The costs of college can feel like an insurmountable hurdle on your path toward a degree. If you are looking into pursuing higher education for the first time, you likely have questions like, “How much does college cost?” Especially with the state of the economy, it’s normal to be concerned about how to afford college on your current income – can you even balance the demands of a job and college at the same time? Thankfully, there are strategies you can use to lower the costs of going to college without sacrificing the quality of your degree. Here are eight options to consider:

1. Consider the Cost of Your College Choice

According to Forbes, the cost of college is rising faster than the rate of inflation. If you don’t know the cost of your college choice upfront, you could be in for an unwelcome surprise when the first tuition bill arrives.

How much does college cost? Honestly, the answer depends on the school you choose. The College Board estimates the average public four-year, in-state college to cost $10,940 a year, while the cost for a four-year, out-of-state program increases to as much as $28,240 a year. This cost doesn’t include the cost of room and board, which you’ll need to consider as well.

Do You Know the Cost of Your College?

Since the cost varies so much from institution to institution, this is a question to ask your college directly. Ask your admissions counselor for a breakdown of all the costs, then use that for your comparisons between schools.

2. What Can Financial Aid Cover?

Depending on the cost of financial aid, it can cover quite a bit of your college expenses. Scholarships may only cover tuition, or they may cover tuition, books, fees, and rooming costs. The terms of the scholarship will determine what’s covered.

Know What’s Available to You Through FAFSA

What financial aid you receive will depend largely on your income. Start your search for financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application will show you what grants and loans are available through government programs. Many private financial aid options will require you to complete the FAFSA, as well.

What Grants You Should Be Aware Of

If you can score a grant, you will get money to pay for college that you don’t have to pay back. The four most common grants available through the federal government are:

You can also find grants through professional and non-profit organizations in your chosen career field.

3. What Local and School Scholarships Are Available?

In addition to federal grants, you might qualify for local and school scholarships:

Scholarships With the School

The first place to check for scholarships is directly with your school. Talk to the financial aid department to learn the options available to you based on various factors, including your financial need, academic success, and demographic information. Sometimes specific departments within the school will offer scholarships, grants, and fellowships, as well.

Local Scholarships in Your State

There are also scholarships available at the state level. Many of these come from non-profit and professional organizations, and, while they may not be large awards, they can add up and often have less competition than other programs. Completing the FAFSA will start the ball rolling, but you can talk to your school’s financial aid department to learn more about state-specific programs. Filing the FAFSA as early as possible will increase your chances of being awarded a scholarship.

4. Live Off Campus

Living off campus can help you save substantially on your college costs. You won’t have to pay for a costly campus dining plan, and you can split the costs of room and board with roommates. Sometimes you can bunk with family members or even live at home for free.
Cost-Saving Benefits of Living Off Campus
The cost of on-campus housing varies from school to school. Living on campus can cost as much as $10,000 a year. Off-campus housing isn’t always free, so you’ll need to weigh the cost of your monthly rent, utilities, and travel expenses, but you may find that it’s cheaper than on-campus housing.

5. Buy Used Instead of New

Whenever possible, buy secondhand items to save money on your day-to-day cost of living. Thankfully, thrifting is quite popular, and you’ll find many treasures at your local resale shops. Make a goal of never buying something brand-new unless it's at a lower price than the resale shop.

What Can You Buy Second Hand?

Some items college students can easily buy used include:

  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Books
  • Vehicles
  • Home goods
  • Cookware

6. Can Online Classes Decrease Cost?

Oftentimes, schools offer discounts for online students, but more and more schools are charging full tuition for their online programs. Still, you can save some money by taking classes online in a few ways:

Living from Home

If you study online, you can study from home as a remote learner. You’ll be able to live with your parents and avoid most of the room and board costs associated with college.

No Commuting Costs

Online classes mean you won’t need to travel to and from campus. Therefore, you won’t need to pay for any of the expenses related to said travel, such as gas, parking fees, and the inherent wear and tear placed on your vehicle the more you drive it. 

Working More

Another perk of not having a commute to and from campus is the increased flexibility of logging into class from home. This flexibility and time saved means you could potentially fit in more work hours while you attend class, increasing your income potential and helping you pay for more things as you go, rather than accruing student debt.

7. How Can You Utilize Open Education Resources?

Open education resources are programs offered through many colleges that allow students to learn for free. While you can’t utilize open education resources for a fully free degree, you can use the courses to brush up on skills that will make your college program easier without having to pay for remedial services through the school. Some may even provide credentials that you could apply towards a few credit hours in your degree program. Even if these programs don’t apply to your degree specifically, they can help with studying and research, all for free.

8. Find a College With a Lower Tuition Cost

Finally, consider finding a more affordable college. There are many affordable online college options, as well as campus-based programs that cost less than others. You can choose your local community college for associate degree programs, which can then transfer into your bachelor’s program later.

If you prefer to finish your full degree at the same school, shop for a college with lower tuition rates. Keep in mind that the one that advertises the lowest rates may be hiding fees or may negate the supposed savings through higher room and board costs.

When looking at how to afford college, another option is to consider University of the Cumberlands. To help demystify how much college costs, we now offer a one-price promise tuition model. Whether you choose to study online or on-campus, your tuition costs include tuition, textbooks, tutoring, and academic services, all at one price, making it easier to understand the cost of college. To learn more, reach out to University of the Cumberlands today.