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5 Ways to Save Thousands on Your College Education

If you want to graduate without going broke, here are five tips that can save you thousands of dollars on college.

Written By: Michael P. Lux, Esq.

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A college education has never been more expensive. Americans owe nearly two trillion dollars on their student loans.

Fortunately, there are several different ways to get a college degree without facing a lifetime of student debt.

1) Take Advantage of High School Programs

Many high schools offer a variety of programs for students to earn college credit, saving you thousands. One of the most common ways to earn college credit is through Advanced Placement (AP) courses. At the end of the school year, if you’re enrolled in one of those classes, you can take an AP test. Depending upon your score on that test, a college might offer credits free of charge.

Another option is to take a class through high school at a local community college. Not all high schools offer programs like this, but they can save HUGE amounts of money. Amazingly, most of the costs are paid by the high 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.  You can often find the best deals at satellite campuses for major universities.

Even if you know you want to get a four-year degree not offered by the community college, it can still be a good idea to go to the local school. You can rack up credits at a much lower price and then transfer those credits to a more expensive school. At the end of the day, you get the same diploma and save a ton of money. However, if you are considering this option, you will want to plan ahead. Make sure the community college credits can transfer to the schools you are interested in. Sadly, this can vary by class and by the school, which is why some planning may be necessary.

Attending community college is also a great option for people who are unsure if college is right for them. You can get an associate’s 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 their professional development. They are earning money, gaining experience, or both.  For others, summer is a period of fun. There is a third option, however – taking classes.

Taking a couple of classes during the summer can make a big difference in your future and save thousands on college. It could mean that you can take a class or two less during the year. But two or three summers of classes could mean graduating a semester early. This can be a huge advantage in the job market because you enter it when fewer graduates are 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 might be a drag for some. 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 of money. It also gives you a leg up on your competition for jobs because you’ll have more experience. Plus, when an interviewer learns that you went to school at night while working, they are often 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 can cost you a lot of money and lead to a large student loan debt. But the place you can really get into 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.

Another argument some make for why you should attend private schools is having the fancy name on your diploma. Again, I understand why this is important. However, many things 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 interview

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it illustrates a point. If you have a school asking you to spend several thousand more a year to attend, ask yourself whether it’s worth the extra money.

Final Tip: Be Smart!

College is expensive, and there are many ways to get yourself into debt. These options may not be ideal or your dream experience, but they can save you thousands on college.  Getting an education that you can afford is far better than realizing you can’t afford the education you just bought.

About the Author

Student loan expert Michael Lux is a licensed attorney and the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa. He has helped borrowers navigate life with student debt since 2013.

Insight from Michael has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other online and print publications.

Michael is available for speaking engagements and to respond to press inquiries.

10 thoughts on “5 Ways to Save Thousands on Your College Education”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.


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