Monday, January 6, 2014

How to Go to College for CHEAP

Some students will owe more in student loans than what they pay for their first house.  Unfortunately, factors such as where friends are going, location, and advertising play a big role in the decision-making process.  Students may not realize the enormous cost difference between schools.  One of our local private schools charges an average of $26,830 per semester including room and board.  That's about $107,320 for a bachelor's degree over four years.  A state school in the same town charges an average of $15,336 including room and board for the same degree, resulting in $61,344 over four years.  You don't have to leave school with a 30-year commitment to paying off debt.  In fact, you can go to school for cheap or even get paid to go to school.  

Here are some ways to go to school for cheap:

  • CLEP, DSST, AP exams.  I have personally CLEP-ed 21 credit hours.  If I had know about CLEP earlier, I would have tested out of several more college courses, maxing out at 32 credit hours for the school I am attending.  Private schools tend to accept more CLEP hours, state schools tend to accept less.  I encourage all high school students to CLEP like there is no tomorrow.  More than one senior in high school is already a sophomore in college before they even start.  Look at the pass rates and start with courses you know you will need for your degree and that have high pass rates.  Use to study for the CLEP.  They'll tell you when you are ready to take it.  I have passed EVERY CLEP I studied for using InstantCert.  Plan to study for about a week on InstantCert before taking each test.  Cost is $19.95 per month, but if you use promo code 68970 you can save $5 on your first month.
  • Study for the ACT -- don't just wing it.  If you are a good student in school to begin with, your ACT score will reflect that without any additional studying, but by studying you can raise your score by a few points or more.  Most colleges offer scaled discounts (aka scholarships) based on ACT score.  Depending on the school, you may not even have to apply for these scholarships -- they just automatically adjust the tuition based on your ACT score.  I'll use our local state school, Missouri State University, for conservative numbers just to show you the thousands an incoming freshman can save by making a higher than average score on the ACT.  Missouri State requires an application for these, but schools like Evangel University don't for ACT scholarships.
    • $1,500 per year goes to as many students as qualify.  Must be in the top 20% of class (or 3.70 GPA) and a minimum ACT score of 24.
    • $2,500 per year goes to as many students as qualify.  Must be in the top 20% of class (or 3.70 GPA) and a minimum ACT of 26.
    • $5,000 per year goes to as many students as qualify.  Must be in the top 10% of class (or 3.90 GPA) and a minimum ACT of 28. 
    • A full-ride scholarship will be offered to 35 students each year that graduate in the top 10% of their senior class, have a 3.90 GPA, and have an ACT of 30.
  • If I say "scholarships" you say "duh!"  Scholarships.  Duh!  Scholarships.  Duh!  Most schools -- private and state -- have hundreds of scholarships in-house (meaning, donors give money to the school directly to disburse to the students) ripe for the taking if you just apply for them.  Go to the school website and find the link to General and Departmental scholarships.  Bigger schools will integrate all their scholarship applications into one online link, which makes it ridiculously easy.  But if you have to work to find the application, that's even better -- that means you'll be competing with less people, because if it isn't easy for you to find it isn't easy for them to find, either.  And they'll quit looking.  You won't.  Most people don't apply for scholarships because they don't think they qualify academically or because they didn't come to school on an athletic scholarship.  Forget all that.  Many applications don't even require an essay, just data.  For the ones that do require an essay...
  • Go to and pay to have a qualified editor revise your scholarship essays.  I imagine that you think your essay already looks pretty good.  Well, let me just tell you... it's worth the 5 bucks.  Some of these people can take your pretty good essay and make it a spectacular essay.  (This also works for specialized program applications where there is a competitive rate of admission.)
  • Attend a school in your state to get the best possible tuition rate.  You don't want to be charged a surcharge for out-of-state tuition.  It makes a big difference.
  • Live at home or with another relative.  When you see with your own eyes how much schools are charging for room and board, I think you'll agree you can do better.  Let's use the same state school mentioned above for room and board cost examples.  Out of their quoted $15,336 cost per year $7,428 of it is in room and board.  If you could reduce your cost of education for a 4-year college down to $7,908 per year now you're really talking.  That would be $31,632 over a 4-year period.  
  • Go to a community college for the first two years, then transfer to a state college. Cheapest possible route right here.  Tuition is dramatically different.  Said state school above is quoting $7,908 for tuition and books for the year.  Community college in the same town is charging $3,760 for one year (assuming 15-credit hours for each semester and includes $1,000 in books for the year -- more than anyone will ever need to spend on textbooks).
  • Most colleges quote $1,000 in textbooks per year to present their cost of attendance to students.  If you buy all new textbooks you may very well spend that much, but I'm assuming you are smarter than that.  Used books are available at your college bookstore, but you can get a much better deal on eBay, craigslist, and Amazon.  Amazon even offers a "rental" option now.  Plan ahead a couple weeks to allow for shipping then count all the cash you saved.
  • Know the facts about tuition cost at the schools you are looking into.  That is a big factor, if it isn't the biggest factor involved.  Use the College Affordability & Transparency Center.  It is a government website and -- believe it or not -- the facts are presented in an easy to understand way.  Since the government issues most student loans, you can trust that the statistics on average debt students leave that school with is accurate.  Also, it gives you the NET PRICE students pay, taking into consideration grants and scholarships the students received.  This makes the numbers more fair than what is published on the school websites, because some schools have more generous donors than others per student capita.  For example, students at private schools typically receive more scholarships.  Private schools are still more expensive, but the gap may not be as big as you think, depending on which school you are comparing.  Get the facts.

Here are the obvious no-brainers...

  • FAFSA.  Fill out your FAFSA as close to January 1st as possible.  All schools require having one on file, so you might as well do it early get more free money.  On January 1st, you won't have your taxes back yet, but estimate the numbers.  Then go back once you have your tax returns and use the IRS Retrieval Tool to transfer the information.  The sooner you get this done, the better.  That's why I said January 1st.  Although the federal deadline isn't until much later, states also use this information.  Their deadlines are earlier, and the money goes out first come first serve.  After they are out of money for the school year they are OUT.  
  • Athletics and other extracurricular groups can get you scholarships that others may not necessarily qualify for.  
  • Parents.  They may help with your tuition, but then again... if you use the steps above you could already be attending for free or getting paid to go to school.

Now, let's put it all together.

Highest ACT score you can get.  Try for a 24 or higher.
CLEP like crazy. (Shave a year off by testing out of 30 credit hours if you can.)
Apply for FAFSA early.
Apply for general and departmental scholarships. 
Buy used textbooks.
Community school for the first two years.  Live with parents.
State school for the last two years.  Live with parents.

1 comment:

  1. Just received a check for $500.

    Sometimes people don't believe me when I tell them about how much you can earn by taking paid surveys online...

    So I show them a video of myself actually getting paid over $500 for filling paid surveys to finally set the record straight.