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College is twice as expensive as you think. Here's how you can slash costs

Everyone knows that college is expensive. Unsurprisingly, the costs are still rising.

Up your financial game

During the 2017-2018 school year, in-state students attending public schools paid an average of $25,290 for tuition and fees, according to the latest data from the College Board. For private school students, costs reached a whopping $50,900 per year. As eye-popping as these figures are, here's the real shocker: for many families, the true cost of attending college can be twice as high.

Here are the five ways you and your student can tackle the costs that make college more expensive than you think.

Cost #1: Your college prep choices could increase your bottom line

There are scores of pre-college costs required just to get a student into college—things like test preparation fees, tutoring, pre-college programs, college application fees, and SAT or ACT exams. Each of these expenses raise the overall cost of higher education.

Solution: If your family is low-to-moderate income, ask your student's high school guidance counselor about waivers to cut pre-college costs for test prep and other activities. For example, if pricey pre-college programs feel out of reach, encourage your student to pursue volunteer work or civic engagement activities instead.

Cost #2: Financing your degree with loans—with no limits in mind

The typical 2017 college grad left school with roughly $28,650 in debt. Student loan repayment plans usually last from 10 to 30 years, adding hefty interest costs that substantially raise the true price tag of college.

Solution: Insist that your student apply aggressively for college scholarships every year that they are enrolled in school. Several websites, such as the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored Career One Stop allow students to research and get matched with scholarships based of their background, academic record and career interests.

If you need to take out a loan, try to maximize the use of low cost federal loans, such as direct subsidized loans, before considering a private lender. You should also always fill out the FAFSA to maximize your eligibility for aid and take to your financial officer to figure out a plan.

Cost #3: Lifestyle choices come with hefty costs

Students at most colleges face a slew of costs, ranging from parking and graduation fees to charges for extra-curricular activities like attending college football games. This can tack on thousands of dollars to a student's higher education bill. For example, depending on the college, parking permits alone can cost over a thousand dollars per year.

Solution: Consider your lifestyle costs and expenses for social activities. Set an overall budget, and if you have a network of family support, outline what expenses you are responsible for and how much your family is able contribute.

Cost #4: Study abroad may expand your horizons, but drain your bank account

The Institute of International Education says that study abroad by American students has tripled in the past two decades. Taking an overseas semester often requires added travel expenses, special insurance coverage and more.

Solution: Study abroad is possible with a little advance research. To lower costs, strongly consider studying abroad in countries like Germany or Norway, where tuition is free for all students and classes are often offered in English. Another option is to pick up a part-time job or apply for scholarships, like the David L Boren or Benjamin L Gilman scholarships, which are designed for students who would like to study abroad.

Cost #5: The rise of the "super senior." Try to graduate in 4 years

Federal data show that just 40 percent of college students earn their bachelor's degrees in four years, and only 60 percent finish in six years. Those “extra" years in school mean more money spent on tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies.

Why?

Often students miss the mark on graduation because they change their major or they are required to take a remedial class during their first year of college. One in four college students in America are required to take a remedial class, according to a study by think tank Education Reform Now.

Those remedial classes don't count toward graduation, but students still have to pay for them. On average, students spend $3,000 and borrow nearly $1,000 for remedial classes.

Solution: Encourage your child to take Advanced Placement (AP), classes during high school. At the end of these courses, students can opt to take AP exams. A passing score on these tests can provide free college credits—and help them finish college on time. Pro tip: check with your school of interest to be sure they accept AP credits.

Additionally, since remedial courses add about a year to the length of time it takes for students to earn a bachelor's degree, find out all academic requirements while your student is still in high school and take any needed coursework over the summer at a community college prior to enrolling at a four-year college or university.

Unfortunately, the cost of college isn't likely to drop any time soon. But close attention to the fine print can help ensure that you and your student aren't taken by surprise when the bill comes. And, with careful planning, you might even be able to slash expenses on your way to graduation.

JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. Member FDIC

© 2019 JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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