7 Ways to Get a College Degree for Less

In addition to starting a 529 college savings plan for our son, I also have been looking at alternatives if my wife and I couldn’t reach our savings goal. These alternatives may come in handy if we run into some unforeseen financial difficulties. Aside from the usual financial aids (e.g., scholarships, grants, work-study, student loans, etc.), here are 7 alternatives that can help us spend less for college.

1. Opt for a less expensive school

In general, state universities are the best value for in-state residents; representing a good balance between costs and quality. To look for the best value, Kiplinger’s Best Values in Public Colleges Database is a good place to start.

If our son wants to go to an Ivy League school, we would advise him to start with a cheaper school and transfer after two years.

2. Advanced Placement (AP) Courses and Exams

When I was in high school, I did well enough that I was able to take a few AP courses (i.e., English, Calculus, and Computer Science). I think this is an excellent way to get a head start on college-level work. Depending on the college and our son’s test scores, he might be able to use AP credits to satisfy requirement for some basic level courses.

CollegeBoard.com offers a good primer on Advanced Placement Program.

3. College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

Similar to AP, he can take CLEP exams to satisfy requirement for basic level courses and save some money. Personally, I took a CLEP exam to satisfy one of my foreign language course requirement

Here is a good primer on CLEP from CollegeBoard.com.

4. Take more credits per semester and avoid filler courses

A typical Bachelor degree requires 120 credits to graduate. This translate to 15 credits per semester for standard 8 semesters (4 years). If our son is willing to take 17-18 credits per semester instead, he could graduate one full semester early.

5. Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC)

Joining the Navy ROTC was one of the thing I wanted to do, but didn’t get to do because the Navy program was not offered at my school. Aside from other benefits, ROTC programs also offer scholarships that reduce the cost of education. The scholarship program is different for each branch of the military as follow:

6. Join the military

This option has a very serious implication, and I would not ask our son to leverage this option, unless he wants to join the military in the first place. I am not fully familiar with this one, so I will direct you to the FinAid’s US Armed Forces Recruiting Programs.

7. Work for a company that offers tuition reimbursement

Some companies in the U.S. offers their employee tuition reimbursement program. Our preference is to have our son complete a 4-year college before joining the work force full-time. However, this is a viable option for families that cannot afford college — the student can join the work force first and take advantage of tuition reimbursement program. Personally, I took advantage of this program for my Master Degree.

If the 7 ideas above is not enough, here is an inspiring story about how someone picked up a Masters Degree from Harvard for $500.

About the Author

By , on Oct 18, 2007
Pinyo is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance. He is a licensed Realtor specializing in residential homes in the Northern Virginia area. Over the past 20 years, Pinyo has enjoyed a diverse career as an investor, entrepreneur, business executive, educator, and financial literacy author.

Leave Your Comment (14 Comments)

  1. Jason says:

    You forgot to mention hardly any of the free options. If you go about it right you can go to school pretty much for nothing. I am going to college tuition free right now.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I think it’s important to get out of the mentality that expensive means better and I totally agree with your first point about choosing a less expensive school. There is no doubt that we all want the best for our children but it is also about understanding their personality type and accepting that some children don’t need thousands of dollars spending on them, their far happier and more content in a less expensive school which places more importance on social learning than academic excellence.

  3. Pinyo says:

    Erin, no problem. I look forward to read that post.

  4. Erin says:

    I didn’t see your comment until now, I’ll let you know when I write about my experience with the GI Bill – thanks for the idea.

  5. Pinyo says:

    Mark, that was one thing I wish I could’ve done. I thought it’s a cool position.

    On a different note, you reminded me of an RA who was a pothead. My building was unusually wild compared to the rest of the campus.

  6. Mark says:

    I would also add to those who are interested in lowering the expenses of living in the dorms, become an RA (Resident Assistant).

    These are often more reserved for those who are on some kind of loan, but it is very much like a work-study program and lowers the cost of housing/meals.

  7. Pinyo says:

    @Patrick – Looks like you did the financially smart thing to get your degree, I wish I have done more to reduce my college costs.

  8. Patrick says:

    I took advantage of several of those tips. I went to an inexpensive school, took quite a few CLEP tests, and let the military pay for the rest of my BS. I was even able to get an AS from the Community College of the Air Force in the process. I plan on getting my MBA and the GI Bill should help with some of the expenses. There are also many scholarships available to veterans. But like you said, join the military only because you want to!

  9. Pinyo says:

    @Erin – I would love to see you write about your college experience and how the Marine Corps College Fund and GI Bill helped you. If you ever write it, I will link it from here.

    Congratulation on your fast approaching graduation!

  10. Erin says:

    Great article. I like that you list other options besides just taking out $$ student loans.

    I joined the USMC to avoid taking out student loans. In return I have the GI Bill and the Marine Corps College Fund. If someone joins the military it’s worth it to find out if they have extra incentives (such as a college fund which is in ADDITION to the GI Bill) before signing the contract. I’m 9 cr hours away from my BS and have not paid one cent towards tuition or books.

  11. Pinyo says:

    @plonkee – all schools offer some sort of financial aids. Even with aids, Ivy Leagues are generally more expensive.

  12. plonkee says:

    Actual Ivy League colleges will only ask you to pay what they determine you can afford, not (necessarily) full tuition.

  13. Pinyo says:

    @Kev – awesome add. This is really great and I appreciate it. I wonder how big this list will grow.

  14. kev says:

    Some more tips:

    8. If possible, live at home (with parents) at a nearby in-state (i.e. less expensive) school your first two years before transferring to a larger school.

    The savings on room and board would be significant.

    9. Don’t buy your textbooks at the college bookstore!

    The same textbook that costs $80 new at the college bookstore could be had in very good or new condition for half the price at Amazon. As an undergrad, I cut the costs of my textbooks in half when I started buying my books from Amazon.

    10. In the same vain as #9, immediately sell your textbooks once you no longer need them.

    New textbooks come out every year and facts in old textbooks eventually become outdated. It happens. Sell your books (either at the college bookstore or on Amazon) as soon as you are finished with them. Better to get $20 back on a book you bought for $80 only four months earlier than to wait two years to sell it and not even be able to get $1 for it.

    I learned this little helpful hint the hard way.

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