE amounts of money.  Amazingly, most of the costs are paid by your school.  The class credits you earn will get you closer to your high school diploma AND your college degree.

2) Go to a Community College

Community colleges often get an undeservedly bad reputation.  However, some of these schools offer a great education at an AMAZING price.  The best deals can often be found at satellite campuses for major universities.  Even if you know you want to get a four year degree and your community college doesn’t offer the program you are looking for, it still can be a good idea to go to the local school…

If you are considering this option, you will want to plan ahead.  Make sure the credits you will be earning transfer to the schools you are interested in.  Sadly, this can vary by class, so some planning may be necessary.  Once you rack up credits at a much lower price, you can transfer to a more expensive school.  At the end of the day, you get the same diploma and save a ton of money.

This is also a great option for people who are not sure if college is for them.  You can get an associates degree after just two years and if you decide not to go further, you haven’t wasted money at an expensive school with nothing to show for it.

3) Take Classes During the Summer

For some college students, summer is a great time in your professional development because you are earning great money or getting wonderful experience, or both.  For the rest of us, summer is a period of fun, but little pay.  If you take a couple online classes or even a class or two at school, it can make a huge difference in your education.  It could mean that you are able to take a class or two less during the year, or a couple summers could mean graduating a semester early.  This can be a huge advantage in the job market because you enter it at a time when there are fewer brand new graduates competing for positions.  Companies don’t just hire in June, they hire when they need people.  Summer school and early graduation can give you an advantage.

If you use summer school to graduate early, it also means one less semester of room and board to pay for.  That one semester of savings makes a huge difference to the total cost of education.

4) Take Night Classes

This option sucks.  I know first hand.  I worked full-time and attended law school at night.  It is not something that everyone can manage, but it does save a lot money.  It also gives you a leg up on your competitors for jobs because you have more experience.  Plus, when an interviewer learned that you went to school at night while working, they are more willing to forgive blemishes on your transcript.  Interviewers will also admire the work ethic you displayed to work your way through school.

5) Go to a Public School

College isn’t cheap.  A public school will still cost you a ton of money and can lead to you racking up a ton of student loan debt.  The place you get into a ton of trouble is funding a private school education on student loans.  It is easy to say this is my “dream school” and I must attend.  While I understand this point of view, I don’t subscribe to it.  College is an amazing time in your life regardless of where you go.  The experience is what you make of it.  If you think that you will only be happy at your “dream school,” you are going about things wrong.

The other argument for many private schools is having the fancy name on your diploma.  Again, I understand why this is important.  However, there are many things that are more important than the difference between a private school vs. a public school on your diploma.  They include:

  • Who you know
  • What you know
  • Your networking abilities
  • Luck
  • What you studied
  • Your work experience
  • How well you intereview

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is just to illustrate a point… if you have a school that is asking you to spend 15 to 20k more a year to attend, ask yourself, is it worth the extra money?

Final Tip: Be Smart!

College is expensive and there are many ways to get yourself into a ton of debt.  These options may not be ideal or your “dream” but they will save you a ton of money.  Getting an education you can afford is far better than going to an expensive school and realizing you can’t afford the education you just bought.

  • These are all great tips! I took 12 credits at the community college one summer, and saved over $10K doing that. I also took 14 (I think) college credits while in high school as well.

    • 10K!!! That is amazing. I’m shocked that more people are not taking advantage of these programs.

  • Great tips. I received 12 credits from high school as the school was affiliated with a city college and we were allowed to take a few courses our senior year. I also went to a State University in college. Same with you…part time law student. I’m glad I did because I have much less debt than those who went full time. I think it can be a pro and a con when finding a legal job though…you do have some more work experience, but not necessarily in the right field. You may miss out on law review, etc…basically if you want to get into the big time law firms, I think it might be tougher. But I doubt that would have be my route anyway so I’m glad I did part time.

    • It does make the big firm job a bit more of a challenge (though some of my night school classmates did go that route). They want the top grades and it is not easy if you are also working 40+ hours a week. On the other hand, I’m sure they like to see potential associates who will think a 60 hour work week as taking it easy.

      I still cant get over how cool it is to get home at 6:00 pm and not have any work to do.

  • I took a couple of AP courses in high school, I definitely recommend it to any high school student! The units count towards both your college AND high school graduation.

    I also took a full semester’s worth of classes the summer before I graduated. That year, they were offering a discount on tuition for summer school students. Another easy way to save – plus I got to graduate a semester earlier!

    • That is awesome! It sounds like you saved some money and got a head start on the job market.

  • I love the idea of transferring just for the last year to the more expensive school, since the name on the paper will be there and no one will know you didn’t attend it full time.

    • I know some schools require that you take half your credits at the school, so timing the transfer right is important, but going the transfer route can save you so much money if you time it properly.

  • MoneySmartGuides

    I had a few friends from high school take AP classes. The classes were a lot of work but totally worth it in the end since it was one less class they had to take in college.

    Personally, I’ve taken a few summer classes. In my case, the price of the courses were less since the semester was shorter. But the shorter semester meant that there was that much more work to complete in that time. Taking a summer course two is definitely worth it.

    • I’m glad these strategies worked out so well for you! It really does make a big difference on the total cost of an education.