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How to pay for college

Here's how you can slash costs

Everyone knows that college is expensive. Unsurprisingly, the cost of attending college is still rising.

Here are five ways to pay for college so your student can tackle the costs that make college more expensive.

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 help with pre-college costs for test prep and other activities.

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

Student loan repayment plans could 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're 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 on 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 fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to maximize your eligibility for aid and talk 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 could cost an average of $362 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're responsible for and how much your family is able contribute.

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

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, you may want to consider studying abroad in countries like Germany or Norway, where tuition is often free or offered at a lower rate. Most classes are also 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’d like to study abroad.

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

Approximately 24 percent of college students take more than 4 years to earn their bachelor's degree. Those “extra" years in school mean more money spent on tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies.


Often students miss the mark on graduation because they change their major or they're required to take a remedial class during their first year of college. 

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 may provide free college credits and may help them finish college in four years. 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. Be sure to check with your student's college of choice to verify which courses will be transferable to their school.

Unfortunately, the cost of attending college isn't likely to drop any time soon. But pay close attention to the tuition costs and extra expenses which can help ensure that you and your student are not taken by surprise at graduation by the total cost. And, with careful planning, you might even be able to slash expenses on your way to graduation.