With college costs rising, many people worry about how to pay for tuition for the next few years. Many people take out loans, but this means years of debt after college. With unemployment remaining high and a record number of college graduates under-employed, this is not always the best idea. The days of working a summer job to pay for college costs are over. So what is there left to do? Is taking on debt the only option? With a little planning and preparation, it is possible to pay for college without breaking the bank.
Here are four great ways to pay for college without going into debt.
1. Start at a community college.
The cost of tuition at community colleges is often much less than that of traditional four-year universities. Although you cannot complete a bachelor's degree at a community college, you can often earn up to two years of credit that you can transfer to a university! (Always check with your advisor to make sure a class will transfer.) Community colleges offer two-year degrees and other kinds of certifications and training for skills. These two-year schools boast smaller student populations, which translates to better instructor to student ratios. Transferring to a university is easy and once you graduate from a university, your degree comes from that school - an employer doesn't know you went to a community college unless you specifically include it on your CV.
Potential savings: $5000 + per year
2. Do you really need all those books?
Although almost all professors and instructors will say that a textbook is required for a course, this is not always the case. Don't buy the book before the first day of class. Go to the class first and see if it is really required. Try to contact other students who took the class and see if they needed it. Even if you do need a textbook for a class, that doesn't mean that you have to pay top-dollar for it. Shop around online and see if you can get a lower price. Most universities severely over-price textbooks in their own bookstores. Try sites like Amazon and eBay to see how much money you can save. If you have a really nice classmate, you can offer to pay them some money and get a photocopy of their textbook. It really pays to look for alternatives and to shop around.
Potential savings: $1000 + per year
3. Take online classes
Although the tuition prices for online classes are typically the same as classes that you take on-campus, you can save a lot of money on commuting costs. Even just having to make a thirty minute drive to class several days a week will add up quickly. That means paying a lot for gas. Taking an online class is not only convenient - it is efficient and more economical. Universities are increasingly offering online classes, so check with your school to see what course you can complete online. This trend will likely continue in the future as digital education improves, thus saving college students lots of money. The lower the level of the class, the easier it will be to find an online version of it, meaning community colleges are a great place to find online classes.
Potential savings: $1000 + per year
4. Living, eating, and work-study programs
Living at home is an obvious way to save on rent that you would otherwise pay to live on or near campus. That means at least some commuting, but we've established that you can just take online classes, especially early on in your college career. If you live on campus, you may also have to get a meal plan. Some universities force students to buy a meal plan, so check with your school. But if you don't live on campus, you can easily avoid paying for a pricey meal plan, which will save you hundreds of dollars per semester. Cooking at home instead will save you a lot of money. Finally, apply for a work-study program. This kind of program allows you to work on campus. You will get paid for the work, but the real benefit is that these programs often offer a tuition waiver. This means that in exchange for working on campus, you pay NO TUITION FEES! This is an excellent idea that will save you money and grant you some work experience.
Get creative and mix different money-saving ideas and you can go to college for four years without ever having to take out a loan or otherwise go into debt.