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Cutting Your College Expenses

Written by Laura Martinez - 13 Comments

Cutting Your College ExpensesIn another month or so, many students will start attending fall semester college courses. Some will be going as full-time students, hoping to graduate with their degrees as soon as possible. Some will be going part-time, balancing other obligations along with their academic responsibilities. Others are simply going back to school for their own personal satisfaction.

Everyone, though, would love to get their education cheaper if possible. Besides hunting for scholarships (which is a must), I wanted to share two ways to significantly cut down on college expenses.

Attend community college first

For some people, a community college may not seem to be a good choice. Community colleges sometimes get a bad rap for offering low quality educations. While there are certainly some bad apples, I think many would be surprised at the caliber of education you can get at a community college.

If you’re considering whether to attend a community college, let me point out some of the benefits.

Much lower costs to attend: Community colleges are usually significantly less expensive than attending a full-fledged university. If you have a great university nearby, you may be able to get a steal, as some professors may teach at both the university and the community college. In such cases, you can get a great education for a fraction of the price.

Flexible course schedules: Since many students have jobs, families, military obligations, etc., community colleges typically have much more varied class schedules.

Some may balk at attending community colleges because they think their classmates couldn’t make the admission requirements for a ‘real’ college. While there are certainly a percentage of many student bodies that fit into that category, many good students are going there for the convenience and low cost. In the end, it really is what you make of it.

You can always transfer to a higher quality university in the future – just be sure to check with your desired university so you’ll know what’s transferable. The great thing is that you’ll have significantly reduced your bill compared to many of your classmates.

CLEP some courses

The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests your knowledge in several subjects that many students take during their first two years of college. Depending on how well you do, you may be able to earn college credits by taking the test.

There are currently 33 CLEP exams offered, including:

  • College Composition
  • French, German, and Spanish (Levels I & II)
  • American Literature
  • American Government
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Economics (Micro and Macro)
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Marketing
  • Business Law

Each institution has its own guidelines on how much credit they will give to their students, so you might want to wait until after you’re enrolled and to take the CLEP exams that the school accepts and that you’re comfortable with.

Advantages of CLEP exams

Like community college, CLEP exams can give students an edge if they play their cards right. The key is being knowledgeable about what CLEP offers as well as your school’s policies.

  • Costs: As of July 1, 2010, CLEP exams are $77 each. That’s much cheaper than taking an introductory class in either community college or a university.
  • Time: If you know the material already, why waste the time learning it again? You can either finish your degree faster or enrich your education by taking more specialized courses during the time that you saved.

Likewise, if you have kids in high school, encourage them to take some AP classes and take the exam. It can put them ahead of the game when they start college and they can shave some time (and money) off their degree.

Your thoughts on cutting college expenses

College can be a very good investment. Just like with any aspect of your finances, however, you have to have a game plan to get the most bang for your educational buck. I’d also point out that some very expensive schools offer full scholarships for students with limited incomes so, even if the above tips don’t work for you, you may be able to get a great deal on a high end education.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on getting a good education without breaking the bank. What have you done to cut down on college expenses? Have you ever attended a community college? Or maybe tested out of required courses? Any other tips?

Published on July 6th, 2010
Modified on July 13th, 2010 - 13 Comments
Filed under: Education

About the author: helps families achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt and building freelance income over at Couple Money.

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13 Responses to “Cutting Your College Expenses”

  1. 1
    Amy Says:

    Get a job at a college or university as an FTE. Most Universities will allow employees to attend cheap or at a steep discount. This may mean that you’ll have to work full time while going to school. (though find out benefits details because you can sometimes work part time after the first year and still get tuition benefits.) It also may mean working for a year before you start. It’s not always easy getting a full time job, but colleges have all sorts of needs, so it’s definitely worth looking into.

    Also, going to a community college and getting all of your lower level requirements out of the way before transferring to another institution may allow you to get a better GPA at your graduating institution.

  2. 2
    Karina Says:

    Be careful to fully research what the four year university you plan on transferring too always for transfer credits. For example, alot of specialized degrees (like music or architecture) won’t allow transfer credits…I personally know several students who went to community college to save money before transferring, only to spend six years in school….two at comm. college, and then four at the university because credits simply won’t transfer or aren’t applicable.

    Community college CAN work out really well (my fiance got his associates at running start in high school, then went on to get two degrees in four years at a state university because he wasn’t hampered by general requirements), but you MUST research it thoroughly, just like anything else. And don’t expect your credits to transfer smoothly if you change your mind.

  3. 3
    Amy Says:

    Oh, and to add to what Karina just said, even if you have researched everything, keep everything, especially your syllabuses, from your classes. I was a transfer student and there is nothing more stressful than chasing professors around trying to get them to dig up copies of a syllabus for a class they taught a few years ago.

    I recommend this to anyone in college because you never know if a change could lead to a transfer.

    Also helpful is a copy of the official course description. A lot of schools will request course description, syllabus and sometimes even a sample paper/assignment to decide if they will allow a course to be counted as fulfilling a general requirement.

  4. 4
    googgu Says:

    Good point of syllabus. Keep it where you can find them should you choose to go to grad school in the future and want a pre-req waived.

