When my daughter entered high school, I already knew that someday she would want to further her education and go to college. She’d been planning for a long time to be a teacher, specifically a Special Education teacher, and that required higher education. I thought I knew all of the things I had to do to keep out of pocket expenses to a minimum—we’re a middle-class family, so we don’t fall under the “low income” or “need-based” umbrella. That doesn’t mean we can afford to pay for college without a little help.
Anxious to do the best I could to keep costs down but still get my daughter into the college she wanted, I filled out the FAFSA (Financial Aid Application) as soon as possible, made sure she got decent grades and made her apply as early as she could. But it never occurred to me that there were things she did or could do that would make a huge difference in both the up-front and final costs of higher education.
Here are five ways to save:
1. AP Courses. If your child is a good student, consider allowing them to challenge themselves with an advanced placement course or two. My daughter took several, and of course, I was proud of her dedication, but little did I know those courses would be saving me money in the long run. The AP exams are graded between 1 and 5. Most colleges will count between a 3 and a 5 on the yearly AP exam as credit for a college course, thereby allowing your child to skip that course and pay up to thousands less for a degree.
2. Campus Visits Can Mean an Application Waiver. Some colleges and universities will waive your child’s college application fee if you schedule a visit to the campus. This is worth a savings of anywhere from $25-$125.
3. Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships. Apply early and often, for anything your child is remotely qualified for. Sometimes scholarships sound like they’re only for those associated with a particular group, but in fact they are open to all. Check out scholarships.com, fastnet.com, and your child’s guidance office. In my state, there’s a full tuition scholarship given to students who do well on standardized testing, so make sure your child has a good breakfast on that day!
4. Compare Aid Packages! It might seem like a given that a state college is less expensive than a private institution, but often private colleges will give a promising student an aid package that compares handily with the seemingly less expensive option of a public university.
5. Consider Community College. For a student who has had a tough transcript, or even one who has a great transcript but doesn’t qualify for a comprehensive aid package, consider checking out community colleges near you. You get a degree from the college you graduate from, but you can transfer in after you’ve paid a little less for the core courses like Math and English (unless, of course, you’re a Math or English major…) In my state of Massachusetts, there is even a program called Mass Transfer that allows a student the opportunity to transfer to a 4-year college from a community college and pay a significantly lower amount than if they attended all four years at a private institution.
Most importantly, check out all of your options. Every state is different and may offer grants to students applying for certain universities or who will serve in high-need fields.
What’s Next? Talk with others. Take action.
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