Last-minute and alternative money-saving strategies
More tactics for whittling down college costs
While the financial aid system can help pave the way to college, it is not the only route. From bartering to community college to university employee discounts, there are several other tactics that can help whittle down college costs.
For many students, the single easiest way to cut the first two years of college costs is to attend a community college. Tuition and fees at two-year schools average about $2,000 a year, less than half of the tuition at a four-year public university and about 10 percent of the tuition at a private college. But it can take a lot of discipline and careful planning to make sure all your courses transfer to a four-year school. That may be one reason why half of the community college students who hope to get a bachelor's degree don't end up transferring to a four-year school.
A student should investigate transfer policies early on. Most community colleges have "articulation agreements" with nearby four-year schools, meaning credits easily transfer between the two institutions. Some of those schools even guarantee admission to local community college students who earn a certain grade point average. But at other four-year schools, only basic introductory courses can transfer.
You might also want to consider starting out at a cheaper state school and then moving on to a private institution. But some schools are even harder to get into as a transfer student than as a regular applicant. Yale University, for example, accepted only 24 transfer students in 2004 from a field of nearly 700an even smaller percentage than its record-low admit rate of 10 percent for the 20042005 freshman class. However, some schools do have informal agreements with neighboring colleges that are worth exploring.
Students who plan to go to, say, medical school or law school might want to think about attending a lower-cost college as an undergraduate and splurging on graduate-level work. When job-hunting time comes, the grad school name, after all, will be more important than where the student earned his or her undergraduate degree. But it doesn't always have a happy ending. "Make sure your student will be happy at the undergraduate school," Sandy Baum, a professor of economics at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, and a senior policy analyst for the College Board, advises parents. Despondent students are sometimes at risk of making lower grades, and a less-than-stellar transcript may close the door to that dream graduate school.
The home-state advantage
Everyone knows tuition is cheaper for residents who attend public colleges. But if you don't live in the District of Columbiaundergraduate students from the nation's capital are eligible for in-state tuition in all statesdon't count on getting that super price away from home. In the late 1990s, most states made it increasingly difficult for carpet-bagging college students to nab in-state tuition rates. William Ehrich, an associate director of financial aid at Indiana UniversityBloomington, says some of his out-of-state students are so desperate to qualify for the cheaper tuition that they take a year off after high school, move to Indiana, hold down a job, and then apply as a resident.