Are you heading off to college? If so, you're likely stressed about your finances. Tuition is a huge obstacle for many students pursuing a college degree. According to Forbes, four-year college tuition has risen rapidly by 80 percent since 2000. Pinching enough pennies together to afford tuition bills is difficult. Unfortunately, college students are drawn to loans for upfront cash fast. Student loans are predatory traps where the borrowed money must be repaid with incurred interest. CNBC reports that America's student loan debt passed $1.7 trillion in February 2020. If you're unable to pay back your loans and default, your credit and financial future can plummet. Here are eight better money-saving tips to shrink college tuition without loans.
- Attend an In-State Public College
College is an opportunity to spread your wings and find your freedom. Students who stray too far from home pay more though. Most public colleges set an in-state and out-of-state tuition price. In-state rates are dramatically cheaper to attract nearby state residents. For 2020, the College Board found the average in-state annual cost is $14,480 less than out-of-state fees. Therefore, attending in-state colleges can save you $57,920 or more during your four years. Picking a public school right in your backyard isn't necessary. Just stay within your state's borders to save.
- Choose a 2+2 Transfer Pathway
Enrolling directly in a bachelor's program for your freshman year will cost more. Attending a cheap community college first is a wise, money-saving strategy. The U.S. Department of Education reports an average community college price of $3,322. Two years of junior college courses are cheaper than one year at senior colleges. There's no shame in starting at a community college. Pick an Associate of Science or Associate of Arts degree with a 2+2 transfer pathway. You'll finish 60 credits of lower-division general education before transferring to your desired college.
- File the Federal Student Aid Application
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid isn't only for loan coverage. Every undergrad should file the FAFSA form online sometime between October 1st and June 30th. United States citizens and eligible residents pay $0 to see if they qualify for need-based grants. Have your parents' most recent tax filing on hand to quickly answer the questions. Double-check all data to calculate your expected family contribution correctly. You could receive the Federal Pell Grant for up to $6,345 per year. The Federal SEOG Grant and TEACH Grant also give up to $4,000 annually.
- Search for Free Scholarship Money
Scholarships are college student lifesavers that give out free money. Unlike loans, scholarships aren't repaid or financially binding. Many scholarships can be used on tuition, room and board, or textbooks. Ask your financial aid office about college and departmental scholarships. Perfect grades and high SAT or ACT scores aren't always required. Scholarships are given based on artistic talent, community service, athletics, research, and more. Keep searching for scholarships all four years. Community foundations, churches, civic groups, and businesses are great scholarship sources.
- Get a Paying Work-Study Position
Finding a part-time job or side hustle off-campus will help cover your tuition. But if scheduling and transport become issues, try work-study positions instead. The Federal Work-Study Program offers jobs built around your course load. You'll receive at least the minimum wage for working 10-20 hours weekly. Work-study positions can cut your tuition by up to $5,920 yearly. On-campus employees work in the dining hall, dorms, library, athletic center, and other offices. Work-study placements off-campus are sometimes available at local nonprofits too. Apply early to qualify for limited work-study positions.
- Minimize Room and Board Costs
Course tuition isn't the only big expense when living at college. Room and board can cost an excessive amount, especially in big cities. According to CNN, the average room and board rate is $10,440. Multiply that by four and you're looking at the price of some condos. Nixing the room and board is another money-saving tip to shrink your college tuition. Consider residing at home and commuting to campus daily. If you're desperate for independence, search for local off-campus apartments. Living with roommates will offset the rent for big savings. Cooking your own food will also be cheaper than meal plans.
- Take College Credits Earlier
Lower your college tuition by racking up credits before your first semester. During high school, take Advanced Placement courses. Scoring 3-4 or higher on AP exams gives you three automatic college credits. Consider dual enrollment programs at your local college. Concurrent enrollment lets you take 100-level courses during your junior and senior years for a fraction of the cost. After high school graduation, spend the summer taking some virtual freshman courses. Online classes can charge as little as $100 per credit. Transferring in transcript credits may help you graduate faster than 48 months.
- Utilize Military Education Benefits
Have you enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces? Then don't forget about your GI Bill benefits. Active-duty military and veterans usually qualify for four years of paid tuition and fees. Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bill funding pertains to brave men and women who served at least 90 days. Atop full-tuition education benefits, service members can receive stipends up to $2,050 monthly for living expenses. America's heroes aren't the only ones who may benefit. The Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance program also pays college tuition for families of fallen or disabled soldiers.
There are many other frugality tips to shrink college tuition without student loans. For example, you can claim up to $2,500 each year for the American Opportunity Credit on your taxes. You could skip the overpriced campus bookstore and rent or buy used textbooks. You might qualify for your college's free laptop program to cut technology costs. You may work for an employer with tuition reimbursement, such as AT&T or Proctor & Gamble. You can cash in any assets in a 529 college savings plan. Money-saving options are fortunately endless to afford your college dreams. Shrink your college tuition without loans now to ensure you're not drowning in debt later.