The cost of a college education continues to rise. For the 2017 to 2018 academic year, undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board were estimated to be close to $25,000 for a moderate budget at an in-state public college. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $50,900. According to CNBC, in 1988, the average tuition for a private nonprofit four-year institution was $15,160, in 2017 dollars. For the 2017 to 2018 school year, it's $34,740, which is an increase of almost 130%.
Although the financial implications are daunting, the following tips are designed to dissuade you from skipping college because you are worried about the expense. Here are some strategies for making higher education part of your overall budget.
1. Choose Your School Wisely
The data shows that in-state public schools or a public school in a surrounding state that has reciprocity for reduced tuition costs much less than an out-of-state public or private school. If you are not satisfied with the quality of the state schools where you live, consider moving to a state with a school that you prefer and establishing residency.
To establish residency, you will have to meet strict requirements that vary by state and sometimes even by school, but this may be worth it for the savings. Most states require you to live in the state for at least one year in order to be eligible, but there could be other criteria to meet. In California, for example, it is difficult for students who do not 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 documentation demonstrating an intent to make California their permanent state of residence such as a driver's license, ownership of property or steady employment, and 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 does not require postponing college is to apply to schools where you have unique characteristics. For example, you might have an ethnic background that a school is looking for, an academic background that is different, or you might play a sport or a musical instrument that makes you stand out. Schools where you are a valuable addition due to an unusual skill may provide a scholarship.
2. Think About Cost of Living
Keep in mind that housing and other living costs will vary by location. If you choose to live off campus, your living expenses are typically much less. Geographically, an apartment in New York City will be much pricier than an apartment in the Midwest, and the college where you obtain your undergraduate degree can sometimes influence where you will end up working and living after school. Therefore, consider where you want to live after graduating and the cost of living in that location. If possible, it should be a place where you would 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. The University of California may be considered a good school in the West, but it may not be held in the same high regard in New York.
3. 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, particularly in the summer when you may 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 cannot get a high-paying job, get a job that will keep your living expenses down. 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 cannot 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 are still in high school, start working now and save all your paychecks for college. Presumably, you are still living at home, which is low cost, and you probably do not have high living expenses eating into your earnings as you will later on. Check 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 a higher paying job and allow you to work more hours.
4. 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 your program is not 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 and work full-time during the week. This strategy will mean that your degree will take more than four years to complete, but it can be easier to budget, and you will gain valuable work experience as you go.
5. Qualify as an Independent Student
With the high cost of education, some parents may not be able to make significant contributions to a child's higher education. If you are older and meet the requirements, you may qualify as an independent student as defined by the Higher Education Act, which has a different definition of "dependent" than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Being an "independent student" under the Higher Education Act means that you could be eligible for financial aid because the financial aid formulas applied to this group do not take parental contributions into account. The requirements to qualify as an independent student are the following:
- 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
The Bottom Line
Although you may have to make some sacrifices to further your education, such as starting school later or staying in state, you can still have the experience you want and attain a degree that will lead to a financially successful and stable future.