How to Save Money When You're in College

Updated on October 2, 2018
Silvia Munguia profile image

I graduated from UC San Diego with a B.A. in Literature in Writing and a minor in Spanish Literature in 2013.

The beginning of college can be a very stressful time. In high school, you had a structured schedule where you went from one class to another, teachers assigned little homework, and oftentimes they allowed you to work on it during class. Sure, if you were an overachieving student in high school, you probably took a couple of Advanced Placement and honor’s courses and had little time to work on homework because you were part of sports teams and other clubs. However, this is probably sill easier than what you will experience in your four or five years of higher education. In college, you will need to design your own study schedule; class time is devoted entirely to lecture and basically you can only do three things there: take notes, ask questions, and participate in discussions. In addition, the assignments you will need to complete in college, will be more time consuming, and require more critical thinking skills. On top of that, you’ll have to be more savvy at managing your own time in a way you can prioritize school work, your part-time (or full-time) job, and internships you may have. If you’re like most people, this will also be your first time being away from home and budgeting your money (whether it is your own savings, scholarship/financial aid money, your parents’ allowance or a combination of all). So, to help you a little during this important transition, I have come up with eight different ways in which you can save money during this hectic time.

1. Apply for Financial Aid and Scholarships:

Your college’s website is probably your best source for finding information about scholarships and financial aid. It is always a good idea to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The priority deadline opens on October 1st and closes on January 30th. The financial aid you receive from this source is a combination of grants, work-study and student loans. Even if think you may not be eligible, it is always worth giving it a shot. If you’re a community college student and you live in California, you can also apply for the the California College Promise Grant (formerly known as the BOG Fee Waiver). This type of aid covers all your enrollment fees. You can apply for both the CCPG and the FAFSA online. If you’re ineligible for both of them, don’t worry too much because you can still apply for scholarships. Again, your college’s website is your best bet, but even just googling the words scholarships for pre-med majors, first-generation students, or whatever may best fit you, might get you somewhere. A side note about loans: yes, student loans have a lower interest than outside ones, and you won't be asked to pay them back until six months after graduating from college. However, it's better to take out loans only if you really need to and only what you need to.

2. Find a Part-Time Job:

After applying for financial aid, the next thing you should do is finding a job. Yes, you’re going to be super busy in college, but you may still be able to fit a part-time job into your schedule. In this way, you start building your resume while making some bucks to help you out with expenses. Applying somewhere close to where you live or even at school will be the most convenient thing to do. There are many places where you can work on campus: your school’s bookstore, the library, coffee shops, dining halls, etc. Similarly, lots of places hire students off campus such as clothing stores, restaurants and bars. In addition, if you don’t have any big plans for the summer, you could use this time to temporarily work full time. Thus, you start saving money before school starts

3. Take Lunch to School:

Buying a slice of pizza or a hamburger for lunch may be tempting, but apart from not being the healthiest of choices they will quickly add up to your expenses. Purchasing most of your food at your local grocery store and taking your own lunch to school will eventually help you save a lot of money. If you’re not the kind of person who likes to get up early, consider preparing your lunch the night before. It doesn’t have to be something super complicated, you could just take a peanut butter sandwich with some chopped vegetables and a piece of fruit; even packing up some leftovers from last night’s dinner might do the job (many campuses have lounges with microwaves where you can heat your food).

4. Use Public Transportation:

If you’re stressing out about not being able to buy your own car before entering college, don’t worry too much. If you’re going to live on campus, having a car while you’re in college might not be as necessary as you may think. You’re going to be spending most of your time on campus anyway, so using public transportation can help you get around perfectly without having to worry about gas, maintenance, car insurance and registration, etc. If you already have a car or you think that having one is really necessary, consider using it only in cases where you will travel far or for emergencies (like when you’re running late, etc.). Paying for a bus ticket is much cheaper than paying for gas, so consider walking or taking the bus as one of your methods of transportation.

5. Apply for a Book Lending Program:

Many schools have book lending programs where you can either borrow textbooks or receive a type of financial aid to help you pay for them. The requirements vary from school to school, but if you’re eligible for financial aid, you’re probably also eligible for the book lending program at your school. So make sure you find out more about this by checking your college’s website or asking at the information desk. Another option you have is to check out course reserves. Many professors place textbooks for the courses they offer at the library where students can check them out for a limited amount of time per day. This means you could use your free time in between classes to study for certain courses by checking out items on course reserves. You could even make copies of them to take them home with you (most of your professors won’t recommend this option, but many times it worked for me). Lastly, you can always buy books online for a slightly cheaper price than at your school’s bookstore. Check websites like Uloop, Amazon, eBay or Craigslist. At the end of the semester, you can try selling your books back either at your campus bookstore or at online sites depending on where you bought them.

6. Make the Most Out of the Resources That Your School Offers:

You will be paying large amounts of money for your tuition. So you better get your money’s worth by utilizing ALL of your school resources. Your school offers more than just the library (although this itself is a valuable resource), tutoring services, gyms, cultural and career centers, career fairs, printing services are all things that most campuses offer at no additional cost. Why would you pay for a gym membership or hire a math tutor when these services are included in your tuition?

7. Use the Public Library:

Just like making the most out of your school’s resources is a wise decision, so is using the resources in your local community. One of the main resources most cities in the U.S. have to offer are public libraries. Getting a library card is quick, free and easy. And, you may be surprised to find some of the books you need for school at your local library especially for your social science and humanities courses. In addition to giving you access to books you can read for school and leisure, your local library also provides you with films, series/shows, computers with internet and printing services. If your school’s library is too crowded and your roommates are making too much noise, your local library may also give you a good place to study; you can even reserve study rooms if you need to.

8. Attend a Community College and Then Transfer:

This is a mere suggestion: If possible, attend a community college for your first two years of study. In this way, you can complete your general education courses while paying less for tuition and saving on room and board (if you decide to live with your parents during this time). You may be afraid to follow this route because community colleges don’t have the prestige that a university does. But remember, you will still receive a diploma from a four-year university given you transfer and complete your last two years of college successfully. Another fear that may arise is time. Will you be able to graduate in four years if you go to a community college? The answer is yes as long as you sit down with your counselor during orientation, and create a plan to transfer within two years. Make sure you follow this plan closely, and visit your counselor every time you sign up for classes to make sure you’re on track. Once you transfer to your chosen four-year university, do the same: sit down with your counselor and create a plan to finish in two years.

Would you consider attending a community college?

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        Alvaro Ceballos 

        2 weeks ago

        This article is very complete and give us real chances to save money in 8 differents ways. There are a lot of useful information, ideas and steps to do to can study using all sources posibles as we can do. This is a great article. Thanks a lot.

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