According to FinAid.org, the average cost of earning a bachelor's degree is increasing at a rate of 5-8% per year, making a college education quite expensive. 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.
Go Where You Are Wanted
A money-saving strategy is to apply to schools that have a shortage of people like you. This could mean 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. (For related reading, see Invest In Yourself With A College Education.)
Choose Your School
Go to an in-state public school or a public school in a surrounding state that has reciprocity for reduced tuition. 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. Most states require you to live in the state for at least one year in order to be eligible, but there may be other criteria to meet as well.
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 potential income will go the farthest. (Read 10 Reasons Why Moving Might Not Make You Richer.)
Don't Get Just Any Job
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 find the job for you, and the office jobs they offer tend to pay well 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. (For more, see Start Off On The Right Foot With An Internship.)
Wait It Out
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 have a lot of patience, you can wait until you become an independent student as defined by the Higher Education Act. This requires being one or more of the following: 24 years or older, an armed forces veteran or serving actively, a graduate or professional student, a married student, a student with dependents (other than a spouse).
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. This strategy may take more than four years to complete, but it can be easier to budget.
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. (For more insight, read Investing In Your Child's Education and Don't Forget The Kids: Save For Their Education And Retirement.)
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