College Costs (and How to Lower Them)

College tuition can be incredibly expensive, but don’t forget to include in the numerous other fees you’ll face when budgeting for higher education. Here is a list of some of the most critical costs to consider:

  • Tuition. Public state schools are often less expensive than private schools, even if you attend a public school in another state in some situations. Two-year universities are typically less expensive than four-year colleges. You should also expect to pay a number of fees.
  • Board and lodging. Don’t overspend for meal plans you’ll never use. If you have several meal plan alternatives, think about your habits before committing to the largest plan. If you’re more likely to grab a bagel on your way to class than go to the cafeteria for a complete meal, you might not need one that includes breakfast. Many colleges allow you to switch plans from semester to semester, so utilize this time to reflect on how much you used against how much you paid for.
  • Books and materials. In addition to books, make a list of supplies for the courses you intend to attend, such as special software or equipment or art materials. Hint: there are many options for purchasing used books on campus and online that can significantly reduce the cost, so don’t rush out and buy brand new copies the first day—unless you have assigned reading prior to day one, it may also be a good idea to wait in case the instructor has a last-minute book change or will be providing print outs or electronic copies of assigned readings.
  • Transportation. This is an easy one to overlook, but whether you commute every day or live at school and travel to and from home a few times per semester, the expenditures can quickly pile up.
  • Personal costs. This includes cell phone service, entertainment, laundry, and any other normal need.

How to Reduce the Load

Financial assistance. Everyone, including those who believe they will not qualify for aid owing to a high salary, should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA. The form is used to calculate your projected family contribution as well as your eligibility for financial help from schools and universities, the federal government, and even many states. Apply as soon as possible to ensure that you are considered for as many aid opportunities as feasible, including merit-based funding.

Investigate tuition breaks and payment plans. Inquire with the college or institution about any available discounts. For example, would the cost be cheaper if you paid for the entire semester in advance? There may also be payment plans available that do not reduce the price but allow you to spread payments out over time.


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