13 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College Even if Your Kid Isn't the Valedictorian

Has the cost of college made you think twice about getting a degree? Look for ways to make it less expensive.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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A college degree can help boost earnings potential throughout your career. But with the cost of schooling now so expensive, you might wonder if it’s worth the price.

Increasing college tuition costs mean it's more important than ever to find ways to save money on higher education. The following tips can help you trim the bill.

Apply for need-based aid

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Don’t let a lack of savings and income prevent you from attending college. You might qualify for federal aid if you can show financial need.

Pell grants, subsidized loans, and other forms of federal financial aid can help you pay for college expenses.

Pursue merit money

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Merit aid is a good option if you don’t qualify for low-income assistance. Rather than basing aid on financial need, merit aid considers a student’s academic performance or skill in subjects such as art or athletics. 

In some cases, merit money can cover tuition completely. Just note that not all colleges award merit money, and you might need to maintain a minimum GPA or take specific classes to qualify.

Start off at community college

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Four-year schools typically have higher tuition costs than community colleges. Spending your first two years at a community college can save you a lot of money.

Make sure the four-year college you eventually plan to attend will accept all credits from the community college. If it doesn’t, you might have to take more classes once you get to the college, which will add to your bill.

Take online classes

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Some colleges allow you to take certain classes online, and others might let you earn a degree entirely through an online program.

These options can save you money, since you attend school right from home. You won’t need to relocate or pay for campus housing.

Even if you only take a few classes online, you should save some money on transportation costs.

Go to college in Canada

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Some Americans choose to attend college in Canada. While not always cheaper, you often can find savings, especially when compared to some of the more expensive schools in the U.S.

However, remember that you could face some upfront costs when choosing a Canadian college. If going this route, you’ll need a passport, study permit, and health insurance.

Finish school in three years instead of four

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Some students graduate in three years instead of four. You will need to work harder and take on more credits each semester, but doing so allows you to enter the workforce sooner.

That means you can start earning money — and paying back loans — a year ahead of schedule.

Start with credits you earn before starting college

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Taking classes that qualify for college credit while still in high school can reduce your college expenses.

Dual enrollment allows high school students to take college classes taught by college professors. The credits you earn satisfy both high school and college requirements.

Advanced Placement (AP) classes allow students to obtain college credits for classes taught by their high school teachers.

Buy used textbooks

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Used textbooks are usually much cheaper than new textbooks. You can still sell these books once the course ends, whether to the bookstore or through an online marketplace.

Some websites allow you to rent textbooks, saving you even more money. Just make sure you keep the books in good condition and return them on time to avoid extra fees.

And don’t forget to check with your friends first to see if they have a copy you can borrow.

Live off-campus with roommates

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In some cases, living off-campus can save you a lot of money, especially if you split the rent and utility bills with roommates.

You’ll need to research rental properties near your school to determine whether this move is cost-effective. You should also factor in meal and transportation costs when choosing where to live.

Cook your own food

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Cooking your own food is a cheaper alternative to college meal plans and restaurant takeout. Skip the individual meals and cook from scratch for real savings.

Signing up for a Costco membership and using a great Costco hack such as buying ingredients in bulk can significantly reduce your food costs over the next four years.

Work a part-time job or side hustle

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Earning money while going to college can reduce your need for college loans. The less you borrow, the less you will need to pay back. You’ll probably pay much less in interest too.

You can try a side hustle as another way to earn cash if you can’t fit in a part-time job. Side-hustle options include reselling, delivering groceries, or even tutoring your peers.

Choose a school with lower tuition or a place with a lower cost of living

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Where you go to school can make a big difference to your finances. Choosing a school with lower tuition rates provides significant savings, but so can selecting a school in a state with a lower cost of living.

Certain states are known to have a considerably higher cost of living than others. It’s generally more expensive to live in New York or California than it is in Mississippi or Kansas, for example.

Take advantage of student discounts

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Many restaurants and retailers offer discounts to students. They help you save on entertainment, clothing, electronics, and more.

However, remember that buying something just because you can get a discount doesn’t actually save you money. Only buy what you really need.

Bottom line

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No one likes starting adult life with a lot of student loan debt, especially when it can take decades to pay it back. The cost of obtaining a degree prevents many Americans from pursuing one.

But continuing your education doesn’t need to cost as much as you think. Using these tips can cut your costs and keep you out of debt.

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Author Details

Katelyn Washington

Katelyn Washington is a writer with a passion for finance and business. She put herself through business school as a single mother of three and has had pieces commissioned by national magazines. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family and editing manuscripts for indie authors.