When you're a student on a budget, you're aware of how important saving can be. And if you're in the process of deciding which college to attend, or you're already enrolled somewhere, it helps to keep in mind that there are things you can do to lower your tuition bill, especially if you start early.
College debt in the U.S. is at an all-time high, and, according to a 2016 Gallup poll, nine out of ten college admissions directors of private colleges (and 51% at public colleges) say they're losing potential applicants because of fears about accumulating student loan debt. If you're one of those students who is worried about how you'll pay for college, we have four tips to help you make your college education a bit less of a financial burden.
1. Negotiate the Price
Students shying away from applying to certain schools because of the potential debt burden just might give you bargaining power. Few people know that they can haggle the price of college tuition, especially if another school is offering you a better deal. Private colleges typically compete with less expensive, state-subsidized public universities, and many private schools offer "incredible financial award packages to attract good students," Cordell Reynolds, a certified College Planning specialist and owner of College-Cents in Plano, Texas, said.
"Many colleges can be compelled to increase their initial grantor scholarship offer, especially if they are competing with another school for the student," Reynolds said. "Don't be afraid to ask for more money."
2. Do What You Can to Graduate in Four Years
If this sounds difficult, you aren't alone — at most public universities, only 19% of full-time students graduate within four years, according to a report from Complete College America, a nonprofit group based in Indianapolis. Each extra year you stick around campus can cause an added hit to your wallet when you factor in the fact that you're spending money on tuition as well as not drawing in much (if any) income. But this is where some advance planning can really benefit you.
"To ensure you graduate in four years, it's important to research schools, majors and graduation rates together and be realistic about how long you will be in school," Adrian Ridner, CEO of Study.com, said. "Be aggressive about staying on track and be aware of the implications of changing majors or delaying prerequisite courses. If you do fall behind, get creative and explore alternative credit options, like competency based exams or online courses. These self-paced options can help motivated students catch up fast."
Beyond that, diligently investigate a career, Reynolds said. College is a great time to shadow a professional to see if you'd like to do what they do. It's also time to get internships which can lead to great mentors and job opportunities when you need them most. Once you find your career path and know what courses are really important to landing your dream job, everything can be easier.
"By discovering the appropriate career path early on, students can create a true four-year graduation plan, which will save thousands intuition," Reynolds said. "In addition to this, they will also open up the opportunity for career-specific scholarships and tuition reimbursement programs."
3. You Might Not Need to Go to an Ivy League School
"Many employers require that you have a degree in order to obtain a position, but most will not care where you went to school," Ridner said, pointing to a 2014 Gallop poll that found 84% of employers think the amount of knowledge a candidate has in the field is most important, while only 9% say where the candidate got their degree is most important. "In fact, even Google has stated that where you went to college doesn't matter as much as your ability to bring new ideas to your position. So, if an expensive school will be a financial burden, it's likely not worth the cost," Ridner said.
Of course, the alumni network, on-campus recruiting and credibility of the Ivy League degree might give some grads an edge, so it's a good idea to weigh those things against the debt you might take on. And if you have a special career or field in mind, such as investment banking or private equity, it's a good idea to research what school qualifications employers in your industry look for in terms of education.
4. Transfer Credits
Whether you attend an Ivy or state school, you might still be able to shave thousands off of your tuition through CLEP and AP exams. Check with the college or university you're considering to find out which courses might be transferrable from high school, less expensive community colleges and online course providers.
"While over 2,000 schools accept alternative credit, most students do not even realize this is an option," Ridner said. "Students can save thousands with online courses and competency based exams and get the same degree from the same school for a lot less."
Be Savvy About Student Debt
Before you decide which school is right for you, it's a good idea to think about your financial future. If you can go somewhere that offers you more scholarships, or consider any of the options above, you may be able to save yourself a lot of money (and headaches) in the long run. Plus, having a reduced debt burden after graduation can not only help your wallet but may impact your credit. Having good credit can help you save money with lower interest rates and better terms and conditions when applying for a car loan or mortgage in the future. (You can see how your credit is currently doing with a free snapshot of your credit report on Credit.com.)
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