How to Pay for College- Part 1

Teenage girl with savings for education near drawn graduation cap on dark background

Going to college has a ton of benefits — it’s fun, educational and can lead to a roughly $30,000 annual earnings premium for people who graduate with bachelor’s degrees, government data shows. But it is also undeniably expensive and you may be wondering how to pay for college.

Experts say it’s never too early to start thinking about college — where you want to attend, what you want to study and, of course, how you’re going to pay for it.

These questions often bear down on people in their junior or senior years of high school, but experts say you can alleviate some of the dread by thinking about these questions sooner rather than later.

No matter where you and your family are in your higher education journey, it’s smart to make a financial plan that combines your savings and current income with student loans and “free money” from grants and scholarships.

Don’t know where to start? Our guide covers 14 strategies to help you pay for college. We will break these down in to three parts. Part 2 of this article can be found here covering funding programs, scholarships, and grants and part 3 is here covering loans.

How to lower tuition and room and board

First, we’ll cover several tried-and-true methods of keeping college expenses as low as possible. Many will take place before you even choose a college.

1. Compare different college options

Not all colleges are created equal, especially when it comes to cost. For example, in-state fees for public institutions — which receive government funding — tend to be cheaper than fees for private schools — which rely on their students for revenue.

For the 2021-2022 academic year, the average annual total for in-state undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board at public colleges was $22,690, according to the College Board. The total for public colleges for out-of-state students was $39,510. It was $51,690 at private nonprofit institutions. (All those figures are for four-year institutions.)

Private, for-profit figures were not included, but those institutions typically charge even more. As you can see, different types of colleges come with drastically different price tags. The price will also vary considerably by state.

In Wyoming, for example, in-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges cost an average of $6,100; in Vermont, they cost $17,750, College Board data from the same year shows.

There’s also a difference between the listed price and what a student actually pays. A college’s so-called “sticker price” is often a scary-large number that doesn’t include financial aid. (Private colleges in particular end up discounting tuition, often by at least half, research shows.)

In order to figure out what you’ll actually pay, you’ll want to look for a college’s “net price,” which you can find with the help of institution-specific calculators or general tools like It’s better to use tools to get a personalized net price, rather than just looking at an average net price.

And remember that you’re not only on the hook for tuition and fees. The full cost of college also includes room, board, textbooks, transportation, health care… the list goes on. If you need to reduce costs even further, you might want to consider starting at a two-year college or community college before transferring to a four-year school to complete your degree.

2. Consider living off campus

Living on campus can be a great experience. It’s very convenient and you’ll be surrounded by your classmates and professors — but it also tends to be very, very pricey.

Aside from tuition, on-campus room and board can be a major college expense. In some cases, it can even exceed the cost of tuition.

Once you’ve chosen a college, you’ll want to carefully weigh whether you want to live on or off campus. Look over its dorm-room as well as meal-plan estimates. If these numbers aren’t readily available on your college’s website, try reaching out directly to the financial-aid or housing offices.

Keep in mind that these numbers will likely be ballpark estimates. Your ultimate expenses depend on your meal plan, which dorm you’re assigned to, and more.

According to the College Board, living on campus cost approximately $11,950 for four-year public colleges and $13,600 for four-year private, nonprofit colleges during the 2021-2022 academic year.

In some cases, your college may not let you stay in your dorm during winter and summer breaks. So you may be required to find alternative housing options anyway.

You may be able to skirt a lot of these headaches and costs by choosing to live off campus. Although this isn’t a surefire way to reduce costs, many students find more affordable options nearby.

Off-campus housing expenses can also vary greatly, though, and you may need to pay a security deposit. Additionally, you’ll want to factor in groceries (in lieu of a meal plan) and other monthly expenses such as renter’s insurance.

Debt Relief

3. Reduce your number of classes

One smart strategy to reduce your tuition is by reducing the number of credits you have to pay for to earn your degree.

There are several ways to do so, and they vary by state and college. Here’s a look at the most popular methods.

AP and CLEP tests

Advanced Placement (AP) courses and College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests are two major ways to “test out” of college classes. Both are administered by the College Board.

If you did well on your high school AP exams, you may be able to send your scores to a college to be counted as credit toward your degree. Most colleges will grant credit for the most popular AP courses, according to the College Board, but rules vary by college and academic department.

About 2,900 colleges accept CLEP test scores, too, the College Board says. You must register to take these standardized tests, and depending on your score, it may satisfy your college’s general education requirements.

CLEP is not as popular as the AP program, so be sure to check that your college accepts CLEP scores before you sign up to take an exam.

Earn college credits in high school

Dual enrollment is another popular way to potentially reduce college costs — and it can help you graduate college faster.

Also known as concurrent enrollment or early college, these programs allow you to take college classes, usually at a nearby community college, while you’re still in high school. Doing so allows you to earn high school credit and college credit at the same time.

By the time you graduate high school, you’ll have already knocked out some of your general education requirements for college.

Every state except New York and Pennsylvania have state-wide dual enrollment programs. Even so, that doesn’t mean you can’t dual enroll in those two states. You still can, but the program will likely be run by specific colleges.

Dual enrollment is often a cheaper alternative per credit hour than directly enrolling in a college after you graduate high school, and in many cases, it can be free. The price depends on many factors, though, and could be set by your state, your school district, or the college you’re dually enrolled in. What better way to help pay for college costs than by not having to pay tuition in the first place?

Originally published by Julia Glum

You may also like...