6 Savvy Ways to Pay Less for College

Tuesday, January 23, 2018, 6:00 PM | Leave Comment

Earning a college degree is an expensive project. The cost of one year at an in-state public college can top $22,000.

If you choose to go out of state, the cost can exceed $35,000. These figures don’t include living expenses or travel costs.

One thing you can do to pay less is file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Even if you don’t qualify for federal assistance like Pell grants and student loans, colleges use the FAFSA as a basis for awarding other financial aid. Ideally, you should submit the application in January.

6 Savvy Ways to Pay Less for College

  1. Take AP Classes

    AP classes in high school include official exit exams. If you achieve a high enough score on this exam, you may be awarded college credit.

    Credits usually apply to one of the general courses all students must take. If you accumulate enough college credits this way, it can add up to an entire semester’s work.

    Eliminating one of the eight semesters normally required for a four year degree means paying over 12 percent less for your college education.

  2. Scholarship Search

    Don’t limit yourself to student loans that you must repay or to Pell grants. There are scholarships and grants in large numbers available.

    You can find awards offered based on your ethnic or religious background, your major and even your hobbies.

    Many go unclaimed for years because no one knows about them. The challenge is finding them. Your school probably maintains databases listing many of these grants. In addition, there are many online sites where you can search public databases of scholarships and grants.

    Keep looking throughout your college career. Every time you strike pay dirt, it will mean paying hundreds or thousands of dollars less for college.

  3. Tax Breaks

    Anytime you or your parents pay tuition or other qualified college expenses, it can probably be written off your taxes.

    In addition, you or your parents can claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit for up to $2,500 each year or the Hope tax credit, which goes up to $2,000 per year.

  4. Distance Matters

    Students at colleges like California College San Diego typically travel to and from school for Thanksgiving and the summer, spring and winter breaks. These round trips can cost a lot of money, so keep distance in mind when you are deciding where to go.

    Another option is to stay at school during the Thanksgiving and spring breaks, which last only a few days.

  5. The Community College Option

    For the 2017 to 2018 academic year, the average in-state cost of a public community college was under $5,000.

    You can complete your first two years of courses at a community college at a huge cost savings.

    There are two things to watch out for.

    First, you must be firmly committed to transferring to complete your degree.

    Of greater concern is that credits may not transfer. In this respect, community college works best when the four-year school you plan to attend is part of the same state university system.

    Colleges in the same system normally grant full credit for transferred coursework. It is advisable to contact the four-year school in advance and find out their specific policies and requirements.

  6. Make Trade-Offs

    Sometimes controlling college costs requires making some compromises. Consider buying used textbooks. You may be able to sell them back at the end of the semester.

    Choose to live in university housing or off-campus based on relative cost. Alternatively, live at home to keep costs down.


Except for buying a home, paying for college is probably the single largest financial challenge you will face.

However, you don’t have to mortgage your future to get that degree. The strategies listed here are only some of the possibilities.

For example, some states will waive public college tuition for students who are state residents and maintain good grade point averages.

You may also want to consider military service or a stint in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. All of these options come with tuition assistance programs when you go to college after completing your service.

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