According to CNNMoney, the average tuition cost at the average public university rose over 8% in 2011. The following tips are designed to dissuade you from skipping college because you think you can't afford it, and to show you some strategies for making higher education expenses fit into your budget.
Choose Your School
Go to an in-state public school or a public school in a surrounding state that has reciprocity for reduced tuition, which will be much lower than rates at a non-reciprocal out-of-state public school or a private school. If you are not satisfied with the quality of the state schools where you live, consider moving to a state with schools you like and establishing residency.
To establish residency, you will have to meet strict requirements that vary by state and sometimes even by school - but for the savings, it may be worth it. Most states require you to live in the state for at least one year in order to be eligible, but there are other criteria to meet as well. In California, for example, it is very difficult for students who don't have a parent living in California to establish residency before their mid-20s. In addition to living in-state for 366 days immediately prior to requesting resident status, potential students must provide objective documentation demonstrating an intent to make California their permanent state of residence, such as a driver's license, ownership of property or steady employment, as well as financial independence.
If you can wait it out and meet these criteria, then you can attend quality schools at in-state rates.
Another money-saving strategy that doesn't involve postponing college is to apply to schools that have a shortage of people like you. People like you could be people interested in your major, people from your state, people with your ethnic background, people who are as smart as or smarter than others applying to the school, people who play the unusual instrument you play or any other number of traits. Schools where you'd be a unique addition may give you scholarships.
Think About Cost of Living
Keep in mind that housing and other living costs will vary by location, especially if you choose to live off campus. An apartment in New York City will be much pricier than an apartment in the Midwest. Also, the college where you obtain your undergraduate degree can sometimes influence where you will end up working and living after school. If possible, choose a location where you'd actually want to live, where the cost of living is affordable, and where your school will be a recognizable name that will allow you to get more mileage from your diploma. UCLA may be considered a good school in the West, but may not be held in the same high regard in New York.
Don't Get Just Any Job to Pay for School
Make your job count by sticking to high-paying work. To find high-paying work, especially for summer jobs when you'll be free during business hours, seek out office jobs through temp agencies. Temp agencies do most of the job hunting work for you, and the office jobs they offer tend to pay above minimum wage, provide work experience closer to the situations you'll encounter post-college, and may give you connections that will help you land a meaningful internship or your first salaried position. Also, despite what the name implies, you can find both short and long-term jobs through temp agencies.
If you can't get a high-paying job, get a job that will keep your living expenses down, such as working in a restaurant where you get free food. If you work at a bakery, for example, any unsold goods at the end of the day may be fair game for employees since the business can't sell day-old bread. Another possibility is to find a campus job that offers perks. If you can get a job in your school's residential life office, you may be able to get a discount on housing during the school year or the summer.
If you're still in high school, start working now and save all your paychecks for college. You're still living at home; you probably don't have high living expenses chomping into your earnings like you will later on. Also, see if your high school has a program that will allow you to leave school at noon every day to go to work during your senior year. This will increase your job options, including opening up the possibility of the aforementioned office job, and allow you to work more hours.
Be Flexible with Your Schedule
Some college programs, such as engineering, are more intense than others, making it quite difficult to work while in school. For these programs, consider attending school part-time so you can still work part-time. Even if you're not in an overly demanding program, attending school part-time can help you spread out tuition costs and free up more time to work. However, part-time students may not have the option of living on campus, which can make it more difficult to be involved in the social aspects of college.
Another option is to take a year or two off after high school to work full-time so you can save up enough money to make school affordable. If you don't want to postpone college, you could take your classes during evenings and weekends in order to work full-time during the week. This strategy may take more than four years to complete, but it can be easier to budget. One argument against this approach is that many people find it easier psychologically to go straight from high school to college because study habits are still ingrained.
With education costs as high as they are and certain financial situations that fall outside the norm, even some middle-class parents may not be able to make significant contributions to a child's higher education costs despite what the formulas insist.
If you have a lot of patience, you can wait until you become an independent student as defined by the Higher Education Act, which has a different definition of "dependent" than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If you identify with some of the following you may qualify as an independent student.
- 24 years or older by December 31 of the award year
- Orphan or ward of the court
- Armed Forces Veteran or serving actively
- Graduate or professional student
- Dependents other than a spouse
- Student for whom a financial aid administrator makes a documented determination of independence by reason of other unusual circumstances
Being an "independent student" under the Higher Education Act could make you be eligible for more financial aid because the financial aid formulas applied to this group won't take parental contributions into account.
The Bottom Line
Some of these measures are purely practical and don't take into account many of the intangibles of the college experience, such as the learning experience of freshman dorm life. Before you start on your college plan, consider everything you want to get out of college so that you don't have regrets later. Although you may have to make some sacrifices that your peers don't, such as starting school later or staying in the state, you can still have the experience you want and attain a degree that will lead to a financially successful and stable future.