I’ve been involved in the higher education field for over twenty years, 16 years of which I have worked full time as an academic and career counselor for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I myself was part of the program I now work for and have my own experience being a first-generation college student. My parents did not have the means to help pay for my college, but they let me live at home rent-free while I attended college, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology (a degree that has paid off handsomely – take that naysayers).
I graduated in 4.5 years… and never needed to take out a college loan. I was a poor student in high school so I was not able to get any scholarships (that’s on me). So, with no scholarships or family money, how did I get through without the need for loans? We’ll get to that. Let me first say that I encounter students every year who utilize similar steps that I used to control costs while attending college. Now, I benefited from being able to commute to college and not pay rent; that was huge! Two of the biggest expenses in college are a dorm room and a meal plan (living at home for free negated those costs – thank you Mom and Dad). Yet, beyond free housing, I cut costs whenever possible and was able to walk out with a college degree and no debt. Here’s how.
First, as already stated, I chose a college near my home and was able to live at home rent-free. If you can do that, you will be saving around $5000 to $10,000 per year. For freshmen and sophmores required to purchase a meal plan, you would save about $2000/semester on top of the dorm room charge. True, I had a car and spent money on gas. Yet, I ended up taking the bus most days, which cut down on gas and maintenance charges. The cool thing now is that many colleges provide a free pass for public transportation nowadays. If public transportation is available, use it (especially if your college provides a free pass during the academic year).
Second thing to investigate is available federal and state aid. From the federal government, look into Pell grants (you will need to complete the FAFSA). In New York, we have TAP; many states have similar tuition assistance options for state residents. Also key here, out of state students often pay a higher tuition rate so going to a college in your home state helps reduce costs. As for Pell and TAP, they are grants, which generally do not need to be paid back (as opposed to loans). Check with your college’s financial aid office for guidance.
While we are on the subject of financial aid offices, a third way to help fund your college education is to find grants. Most financial aid offices provide links to reputable grant search engines for students to find grants that might provide a couple hundred to several thousands of dollars in aid (that does not need to be paid back). If you didn’t do well in high school, relax a bit. Many grants are based on your college grades; so put the time in to do well in classes. Even if you only find grants that provide a few hundred dollars, such grants can end up taking out a lot of your college bill when all is said and done. Oh, by the way, keep searching for grants EVERY semester. Don’t give up if you don’t find any for your freshman year. Keep looking.
A last cost-cutting technique for today is to find discount stores through which to buy class textbooks. Textbooks could cost up to $1000 per semester, and college bookstores are friggin expensive. Whether through Amazon or any number of used book vendors online, a student could cut out hundreds of dollars per semester in buying books at discounted prices. Just make certain you purchase the right book (check ISBN numbers). FYI – you can now rent textbooks, which in turn could save you substantial amounts of money as can purchasing or renting Digital editions of textbooks.
There you have major ways to cut college costs. For those saying they want the “full” college experience (dorming and being off on your own), I get that. Yet, keep in mind that the average debt of a college graduate is over $25,000. If what you really want is a chance to explore other parts of the world, you could always take a semester to study abroad or save your money and take trips after you graduate. If you are going to dorm, do what you can to save money when possible and get campus jobs within ‘residence life’ that provide student employees with free room and board. For me, not having loans after graduation allowed for me to pursue my career goals and dreams, something loans would have made difficult to do. Just sayin. Choose your debts wisely. Next post will cover ways to make money and gain experience related to your career path while still an undergraduate.