How to Save Money on a College Education

Updated on August 5, 2018
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Christine earned her law degree in 1996, worked in estate law and banking, and has Professional Financial Planner (PFP) certification.

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How to Get a Free College Education

  • If you live in the United States, you're in luck. Some jurisdictions offer free university-level tuition, including New York City and University of Wisconsin.
  • Interested in traveling? Tuition is FREE for international students at universities in Finland, Norway, Germany and Sweden. You get an incomparable world-wide experience, learn a new language and culture, and build your professional resume all at once. Some of these countries offer courses in English, and some countries offer free tuition up through Masters level. Do some research!
  • Rather stay local? The United States also has a top-notch military education option. If you qualify, they will cover the cost of education for those who agree to join the service following graduation. I have several friends who did this and received an excellent education and a great career.
  • This just in! A number of companies are now offering free or vastly discounted college education to their part-time or full-time workers. At the moment this includes Walmart, Starbucks, JetBlue, CIGNA, Lowes, Taco Bell, Lyft, and Chipotle.
  • Walmart, for example, offers this service for all full-time or part time employees who have worked at the company for at least 90 days. The service includes online college courses at one of three universities, studying either business or supply side management. Do your research and consider this option.
  • The University of the People offers a fully online college-level education, if you qualify, for just the costs of the exams. It comes to about $4000 in total, at the time of this writing.

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How to Save for a College Education

  • Start discussing educational funding with your children early. “We will be able to pay the full tuition for the State University, but anything over that you need to find a way to cover yourself.” Part of your children’s higher education can include budgeting for this enormous investment.

  • If you have small children, think carefully about where you look for work: many educational institutions are affiliated with local hospitals or associations, and will cover a substantial portion of tuition for the children of employees.

  • Get the government to help pay your child’s College or University education: a number of countries provide a 20% government match for funding set aside for a child’s education. Do some research and ask at your banking institution what might be available.

  • . . . or, talk to a lawyer about setting up an educational trust arrangement for your children’s higher education. The government will not provide additional funding for this, but there are tax advantages and the trust assets can be used for a wide variety of options as your child reaches education age.

Paying for College Part I: When You Have Years to Prepare

Educational Scholarships, Grants, and Work-Study Options

  • Do a thorough and exhaustive search of scholarship options. Traditionally, scholarships are awarded based on the grades of the student (scholar), but these days there are hundreds of funds set aside for various ethnic, association, family, club, area of study, special skills and interests etc. Scholarship applications take a while to prepare and submit, so be sure to start well before the deadline.

  • Another option is a grant. Grants are gifts, usually from government sources, that do not have to be repaid.

  • A loan is a third option. A loan needs to be paid back. Government education loans are usually provided at a very low interest rate, and are not payable until the first year following your education.

  • And speaking of loans, there are loan forgiveness programs for some professions. For example, in some cases a teacher who agrees to teach in a troubled area, or a doctor who agrees to spend a year in rural areas can request loan forgiveness. If you qualify, your loan could be completely discharged, based on your agreement to spend a year or two providing services to a needy area.

  • If you prefer not to borrow, you can work for several years to save money before leaving for college.

  • You can also work during your college years and during the summers, to help cover tuition.

  • Another option is a “work-study” program, where the institution connects you with a part time job on campus to help cover your expenses.

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Test Out of College Courses

If you're a great student, you can reduce tuition fees by taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which allow some students to take college-level courses in high school for university credit. Do well in the course and you can skip the college class altogether.

Also, check out College Level Education Placement (CLEP) program. CLEP allows you to test out of as many courses as you can in high school.

I took a couple AP courses, then spent part of the summer before university taking a course at the local community college. I remember it was a nice transition to college-level work, and by transferring credit, I got university credit for an introductory class at a fraction of the cost.

Paying for College Part II: When You Have 1 - 3 Years to Prepare

What about you?

What's your best hack for a college education at a reasonable price?

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How to Save on College and University Costs

Remember, you're talking about a huge investment of time and money. So, before you leap, do a search for career outcome statistics so you know what kind of income you can expect to get based on your career choice. The US Department of Labor and Canada Labour Futures both provide extensive projections for types of careers, projected income, projected labor needs and qualifications for a huge variety of career options. Know what it is you're spending money on before you go in.

  • Many public state or provincial universities provide a high quality education at a much-reduced price for residents. Don’t choose a more expensive private university unless you are familiar with all the other options.

  • Interested in a university in another state or province? Some state level universities have reciprocity agreements, whereby students from nearby states can matriculate at local state-sponsored tuition costs. Be sure to ask!

  • Another option is to get your education close by and live at home. Commuter students get all the advantages of a great education, but don’t have to pay room and board. Even a year or two of this option can significantly reduce expenses.

  • Some families take care of the housing issue by investing in a condo or house near campus and let their child take in roommates, and live there during their college years. If you have the means, housing expenses can go towards mortgage payments, instead of rent. The building can be sold after graduation.

  • You get start your education at a community college, transfer at the end of a year or two, and graduate with a university degree. This can be a great idea to assist with the adjustment to college, as well as reduce financial costs, and no one cares where you started your education as long as they know where you graduated. Be sure to check the university ahead of time to determine their transfer requirements.

Paying for College Part III: When You Have Just Weeks to Prepare

Going back to College as an Adult

Adults go back for education all the time. Your child’s aptitudes may be best suited to starting a business, working a trade, or seeking experience before committing to a higher education. Or, it might be you who's looking to get back into an education after years of life experience. Life experience can be an excellent teacher, as can travel or volunteer endeavours.

  • Many institutions of higher learning are welcoming adult students with open arms. Evening classes, weekend seminars, and online learning are some the many ways education is being tailored to students with adult responsibilities. Call around, introduce yourself as a returning college student, and find out what's available for part time or full time education as an adult.

  • Consider working for a company with an educational benefits plan. Many companies will reimburse for college, university, or Masters-level courses you take while on the job.

    Best of luck! May the road rise to meet you as you embark on your educational journey.

What's your best hack for a college education at a reasonable price?

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    • dredcuan profile image

      Dred Cuan 

      6 months ago from California

      Great tips listed here! I must say that being a college student is the most crucial among all academic stages. It's just like the make or break of a person's career. The good thing is that many universities or organizations offer grants or scholarships to qualified students who are entering college. Even loan programs or sometimes called "Study now, Pay later" programs are available to students. Students are also allowed to take part time works which really help bridge their education program.

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