The cost of attending college is more than just tuition. It's books, fees, living expenses, supplies and extracurricular activities. At first glance, the total can seem daunting, but don't worry—there are still ways to save. Use these tips to help cut down on college expenses.
Maximize Free Money and Discounts
It's never too late to find free money—you can apply for scholarships year round. The easiest and fastest way to find scholarships is online. Scholarship search engines provide access to millions of scholarships in one place. For example, you can search 3 million scholarships worth more than $18 billion using Discover's Free Scholarship Search. In addition to looking online, remember to also look close to home. There are often businesses and organizations in your community who have scholarships available. Regardless of where you are looking, you should avoid scholarships that charge application fees.
Also look for state and regional tuition discounts. Many states have programs that help residents attend a college out-of-state without paying out-of-state tuition. There may also be discounts for more than one sibling attending the same school. Check with your state or the colleges you are interested in to see what discounts are available.
In addition to discounts, ask about fixed-rate tuition plans. Some schools have programs that lock in the tuition costs for an undergraduate program. Be sure to check with the financial aid office to see if they offer this option and for any eligibility requirements.
Save on Tuition and Books
Another way to reduce the cost of college is to enroll in community college classes. Tuition at a community college is typically lower than a 4-year school. Taking classes during the summer or starting off at a community college and then transferring to a 4-year school can help reduce overall tuition costs.
If you're attending a 4-year school, it's a good idea to maximize the number of college credits you can take each semester. Many colleges do not charge for more than 12 credit hours, even if you take 15 credits a semester. You can save money by taking more credits which may allow you to graduate in less time.
Also remember to stick with the same major. When you switch majors, you could end up paying for classes that don't contribute to your degree hours. If you're undecided, then talk to your advisor about taking core classes until you decide what you want to study.
You can also consider an accelerated degree program that help students graduate in less time. Or if you need to work, there are co-op programs that allow you to work as part of your education, and any earnings you make do not affect your financial aid eligibility.
Books can also add up quickly, so buy used textbooks when you can and rent textbooks if that option is available. It's always a good idea to find out more about the required texts before purchasing, so be sure to talk to your professor first. If a professor is requiring a new version of a textbook, try to find out what's changed from the previous version. Often times, they order of the chapters has changed, but the content is the same.
Reduce Living Expenses
Next to tuition, living expenses are the second largest cost of attending college. One way to save is to live at home to save on rent, utilities, food and other room and board expenses. If living at home and commuting to campus aren't an option, then look at all of your housing options. In some cases, off-campus housing may be less expensive than living in a dorm or an on-campus apartment, so be sure to check.
If you aren't living at home, then get a roommate. It's always less expensive to live with someone and split the living expenses, plus it's nice to share the cooking and other household chores. If you need furniture, borrow it where you can and ask for hand-me-downs, or look for used or inexpensive furniture if you have to buy. Car pool when you need to drive, and walk or bike when you can.
Compare the cost of the campus meal plans to buying your own food. If you aren't eating on campus for three meals a day, then you may want to consider skipping the meal plan or buying a smaller one. You can also save money on food by cooking your meals versus eating out—plus you will likely not be as prone to gain the dreaded Freshman 15.