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16 Tips to Save Thousands on the Cost of College

Thank you for attending one of our webinars and filling out the survey! Here are strategies to reduce the cost of college that, when added up, can significantly reduce your costs.

1. Take Advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit

Over a million families forget to take advantage of this tax credit. The $2,500 annual tax credit is available to families earning up to $160,000 per year with a phase out partial credit for those making less than $180,000 per year. This credit alone can save you up to $10,000 per child over a four-year period.

2. Don’t Buy Full Price Textbooks

Have your student opt for used textbooks, digital versions, or rentals instead of buying new textbooks at full price. And don’t forget to check the school library. In addition, textbooks are often updated by the publisher every year without much change. Once the new version comes out, the previous version is often available at a much lower cost. They can also check the school library. That alone can save you up to $3,000 over a four-year period. 

3. Participate in the Freshman Year for Free Program

In addition to AP exams and Dual credit programs, students can also start earning college credit as early as their sophomore year of high school, and can even complete their freshman year of college before they set foot on campus. Courses prepare you for the CLEP (College Level Examination Program) exams with free courses, textbooks, and materials. Learn more about Modern States’ free program here.

4. Make Sure Scholarships and Grants From the College Are Renewed Every Year

Some colleges front load the grants they provide you. This means you will receive more financial aid in your first year than you will in following years. Make sure your college will renew your student’s grant automatically (assuming that your income and assets reported on your FAFSA are about the same) into your second, third, and fourth year of college.

5. Explore Out-of-State Colleges Needing More Students From Your Home State

Only applying to colleges in your state can be a big mistake if you are trying to maximize your financial aid eligibility. Apply to college where very few students from your state are applying and you are likely to get more money. You will be filling their geographical diversity needs.

6. Take Advantage of Your College’s Interest-free Payment Program

Most colleges will work with you on time-payment programs which will assist you to cash flow at least part of the cost of college and reduce or avoid paying interest costs on government or private loans. Over four years of college this can add up to additional savings.

7. Always Ask for More Financial Aid

Though there are many circumstances that allow families to receive additional financial aid by using the appeals process, you can ask for additional financial aid no matter what. In our experience asking for a modest amount such as $3,000 per year is the best strategy. Chalk up another $12,000 in savings over a four-year period!

8. Look for Local Scholarships

Some of the easiest scholarships to win are right in your backyard! Look at the local high school guidance homepage, city/village websites, chamber of commerce, union websites, place of employment, churches/places of worship, PTA, credit unions, rotary clubs etc…

9. Use More Tax-Free Money

While contributions to a 529 plan are made on an after-tax basis, the earnings in a 529 plan grow tax-deferred and withdrawals are free of federal income tax when used for qualified higher education expenses. Some states also offer tax deductions for contributions.

10. Consider a Co-op Program

A co-op program is also known as a cooperative education program. It is an educational program that allows students to alternate between formal study and temporary employment. Co-op positions are a great way for a student to not only gain hands-on experience in their field but any income earned can help pay for school and does not count against their financial aid eligibility like income from a regular job might.

11. Strategically Select Colleges Where Your Student Is in the Top 20%

Students in the top 20% of the incoming freshman class are often candidates for preferential packaging (greater merit awards). If your family does not qualify for any need-based aid, they may receive a tuition discount. 

12. Apply to an Honors College

Students enrolled in an Honors College often receive more merit money and many out-of-state students can receive a reduced or in-state tuition rate. In addition there are often advantages such as early enrollment for classes, special housing options, and other benefits.

13. Look Into Getting In-state Tuition at an Out-of-state University

Regional exchange programs allow residents of participating states to attend member colleges at the school’s in-state rate or a significantly discounted cost. Not all schools participate and there are some restrictions. In addition to these reciprocity agreements many regional public colleges are waiving the nonresidential surcharge, try asking!

14. Look for Colleges Offering a 4+1 or 3+2 program if Planning on Continuing to a Master’s Degree

Accelerated programs typically mean students spend less time in school and seek employment more quickly. Bachelor’s to Master’s degree programs allow students to graduate in a shorter time frame which means paying less tuition and other fees. Students can benefit from more flexibility in how many courses they take in a term and when they schedule their studying.

15. Check out one of the 9 “work” colleges in the United States!

They do exist! A handful of colleges in the US provide a unique experience for students where they can work on campus instead of paying tuition and graduate debt free.

16. Look for research opportunities or fellowship programs.

Many colleges offer scholarships or grant money for students who participate in research with faculty. Some even have undergraduate fellowships which could include tuition reimbursement, scholarships, or additional benefits. Look for opportunities that may begin as early as freshman year.

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