The Midwest Student Exchange Program allows residents of nine states—Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin—to study at participating public institutions in other member states for no more than 150 percent of the cost of in-state tuition. Some private schools are also among the program's 150-plus institutions, giving students a 10 percent discount on tuition.
[See U.S. News's rankings of the top public universities.]
Get your degree early: The most surefire way to save money is to finish college ahead of schedule. A handful of schools offer formal three-year bachelor's degrees, while many more grant credit for high scores on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, has offered a three-year bachelor's since 1965. Though only a few students choose this route each year, it remains an appealing option for some highly motivated and focused undergrads.
The AP and IB programs are widely recognized for providing a challenging pre-college experience, and high scores on their exams can also enable students to earn valuable college credits. All eight Ivy League universities permit students to apply for and receive "advanced standing," which allows them to graduate a semester or year early.
Students at Harvard University who have earned a 5—the highest possible score—on at least four yearlong AP courses can petition for advanced standing. Harvard students can also graduate ahead of schedule if they have earned the maximum score on three or more higher-level IB exams, or they can stick around to earn a master's degree in certain fields during their fourth year on campus.
Some of the more selective institutions outside the Ivy League, however, don't offer any credit for top scores on AP or IB exams, even though they like to see these courses on applicants' transcripts. Williams College in Massachusetts, for instance, permits students with superior scores to place out of certain introductory-level courses, but they still must complete eight semesters of full-time study just like any other student.
[Consider studying abroad to save money on college.]
Start in high school: "Dual enrollment" is another, if lesser known, way to save money on college. The basic idea is for high school students to take college-level courses that can count first toward their diploma and, later, toward their college degree. Often, through agreements with local institutions, these courses are taught on high school campuses by high school teachers. The material, however, is meant to be on par with what's taught at college.
Portland State University in Oregon has been offering dual-credit classes to high school students for more than 35 years. About 1,000 students from 16 high schools in the Portland metropolitan area participate annually, according to program director Sally Hudson. Students pay about a third of the standard tuition rate—in 2012-2013, it will be $226 for a four-credit class, discounted from $734—but study the same materials and meet the same standards as other PSU students.
All seven institutions in the Oregon University System, as well as all of the state's public community colleges, guarantee credit for dual-enrollment classes. Because it can be difficult to determine the rigor of dual-enrollment classes, some colleges—especially smaller and private institutions—give no credit for them. One way to avoid this disappointment is to look into different colleges' policies on these programs and ensure that the classes are regionally or nationally accredited.
Justin Snider is an advising dean at Columbia University, where he also teaches undergraduate writing. This article was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education news outlet affiliated with the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, based at Columbia's Teachers College.