How to Save on College Budget Busters

Time To Read 3 MIN READ

How to Save on College Budget Busters

college budget busters

Sticker shock doesn't begin to express the reaction most people feel when they first look into college costs. At some private schools, tuition, fees, room and board, books and incidental expenses could easily pay for a new luxury automobile every year of attendance. Whether or not you have money socked away, there are ways you can stretch your dollars further.

Tuition Costs

The average cost of tuition and fees for the 2012-13 school year was $8,655 for state residents at public colleges, $21,706 for out-of-state residents attending public universities and $29,056 at private colleges, according to the College Board. In other words, you can save a bundle by attending your state's public college or university. Also, be aware that some colleges charge more for certain majors, such as electronics and computer science. Tuition surcharges might be a tiebreaker when you are considering two or more different colleges.

You can cut tuition costs even more by attending a community college for the first two undergraduate years. Community college tuition is very low, and when combined with scholarships and grants can be almost free. But you need to ensure that you can transfer your credits to the four-year college of your choice.

Federal Financial Aid

Federal, state and private financial aid can help make college affordable. A good place to start is with the federal government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. You need to use this form to access federal scholarships grants, loans and work-study programs. Federal grants, such as the Pell Grant, are need-based; scholarships are based on merit or service. For example, the National Health Service Corps offers scholarships to primary health care students who pledge community service after graduation. And military families and AmeriCorp volunteers may be eligible for federal scholarships. Federal student loans charge low interest rates and some programs, such as the National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program, will forgive up to $35,000 a year in loans to students pledging to perform two years of qualified research.

State and Private Scholarships

Your state may offer loans, scholarships and grants to state colleges, community colleges and trade schools. Most states require you to reside in state for at least one year prior to applying for financial aid from the state. A great resource is the FAFSA website, which serves as a gateway to state and private scholarships.

Private colleges offer their own grants and scholarships. Don't overlook local scholarships available in your home town. Businesses and other institutions may offer local scholarships. These may be modest in size but are nonetheless helpful. Several websites, such as the U.S. Scholarship Guide, offer free information and links to thousands of private scholarships worth billions of dollars.

More Money-Saving Tips

Ultimately, good old common sense can save you a nice chunk of change. CPA Jeffrey Looby ticks off some other ways to save money at college:

• Take advantage of the room and board offered by the college, which usually are a good deal. If on the meal plan, eating off-campus is an unnecessary expenditure.

• Don't do a lot of shopping in preparation for your move to the college. You don't really know what you'll need until you get there.

• Try to get all your courses successfully completed within the allotted number of terms. If you have to stay for extra terms, you'll be shelling out more money.

• Your student ID card can save you money on many items, but don't go crazy spending on school or team paraphernalia.