How Anyone Can Pay Less For College – Even With No Financial Aid

photo-1473624566182-509e437512f4-1In my college planning workshop titled “Pay Less for College” I help parents increase their chances of getting financial aid for college, discover their best opportunities for merit-based, academic scholarships, and make them smarter consumers of a college education.

A few years ago one family gave me the following feedback. The said, “Mike, your presentation is great, if I have a lot of money to move around, or no money at all, or my kids’ grades are off the charts. But what about the rest of us? How can the 80% of families that don’t fall into those more extreme categories pay less for college?”

That got me to thinking…

Below are 5 ways anyone can pay less for college even with no financial aid.

1. Get credit for college while in high school. Consider PSEO, AP Classes, the College Level Examination Program and other ways to get college credit while still in high school.

Cheri Frame, author of the book Credits Before College and founder of the website by the same name, says that high school students can get up to 2 years or more of college credits completed before they even finish high school through credits by exam.

Other opportunities such as Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) and AP Classes allow your student to take college level coursework in lieu of their typical high school classes.

All these programs have pros and cons. Not all of them will necessarily be a fit for your student, but each semester of college they can knock off before they graduate from high school saves them (and you) up to $6,900 at a school like the University of MN or as much as $18,000 in tuition at a typical private college.

2. Community College. While they may not always be your student’s first choice, local community colleges can represent a huge savings for many families. Here in the Twin Cities, tuition and fees at community colleges average less than $5,400 per year.

Community colleges can also represent a roundabout way to get into a hard-to-get-into state college or university. For example, the Minnesota Cooperative Admissions Program (aka MnCAP) guarantees admission to the University of MN for students who complete the Associate of Arts degree or MN Transfer Curriculum from one of seven metro-area community colleges.

Not every college at the University participates in the MnCAP program, but many do including the College of Biological Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, and the College of Science and Engineering.

Entering the University of MN through the MnCap program saves a student about $8,490 a year in tuition and fees or about $17,000 over two years.

3. Live at home. Room and board expenses at many schools now exceed $15,000 per year especially at the more selective schools on the East or West Coast. Here in the Midwest room and board is more likely to be in the $8,000 – $10,000 range.

Nevertheless, if you live within commuting distance of college these costs add up. Like many major metropolitan areas, the Twin Cities is fortunate to have a number of excellent schools in our area.

Over four years, room and board costs could tally up to more than $40,000 at some schools. Combining a two year stint at community college while living at home could save a student $50,000 or more.

4. Public colleges and Universities. Private colleges and universities often offer students significant amounts of financial aid to help defray their costs. In many cases they can even be about the same price as a comparable public university – but not always.

For most families, most of the time, public colleges and universities will likely be your student’s least expensive option when it comes to paying for college.

The key here is to focus on public colleges and universities that provide you with resident tuition rates. Paying non-resident rates will increase your total college expenses significantly.

For example, resident tuition and fees at the University of MN are about $13,840. The same student at the University of Iowa or Arizona State could pay double that amount as a non-resident.

5. Finish in 4 years. Sounds obvious, right? Finishing college in 4 years probably costs than finishing in 5 years. You don’t need a degree in math to figure that out.

Yet, as obvious as that seems, most students and their families have no idea how long it takes the average student graduate from the schools they are considering. Some have 4-year grad rates as low as 33%. Choosing a school with a high graduation rate helps ensure that your student finishes on time saving you and them a pile of cash.

Another key stat to research: the average retention rate. In other words, if your student starts at a particular college, what are the odds that they will graduate from that same college?

What’s more expensive than not graduating in 4 years? Not graduating at all.

Even if a private college costs a little more on a net cost basis than what you would pay at a comparable public school, the assurance that you will graduate in 4 years may be worth the extra price. In the long run, graduating from a private college within four years, may actually cost you less than your local public university.

The surest way to pay less for college. These ideas are nothing new, but when you consider that a college education now costs anywhere between $100,000 and $200,000 or more, no idea is too simple or too obvious to toss aside.

The surest way to give your kids the college education they need without bankrupting yourself in the process is to make yourself a smarter consumer of a college education. Begin by attending one of my college planning workshops (just click the Speaking and Events tab at the top of this webpage for a list) or downloading My Free College Planning Tools and Resources at the top right hand corner of this page.