Reducing the Cost of College: for Students

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Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

Students: do you want to start reducing the cost of college? Applying for financial aid is a necessary part of being a university student. Aid can be awarded in many different ways, and for different reasons. The more we understand how aid is distributed, the more likely you are to receive better financial help. As the cost of college rises, all students need to get creative, make the right choices, and ensure their education isn’t a burden. Reduce the costs of university while you’re in the thick of it—or at least, make it as affordable as possible.

There are a few tricks to getting the best aid package possible. Saving money for education and taking smart steps can mean avoiding parent or private students loans, if only partially. Also,  ensure that you end up with as little student debt as possible. Taking action now—as early as high school—will help you finish your education without worry. We have outlined some important things to consider when applying. We also review some issues that can affect the awards, after the fact.

Preparing in High School

Choosing the Right High School Classes

There are a few things that students can do right away. Even before you begin to decide which university you would like to attend, small steps will save you money. For example, choices like which high school classes you take can begin reducing the cost of college overall.

Taking Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes can mean checking off college credit! These classes are much cheaper than the same class when you get to university. They may even be part of your general education requirements.

These classes cover a wide range of subjects that students will cover in their first few years of college. If a student passes the equivalent AP/IB test then you may earn college credit. (Be sure to check your specific college’s rules before you count them completely.) Sometimes, your high school will even cover the cost of registering for the tests. Either way, it costs only a fraction of what it would cost to take the course at university.

High School Jobs with a Purpose

The job you get while in school can also help you in terms of your career goals and degree goals. Seek paid internships, as well as summer programs and jobs, related to a field you would like to pursue in the future. However you can make this work, it can be a great option for several reasons. With many career-starter jobs later in life requiring a degree as well as experience, this is a great chance to get ahead and make money in the process. Working in your desired field can also establish contacts and help you become familiar with a potential place of full-time employment for the future.

Making the Right College Choices

Students need to make more choices about their university education than they’ve ever had to make before. One of the biggest decisions is choosing which university to attend. While many high school students dream of attending the simply most picturesque campus, that’s not always most practical option, financially.

  1. First of all, there is such a thing as free colleges. These are schools that provide an education without requiring the student to pay for tuition. Students still need to pay for things like room and board. However, when you remove the largest cost (tuition), paying for the living expenses seems more than reasonable.
  2. Students also have the option of attending a community or local college first. This means saving money by attending an affordable school for your gen-ed requirements. Plus, you could be able to save money by living at home. Once students have saved money at these less expensive schools they can move on to a more expensive institution.
  3. A third option in terms of choosing the right college can be attending an elite college. True, these schools are generally more expensive when you simply consider the tuition costs. But they also award more financial aid and funds. The financial aid packages can actually ensure that students qualified to attend the school will also be able to afford it.

Apply Early for Scholarships

Scholarships are essentially free money, but you have to work for it. The competitive and intensive application process means that students have to put in a lot of effort. There is even the possibility of an interview if you want to be awarded the funds! The students that do follow through increase their chances of earning large sums that could go towards reducing the cost of college. 

Students that want a real chance at getting a scholarship should apply as early as possible. This will increase the chances of the application being reviewed favorably. Also, it will show that the student is proactive about funding their education. Every scholarship and award you receive puts you one step closer to reducing the cost of college.

Saving While in College

Work Alongside College Classes

Students often see college as a chance to just go to school and hang out with friends… which it is! But you are not without responsibilities beyond that. If you float down this path with no other considerations, you may pay for it later via debt or career obstacles.

Working while in school full time or part-time can mean paying for your education as you receive it. You are still eligible for financial aid. But if you have funds from working, you will be able to decide if you need to take any (or all) of the loans available. Instead, you can avoid them altogether and pay for the costs right away.    

Even if the job only pays for your living expenses, you wouldn’t need as many loans, and therefore be saving yourself the loan interest.

Work-Study on Campus

Many students apply to a school, and later acquire work-study positions as part of their financial aid package. However, there is another way to work and study on campus. If you become an employee of a university, courses can be free, or a fraction of the cost! This may not apply to every employee, but if you are willing to do your research, it could save you serious cash.

Another version of this kind of saving is when students have a parent that works for the college. This can often mean paying partial tuition or even attending tuition free. Taking advantage of this can mean cutting your potential college debt in half.

However: Campus Jobs Affect Aid!

Having a job on campus that offers free accommodation, for example, could change your award amount. In other words, it may have a negative impact on the total award a student receives. Your total aid amount is calculated based on all cost factors (which include room and board). So, when those costs are removed, your “needs” are lowered.

This means the student will receive a lower award overall. This could also have an effect on how much your family is expected to pay. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work, but pay attention to the impact your job may have. You can always talk to a counselor to help you weigh your options and confirm your choice.

Be Wary of Changing Your Course Load

One of the factors that is considered for financial aid is the number of classes a student is taking. The total units you are enrolled in determines if you are a part-time or full-time student. When a student begins the term with a full load of classes and then drops too many, the award they were given will be adjusted retroactively. This sometimes means that students even owe the difference from the grant money they received.

These tips will help you by reducing the costs of college as you work toward a degree. Making smart choices from the beginning will set you on the right track. Avoid student debt as much as you can, so that you can start the next chapter of your life with a clean slate. We believe in you! 

If you want help searching for scholarships, weighing a few college choices, or any other decisions, Empowerly is here to help. We have resources and experts to help you find your way. Reach out today.

Questions? Let us know!