  5. 5
    MasterAllan Says:

    It’s worth your time researching options.

    An old spreadsheet stored on my computer has books & tuition costs while studying at a community college and then after transferring to the University of Texas. Now if you want the full college experience, living in dorms, as a freshman, by all means go ahead but you pay for it. Making friends and freshman student life may bring life long memories.

    I chose the community college when this whole 2+2 idea was starting to take shape for me, 1997 in Dallas. The college had an agreement with the University and transferring was incredibly easy. No one will ever know Eng 1301 and Biol 1406 were at the college. Transferred in a junior, 60 credits for a total bank account savings of about $6500. I also lived at home for those first two years saving thousands more than living on campus which I later did at the University.

  6. 6
    Red Says:

    Genius. I only wish I had read this idea years ago! My best friend just transferred from a community college to my four-year university where she’ll get her degree. She was able to jump start her education for a quarter of the cost of mine, and she’ll end up with the same degree as me. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

  7. 7
    Christine Says:

    I teach at a community college in Maryland. Once I earned the doctorate, my plan was to teach at a university. After a teaching at a cc for a year, I knew that I wanted to stay at the cc.

    Unlike most university faculty, cc instructors are hired to teach, not do research. Classes are never taught by a TA or held in an auditorium.

    Be sure to look into the Honors Program at a community college. My school reimburses students in the honors program for one honors course each semester.

  8. 8
    Rob Says:

    Another option is your parents paying, which I was blessed enough to have the advantage of. I graduated with only $10,000 in loans. However, I realize not everyone is so lucky. I didn’t appreciate it enough while I was in college.

    I went to a private college and while I do not necessarily think the cost of the education itself was worth, I did make some great friends there that I will have for life. Also, I do wish I had CLEPED some classes. That would have saved (my parents) a boatload of money.

  9. 9
    Michael Harr @ TodayForward Says:

    With the job climate expected to remain arid over the next few years for college grads, now is a great time to put off college and get to work…for a company that offers tuition reimbursement. This reduces the burdens of tuition and offers valuable lessons along the way. Not to mention the fact that a job after graduation will be much, much easier to find with experience and internal transfer opportunities.

    If you must attend college full time, go where co-ops are plentiful. In the Cincinnati area, we are fortunate to have large co-operative education programs with major corporations. The idea right now should be to not only get an education at a good price, but also to go where a job will be available.

    It’s sad to see unemployment stats for recent college grads – particularly with the heavy debt burdens that come with education.

  10. 10
    smartcredit Says:

    During junior and senior years of high school, I took general requirements at a local community college. When I graduated high school at age 17, I had 15 hours of college credit from community college. The courses were freshman courses: English 101, English 102, American History, Logic, etc. I was happy to earn all A’s in the 15 credits, but when I transferred the credits to my four year university upon high school graduation, the Univ. would not factor in the 4.0 GPA from community college. Be aware of this if you want to go this route.

    I loved to study and took extra classes. Due to my 15 credits in high school, I was able to earn my Bachelor’s in the hard sciences in three years, at age 20. I was accepted to graduate school, took as many credit hours as I was allowed to each semester, and earned my master’s degree at age 21. Not a route for everyone, I admit, but it did save me much money and I graduated with minimal student loans.

  11. 11
    EmptyTippy Says:

    Those are all great tips for cutting costs. What I’ve been doing is to cut cost so far is reselling my books online instead of to the student store. Which is actually profitable compared to what schools offer. Also, I tutor and edit, provide research for any subject I’ve mastered to other students. It’s brings in a good amount of money while school is in session and it’s easy.

  12. 12
    Floridian Says:

    look for jobs that reimburse you! I fooled around and lost my scholarship by the end of my freshman year. After coming to my senses and evaluating long term goals, I realized I REALLY wanted the degree – but had no way of affording it. Then I “stumbled across” news that Amoco reimbursed all employees 90%, in return for working at least 16 hours per week! So I got 90% of my tuition reimbursed every semester just for working a few hours at a gas station!!! (and was promoted to assistant mgr, then offered my own store – which I declined – that just wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.) I later found out that SunTrust (bank) also had a reimbursement program. Just look around, apparently there are many places that offer reimbursement if you just agree to work a minimum # of hours per week.

    good tip on saving the syllabus from each class!! By the time I got around to taking the CPA exam (at 30 years old), the state wanted a syllabus from both business law classes that I took – one a bachelor’s level class, the other a master’s level – in order to prove they weren’t duplicate classes. I had to provide a syllabus and class description for both classes, one of which I had taken 10 YEARS earlier, before the state would approve me to sit for the CPA exam.

  13. 13
    Pamela Says:

    Not for everyone, but if you have been offered a lot of scholarship or grant money to go to a university, then the 2 + 2 plan might not work for you. However, you might be able to do a consortium agreement between your university and a local community college so that you take half your courses at one and half at the other. You will still get the savings for your gen ed classes, but the hours will count for those that have to attend “full-time” to get a “full-ride”. You can bank the savings for later.

    Also, a lot of university libraries keep the textbooks for most classes at the reserve desk. Depending on your study habits, you might not even have to buy a book, just go to the library and check it out for 2 hours at a time.

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