It’s no secret: college costs are on the rise and making it more and more difficult for many students to receive their higher education. In 2014, college costs once again outstripped inflation. They increased by 3.7%, bringing the average price of a university education to $31,231.
And the average student debt load is now about $30,000 per student. That’s an incredible amount of money to owe before you even have a full-time job — or the degree itself that’s costing you so much.
Don’t let earning your degree turn into a cost-prohibitive venture. You can take measures to reduce costs for college.
Consider and choose your school carefully
When it comes to actually going to a university, making the right decision (or at least, getting close) can help you manage college costs.
If you think you want to pick up a trade after higher education, it doesn’t make sense for you to go to a four-year university. Go to a two-year technical or trade school — and pay less while graduating with more of the workable skills you need to succeed in your career.
And if you want to go into a four-year program, choose a school known for producing successful graduates in that industry or field. For example, a public university may be better known for graduating excellent business majors than a private school that costs two to three times as much.
Know what kind of return on investment to expect
It’s hard to know what you want a decades-long career to look like when you’re 17 or 18. But you must dedicate some time and thought to what field of study interests you.
Then, do a little research. A blog post from XY Planning Network highlights the interactive Comparison of College Degrees tool from Discover Bank. This allows you to take a look at degree programs that you want to consider for yourself, and evaluate the potential ROI of that type of education.
Or work backwards: check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and look up potential professionals that you want to study.
The point of these exercises? To determine if the cost of your education will set you up with an opportunity to earn enough in your career to repay those expenses.
If you want to be a librarian, you can look this career up on the BLS site and see that people in this career make about $55,000 per year on average. A Master’s degree is usually required — which means six years of higher education.
If going to graduate school means graduating with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of student loan debt, this might not be a wise financial move for you.
On the other hand, if you see that elevator installers can make over $75,000 per year and require a high school diploma or equivalent accompanied with an on-the-job apprenticeship, you can see that most of your “investment” is your time. You don’t need to spend the money to go to a four-year university.
Show a little hustle
One way that anyone can reduce their college costs: get through school as quickly as possible. This won’t be the ideal situation for everyone. It may leave you little time for internships, extracurricular activities, or to enjoy the typical college experience.
But if you’re concerned about costs, you can benefit by taking more than a full load of coursework each semester, attending summer classes, and not taking semesters off.
While you’ll have to pay for each class you take, fewer semesters at school means fewer fees and costs outside of just tuition — and it means you’ll graduate and start earning a full-time income in your career sooner.
And then side hustle!
Or just get a part-time job. Working part- or full-time may not help you reduce costs, but it will help you cover them yourself instead of taking out additional student loans.
You can also work towards earning scholarships to help you reduce your out-of-pocket costs. There are a variety of scholarships and grants available, so take some time and research those you quality for — then apply for them.
If you don’t qualify for some scholarships based on your GPA, don’t give up on them. Dedicate yourself to raising your grades, then check your eligibility each semester or at the start of each school year.
Research all your options and question your expenses
Reduce costs for college by remaining open to all your options. Ask questions and do research to find what your alternatives are. And question the costs you expect to have or currently carry. This includes things like:
- Housing: Is it cheaper to live on campus, off campus with roommates, or at home?
- Transportation: Do you need a car or is there adequate public transportation to get you through your college years?
- Food: Are you making conscious choices about how you get your meals? Don’t depend on the dining hall on campus to provide the best value. Is it cheaper to purchase your own groceries and prepare your own meals?
- Textbooks: Which one provides the best deal — the college bookstore or large retailers like Amazon?
Take advantage of that student ID
Don’t be afraid to flash your student ID at events, local businesses, and even when shopping online. You can use your ID to sign up for special deals, too — try Amazon Student for reduced rates to save on what you need to purchase for school.
Many companies offer discounts on products and prices to students, so take advantage both on and off campus.
The cost of college is rising, but your personal costs don’t need to rise with it. Take action to tame expenses, fees, and what you need to pay out of pocket. Or try to generate some of your own income to handle costs instead of taking out more loans and starting off life on your own in the red.
Every little step you can take to reduce costs will help you graduate and enter the real world in better financial shape.
About the author: Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer and content manager currently working on building her business and becoming a full-time solopreneur. She’s passionate about personal finance, careers and business, and all things Gen Y–and she writes about it all on her blog, Common Sense Millennial. An avid runner, she enjoys getting outside as often as possible when she’s not immersed in blogging and helping other small businesses build and manage their online presence. Connect with her on Twitter @KaliHawlk.