How to Save Money On Your College Degree

Whether you call it an expense or an investment, keeping your college costs under control is always a good idea. Here are a few things you can do to achieve this goal.

It’s Never Too Early To Save

The first thing to remember is to start planning for the college years (your own or your child’s) early. Even if your child is still in diapers, go ahead and think about how to pay for college when the time comes.

One of the best ways to do start saving for college is to invest in a 529 plan. The way a 529 plan works is like this: Money can be put away tax-free for any and all qualified educational expenses (tuition, fees, room and board), and the funds continue to grow tax-deferred. Another benefit is that you won’t pay any taxes on the funds once they are distributed. Up to $12,000 per year can be put into the account (or $24,000 if a spouse also contributes).

Another option is to make a one-time $60,000 gift that is averaged out over the course of five years.

Start College in High School

As for students themselves, one way to drastically cut down the costs of college is to enroll in junior college or take courses that count toward college classes while still attending high school. In many school districts, it is possible to take these courses for free while still in high school.

Some students manage to get an associate’s degree by the time they graduate high school, which leaves just two additional years of education to be completed for traditional four-year degrees.

Keep in mind that courses can be taken either in a brick and mortar building or online, and the credit hours – and the education – are equally valid.

For those uninterested in actually leaving high school to take college, it’s still possible to get college credit by taking advanced placement (AP) courses. Students are able to take an AP exam after the classes are complete and if they score high enough, college credit can be received. This often times means students do not need to take introductory level courses or general education courses upon entering college.

Serve Your Country and Wallet

Another way to keep college costs down is to get an organization to foot the majority of the bill. Students who join the military often have the entirety of their education paid for with the GI bill or through other incentives given for enlisting.

Those who do not want to join the military can still benefit from signing on with a service organization. Thousands of young men and women join AmeriCorps every year to help with community service projects in various areas throughout the country. As a domestic service organization, all projects meet at least one of the four national priorities, which include education, public safety, human needs, and the environment.
Students or post-grads involved in the organization receive a living allowance and education award. The amounts vary, but can be up to $7,500 a year.

Listen up, College Kids

As for those of you already in college, don’t worry, you can still save money. Check out some of these tips so that you can tighten your collegiate belt before getting yourself into debt (or deeper into debt).

The first thing to remember is to try and get a degree that directly correlates to the type of job you want to get. If that means you are getting a two-year degree from a community college or technical college, then go for it. Four-year degrees are not necessary to make a decent income.

Here are just a few high paying careers that only require an associates degree. So why invest more time and money in a degree, if it’s not required?

Books are among one of the biggest expenses for college students, but there is a way around that. Opt for used textbooks or see if your book is available to rent. If you and a friend are taking the same course, see if you can share the cost of at least one of the textbooks. Remember to sell the book after the course is over (and if you are positive you won’t need it again) and use the money from selling the book to purchase the next semester’s books.

Don’t sign up for credit cards just because you’re being offered credit limits that seem too good to be true. It’s easy to get in over your head quickly and chances are if you don’t have the cash to buy what you want now, you won’t have it later when the bill is finally due.

Food can be an enormous cost, but meal plans help. Remember to take full advantage of your meal plan. If you don’t have one, look at ways to make food at home so that you aren’t eating out. Even fast food adds up quickly, plus, after your college years have passed, you’ll thank yourself for not picking up a bad junk food habit.

Try making meals with roommates or friends so that meal time is fun and cost-effective. Drop a line to mom or dad to learn your favorite recipes and try recreating them.

If you don’t live in campus housing, select housing you can afford. Don’t try to recreate the pleasures of living at home – that means you might not have the best cable package in the world, but you’ll be saving money. If you do want some of the luxuries you had while living at home, look for the best deals around or learn to go without.

Student discounts are often times offered at restaurants, shops, and other places of business all over college campuses and in towns. Take advantage of them when applicable, just make sure you actually need the goods or services being offered, or the good deal is really just an opportunity for money wasting.

Studying abroad and spring break trip are fun, but only if you can afford them. College is the time to try new things, so you don’t want to have to limit yourself too much, but you might regret taking out a loan to pay for a trip or semester abroad if you’re still paying for it into your 40s.

If you want to live on campus and get free rent, check out being a resident advisor. Many times they get free room and board, and that can be an enormous cost-saving experience, plus, it looks good on a resume when you’re fresh out of school.

Save Now For a Secure Future

Overall, keeping college costs down and learning how to save money on your college degree means you need to be a responsible adult. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, but you should try to remember that you’re in college to learn, not to party yourself into piles of debt. Check out some of these money-saving tips to save money on tuition.


Dana Rasmussen writes about cost-saving tips for a variety of publications. She never paid full-price for textbooks or tuition in college.

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