College is expensive, but just because you may qualify for the loan, or grant, doesn't mean you have to use every penny. Besides shopping around for a good college, and a good loan, there are a number of other things that you can do to bring down the cost of college.
Figure out Food.
Even in normal homes, food is one of the most controllable variables. Investigate the cost of eating on campus versus eating out or cooking on your own. If you live in the dorm, cooking in your own room may not be an option. And investing money into a variety of ingredients may not be cost effective either.
If your school requires you to purchase a meal plan (many do), figure out how to get the biggest bang for your buck (avoid prepackaged food & drinks), so you don't find your self short on credit at the end of the semester.
My roommate my junior year and I decided to share food. Our system worked like this: We would alternate shopping, and figured on spending about $40 each time. The problem? She had very expensive tastes, so her shopping trip would only last us a couple of days or even just one meal! So in order to make things work we had to renegotiate and came up with a new plan. I would shop and cook for one whole week, and then the next week she could shop and cook for the whole week.
Don't forget transportation costs.
Carpooling, taking the bus, riding a bike, living closer to campus, etc. are all ways to cut down expenses. My first 3 years of college I didn't have a car. Inconvenient? Yes, but it was also a great excuse to get a ride from that cute guy in Algebra.
Figure out Housing. Some times it is cheaper to share rent off campus. Some times it isn't. Do a real cost analysis before making a decision. Figure in everything from cost of transportation (including gas, insurance, even vehicle); food; utilities; and furnishings.
I was able to share a furnished house with 2 other people my senior year. Not only was it close to campus, but there were already spices in the cabinet for our use.
Shopping for textbooks.
The campus store may not be the only place that sells your texts. Many books can be found on Amazon.com and other book sites. Some campuses even have “underground” used textbook stores. Just make sure that you are getting the correct edition, or are familiar with the updates.
Shop for books as early as you can, since the cheap, used books are usually the first to go. Or you can do what my hubby did and wait until all the books are gone, and then ask a certain girl if he can “study” with you. (I want to state for the record that we both ended up with the highest 2 grades in the class, thank you very much)
Know your health care options.
Most students are of the age that they still qualify under their parent's insurance. But sometimes parents have to pay an additional fee for coverage of an older student. This fee may be higher than the student insurance offered by the school. Because insurance companies assume that college students are at the peak of their health, colleges are able to negotiate lower rates for their students.
If you do keep your own health insurance, beware that the campus health center is not likely in network. You may have to shop around for a good doc that is on the list, if something comes up.
Try Negotiating with the school.
Colleges are feeling the pinch in this economy, too, and they are willing to negotiate with certain parts of their program. Things many colleges can be flexible with:
- Registration Fees
- Scholarship Matching
- Cafeteria accountsHousing Costs
- Book Store accounts
- Accepting Pre-college credits
Compare all of these numbers with the different schools. If you have a first choice school, that is more expensive than your second choice school , you could send them a price comparison, and see if they are able to make you a deal.
Study Your bulletin.
Each year schools publish the degree requirements for each major. Some times there are big changes from year to year. You can petition which bulletin you wish to graduate from. Here are some things that you should look for:
- How many credits are required in each category of study
- If certain classes can qualify for more than one category
- How many credits can be transferred in from another school
- What is the maximum number of credits you can take each semester
Knowing this information can save you tons. If you are able to take summer classes at a cheaper community college and transfer them in, and take a maximum load each semester, you could potentially cut a whole year off of your schooling. It may not be as much fun, and you might not be able to work that extra job, but you could be saving $20,000 or so by cutting out that extra year.
Pinching your pennies may prove to be the greatest skill that you learn in college.