Mason jar of pennies spilled out on a gray carpet floor

6 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College

Those alarmingly high tuition bills don't necessarily mean your college costs need to be that high. Read on for ways to help pare down what you pay.

In case you didn’t know, college is expensive. How expensive? Try these numbers on for size: According to the College Board, four years at a public university costs about $89,044. If you plan to attend a private institution, that number will jump to $173,156. Despite those frightening statistics, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean your costs need to be that high. Read on for ways to help pare down what you pay for higher education.

1. Attend community college

Attending community college for your first two years of school can cut your overall costs tremendously. An average year at a community school runs you just over $2,000, according to Bankrate. If you’re worried about discrepancies between two-year and four-year school classes, keep in mind that a community college’s curriculum may be quite similar to your school of choice; many schools have articulation agreements—formal arrangements that allow certain course work at one institution to be accepted at another institution for credit—for this very reason. You just need to make sure all your credits transfer over.

Related: Top 10 Reasons to Study at a Community College

2. Stay in state

If you have your eye on a public institution located out of state, you may want to rethink that move when choosing a college. And don’t think that the lower price tag means you’re getting some bargain basement, clearance sale education—it’s actually an incredible deal. For example, residents of Arizona can plan to spend roughly $19,000 per year to attend Arizona State University, but those from out of state will pay a whopping $33,000. Plus, the closer you are to home, the cheaper it is to head back on a weekend to see family and friends. If you feel the urge to get away from your hometown, try looking at the farthest state schools—a two-hour drive can make all the difference in the world!

3. Cut back on costly services

College can be overwhelming, making it easy to mistakenly assume you need extra services like laundry pickup, errand running, and hot food delivery. However, these programs aren’t cheap and aren’t necessary. Research time-management tips online to help free up your day, and take your books with you to the Laundromat if necessary. For the other chores, simply find the time to do them yourself.

4. Entertain yourself on the cheap

Just because Lady Gaga is coming to town doesn’t mean you have to shell out $100 or more to catch the show. Instead, look for cheap or inexpensive entertainment options on campus, such as live music by local bands, sporting events, or free movie screenings. Sure, it may not be Lady Gaga, but you'll be supporting local! Replace a few nights out with some friendly card games in your dorm or apartment, or try budget-savvy adventures like day trips to walkable cities, hiking, and camping.

Related: Where and How to Find Free Events in College

5. Look for student discounts

Student discounts are available all over town; they just might not be advertised. Check for them wherever you go nearby your college campus: clothing stores, retail outlets, and coffee shops are just a few likely businesses offering lower prices for college students. If you're attending a school in a "college town," you're even more likely to find organizations and companies offering these opportunities. Keep your ID card tucked safely in your wallet at all times so it’s always handy.

6. Start paying back loans immediately

There’s no rule that says you have to wait until graduation to start paying back your loans. You may only be able to do this if you take a part-time job, but that should give you the motivation you need to work during school. Not convinced? Check out this example: You work a part-time job for 12 hours per week, making $12 per hour. If you do this for four years during an average semester of 16 weeks, you’re going to have over $18,000 to put toward your loans. That’s going to make a huge dent in your interest payments. The average college graduate now finishes school with $26,000 in student loan debt. Don’t let yours get close to that. Put the above-mentioned tips into place and always keep cost saving in the back of your mind. It can be easy to let your spending get out of control during school, especially with federal loan money, but that’s never a good idea. As soon as you start bringing in a paycheck after graduation, you will need to start paying rent, building an emergency fund, and saving for retirement. That’s quite a tall order if you have a hefty loan payment every month to boot.

Related: 8 Ways to Pay Off Student Loans Faster and Save Money

Although it may seem impossible, there are ways to reduce your college costs. Some are more extreme, like choosing a college closer to home or attending community college. And others allow you to attend your dream school while employing smart strategies to keep debt down. Whatever path you choose, the money factor should always be carefully thought out and addressed as soon as you can.

If you're still looking for money-saving tips in the college search, visit Money Crashers or check out our Financial Aid section. 

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