6 Ways to Save on College Tuition


It’s the time of year when many people are figuring out how to fund a college education. Whether you’re starting college, returning to school, or looking forward to the next term, paying for college can be intimidating. However, there are some things you can do along the way that will save you money and improve your overall financial outlook through college and beyond. (See also: Degrees of Frugality: 7 Tips for the College Bound)

1. Take College Courses While in High School

Many community colleges will let you take college courses during your last two years of high school. As long as you can pass some basic tests and keep up with your high school work at the same time, this is often a great way to get your basic, prerequisite courses out of the way before you’re even ready to go to college.

Some high schools and community colleges have even worked out ways for you to do this at minimal cost to yourself. If you can take college courses for free (or nearly so), why wouldn’t you?

2. Test Out of Basic Courses

If it’s too late for you to enroll in high school and college concurrently, you can still test out of some of your basic courses. If an AP or IB test is an option for you, you can get your credit that way. Otherwise, you can take a CLEP test in any number of different subjects.

While there are other ways to get out of taking certain courses, taking these tests can actually allow you to get credits toward graduation without taking the courses. For instance, passing the CLEP in biology can earn you six semester units toward graduation at a fraction of the price you’ll pay anywhere.

3. Take More Courses Each Term

When you take more courses each term, you will pay more each semester. However, if you have a plan, and you know what courses you need to take when and how it will all work out, you can actually graduate a semester or two early. That will save you all of the fees and costs that you would have run up in later semesters.

Do make sure you do this with a plan, though. You’ll want to plot out your courses carefully and make sure that the classes you need are offered during the semesters you want to take them. Otherwise, you might end up spending more overall.

4. Plan Ahead and Analyze Your Options

There’s some new evidence that some of the "tried and true" methods for saving money on college (like starting at a community college and then transferring) don’t actually save you money. At the very least, it seems like you need to run the numbers to see if you will save money using these methods.

It’s a good idea to try to calculate your total college costs ahead of time and evaluate how different options will affect your overall financial outcome. This will let you choose your college plan based on what will work best for you and your financial situation.

5. Know Your Loans

Despite your very best planning, you may find yourself taking out student loans. In fact, that can be a smart way to get through school quicker, depending on how much you have to borrow and what your earning potential is upon graduation. However, not all student loans are created equal.

Make sure you understand whether your loans will be subsidized or unsubsidized, and how that might affect repayment in the future. In addition, determine whether your lender puts any special rules on their loans. For instance, some loans are not candidates for consolidation later on, and others only incorporate certain repayment plans.

6. Find a Repayment Plan That Works for You

Speaking of repayment plans, make sure you find the one that is best for you. Some people find that they need to send their loans into forbearance upon graduation, especially if they can’t get hired right away. Even if this isn’t an issue for you, make sure you know your options. For instance, income-based repayment can help many borrowers, but few know that it is an option.

Make sure you have your repayment plan in place well before your loan comes due. Making late payments or missing payments on student loans is a big deal and can hurt your financial outlook for many years into the future.

The most important thing to do to save money on college tuition is to have a plan. Even if you change your plan later on, you’ll be better off for having had it in the first place. And if you’re able to follow through, you’ll not only save money, but you’ll know exactly how much you saved.

How are you keeping college affordable?

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Guest's picture

We're putting one through school now and we're using an 'all of the above' strategy for paying cash and not using loans. We've used several of the things you listed (taking classes in high school, testing out) and we've added in scholarships and choosing an affordable school to begin with. So far, so good!

Guest's picture

One that is important is to see a counselor frequently. Sometimes curriculums change, and when they do you may have to spend an extra semester taking a class or two, plus sometimes certain classes are only offered at particular semesters. Be informed and stay informed is my motto. I have two in college this year, one will be living at home and commuting, that will save $10k between food and dorm. Books are another thing. My oldest had four physics classes in one semester. The books were $250 a piece! Plus, he wants to keep them for reference. So, I use many websites including the barnes and noble, betterworldbooks.com, clegg.com etc. You can save a bundle, shop early and smart.

Guest's picture

To #3 "Take More Courses Each Term": This is good advice, but here's something that may make it even more enticing to do. A lot of colleges make it a flat rate once you take enough classes for full time status. For example, University of Tennessee says that full time status is 12 hours, so you pay per hour until 12 hours, but 12+ hours all costs the same. So tuition at 18 hours is the same as tuition at 12 hours. The only thing that might vary is if the classes have extra fees associated with them (like for example, my engineering courses get about an extra $100/course added to their cost regardless of whether I'm a full time or part time student).

Guest's picture

You should really check ahead with the college you're planning on going to in order to see which courses from which sources will be accepted. Community college courses are usually only accepted within the public system of that state, and even then, only some courses may be accepted for credit. AP is the most widely accepted--most colleges accept very few CLEP courses as anything other than gen ed.