Overcoming Tough Times: College Cost Cutting Tips

Are you concerned about the cost of college and looking for affordability without compromising educational quality? Many families are interested in smart educational values. These 11 tips that can help preserve your budget and improve your candidacy.

  • Turbo Charge Your Academic Record

A rigorous class schedule shows intellectual curiosity, a willingness to challenge yourself, and that you are comfortable with hard work. There are financial benefits too. A strong academic record can lead to merit scholarships, and credits earned from dual enrollment, AP, and IB classes, CLEP exams, and summer courses can cut college costs. Completing college in three years instead, four can be a 25% savings.

  • Enhance Your Desirability by Keeping Active and Being a Leader

All competitive colleges seek to build a diversified and interesting student body. These days, there is a growing preference for involved, high-achievers who also possess one or more activities (pursued with depth and passion) that sets them apart from other applicants. Developing a “hook” need not be expensive. You don’t need to build schools in Africa. A hook can be an exciting activity, volunteer effort, or employment where you have shown leadership and commitment over time. Furthermore, when it comes to winning scholarships, exciting activities where you have demonstrated passion and dedication can significantly improve your chances of success.

  • Take Advantage of Free and Low-Cost Prep for SAT / ACT

Strong scores not only improve your chances of acceptance, but they can also lead to significant scholarship money. People who say you can’t prep for the SAT and ACT are wrong. There’s no need to spend a lot of money on expensive test prep. For those with initiative, there are many excellent free prep tools to help you boost your scores.

  • Visit Colleges on the Web

Hold off booking your flights and use the Internet to learn about colleges. In addition to the school web portals, there are a host of exceptional sites offering everything from online tours to rankings. While there’s no substitute for an in-person visit, save your money for visiting schools that genuinely interest you.

  • Consider the Full Cost of Education

Tuition is just one factor and can be less than half the annual cost. Total cost includes tuition, room and board, student fees, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses. If you are thinking about graduate or professional school, keep that in mind too. Also, factor in various opportunities to offset costs by earning money during college from part-time and summer jobs.

  • Research Scholarships

With billions of dollars awarded annually, it is worthwhile to research and pursue scholarship opportunities.

  • Don’t Assume You are Not Eligible for Financial Aid

Many families who could receive assistance don’t pursue the financial aid process because they assume they won’t be eligible. Many factors are considered in aid eligibility, and it is not unusual for families with relatively high incomes and assets to qualify for aid and scholarships. Keep track of deadlines and submission requirements.

  • Understand Financial Aid Offers & Prepare to Negotiate

Financial aid packages can be appealed and improved. Consider contacting financial aid officers directly if your situation has changed or if you’ve received a more attractive package from another school of a similar or higher caliber. And, take the time to understand aid offers fully. Check to see if it’s for multiple years or just a single year and if there are qualifiers, such as maintaining a minimum GPA, pursuing a specific major, or playing on an athletic team.

  • Make Your Interest Known to Colleges

The Common Application has led to an interesting new set of admissions dynamics. More students are applying to more schools with a greater focus on scholarship money and affordability. While applications (and rejections) are up at many colleges, admissions officers are paying closer attention to yield — the percentage of the students who are offered admission who decide to attend. A high yield makes a college appear more desirable. Given similar qualifications, an applicant who seems likely to attend generally stands a better chance for admission. Some colleges even track online visits. You can “show the love” by registering on the college’s web site, registering when you visit the school, communicating with admissions officers and alumni, participating in blogs and web forums, getting your application in early and supplementing your application with “extras” that convey your sincere interest.

  • Don’t Rule Out Private Schools

Private colleges can be less expensive than state universities. It is not unusual for a private college education to cost less than attending a public university as an out-of-state student. Also, many private schools offer merit aid to attractive candidates regardless of financial need; in some cases, private colleges are less expensive than in-state public universities. Keep in mind that many schools, especially those with large endowments, have generous financial assistance programs (including merit scholarships) and some waive tuition for families below certain income levels. An InLikeMe favorite is Kiplinger’s Best College Values, an excellent resource for those seeking affordable, high-quality education.

  • Be Realistic and Open To a Range of Colleges

While elite colleges can add prestige to your resume, you can receive a high-quality education elsewhere. So much of education is what you put into it. There are many reasonable options from a community college (many students successfully transfer after two years) to less selective schools that offer generous scholarships to strong candidates. Assess your viability across a range of options. If you are considering graduate or professional school, it may be easier for you to distinguish yourself at a less expensive and competitive institution positively. Money saved on undergraduate education can be applied to graduate school. Finally, if your GPA, test scores, and extra-curricular activities are not strong enough for a scholarship at a top school, you may earn one at a less competitive college where you are considered a highly-recruited student.

Written by: Lynn Radlauer Lubell, Publisher of InLikeMe.com and Founder of Admission By Design.