How to Lower College Tuition [11 Clever Ways]

how to lower college tuition

If the price of college tuition scares you, I promise you are not alone. With tuition costs continuing to rise, college degrees are moving further away from the average person’s grasp; With college, now comes a dark, ominous cloud of student debt. 

This article will offer some simple solutions to lower your overall tuition costs and therefore minimize your potential student debt.

How to Lower College Tuition

Tax-Free Savings – 529 College Plans

529 college plan

A 529 Plan is a great way for you, or your parents, to start out your savings journey. These “qualified tuition plans” are designed to encourage saving for future education costs and are sponsored by state governments and institutions. 

While not every state is the same, they will all offer at least one of these two 529 Plan options:

Prepaid Tuition Plan

This plan will allow you to purchase “credit” for future tuition at a participating university. 

The cool thing about this is that you are able to lock in the current tuition prices to apply later on. For example, if I prepaid tuition in 2015 but did not attend university until 2022, I would still only have to pay the tuition prices of 2015. 

The thing to watch out for with these plans is to check the requirements and the affiliated universities before you choose a plan. 

Each state will offer different options and will have different rules pertaining to resident-status as well as what the payments can be used for (i.e. room and board vs. just tuition).

Education Savings Plan

This plan is a lot more like your average savings account. The money put into an Education Savings Plan can be used at any educational institutions with very little restrictions. 

This plan also offers many different options for investing (i.e. aggressively vs. conservatively), so there is a right fit for everyone. 

When investing in an Education Savings Plan, try to plan out the timeline for your investment. With the different investment routes available to you, you should be able to find one that fits your needs.

Decide Your Major Early On

decide college major

While it can be hard to know what your major will be right from the start, figuring it out early definitely pays off in the long run. 

When first attending college, one route that a lot of college students take is that of “feeling out” what areas of study they are interested in. 

This causes them to spend valuable money and time on credits that may not fulfill their ultimate intended major. 

With a specific major in mind, you can strategically choose classes that are going to fulfill requirements demanded by your major. 

By knowing your major early on (even as early on as high school), you may have enough time to complete a minor along with your major, or even double major! 

The last thing you want is to finish the required credits to graduate from college, but not have completed enough to fulfill your major’s requirements. In that case, you will have to graduate without a declared major, or spend extra time and money to complete one.

By taking the steps needed to discover your major early, you will be saving money and time, as well as adding impressive material to your resume.

Take Advanced Placement Classes in High School

ap classes

In most high schools, Advanced Placement (AP) classes are made available to the student body. These are college-level classes that students can take free of charge and are a great investment in your future. 

Aside from a few subjects, a score between 3 and 5 will usually get you full college credit for taking the class. In other words, every AP test that you pass is a class you do not have to later pay for in college. 

I took a total of nine AP classes in high school, ranging from AP Psych to Comparative Government. While I did not pursue psychology or political studies, all nine classes added to my college credit and cut out a significant amount of credits that I needed to graduate. 

If you have an idea of the major or career field you are interested in, choose the AP courses that best fit that field. 

If you are unsure of your major, any AP credit is good AP credit; Don’t hold yourself back from taking AP classes just because you aren’t sure they are worth it or that they fit in with your interests.

Pick Public over Private

public university over private

Did you know that in 2019, private universities were charging an average of $35,000 in yearly tuition? Compared to the average of $10,000 for in-state students and $20,000 for out-of-state students at public universities, the price difference is insane!

If you were to attend a private university for 4 years, all while financing it with student loans, you would graduate with a student debt of $140,000!! 

Comparatively, an out-of-state public university tuition would have you graduating with a debt of $80,000 and an in-state tuition at a public university would leave you with $40,000 in student debt. 

That is a whole $100,000 extra for choosing to attend a private university instead of your state or local college. 

The United States offers stellar public universities all over the country. Public universities are non-profit organizations with the majority of their funding coming from state and federal government.

In-State Over Out-of-State

in-state university over out-of-state

When looking into possible colleges, it is in your best interest to apply to colleges within the state that you hold residency. Being a resident of a state usually entails having lived in that state consecutively for at least one year.

While the schools you will be looking at will depend on your professional interests, most colleges provide the same general majors across the country; Unless you must move because you are specializing in a subject that only a certain college provides, you will save a lot of money by staying in your own state. 

In my own experience, I have paid both out-of-state (when I first moved) and in-state rates. After receiving my resident status after a year, I was shocked that I had been paying more than double for the out-of-state tuition versus in-state. And this was at a community college!

After transferring to a four-year university, I saw that the costs for tuition followed suit, but were even more shocking, as classes are significantly more expensive at the university level. 

For the same education that I was paying around ~$11,000 for, out-of-state and international students were having to pay $30,000+. 

No matter what career you are looking to pursue, I can almost guarantee there is a program within your state that will fulfill the requirements for that degree. 

If you find that there is not a major for your preferred course of study in your state but it is offered at an out-of-state school, consider looking into the Academic Common Market

The Academic Common Market is an agreement made and upheld by around 15 states that guarantees you in-state tuition if your major is not offered in your state of residency. 

If all this hasn’t turned you away from looking for far-away colleges, or you simply must attend a college out of state for a specific program, consider deferring for a year and living in the area until you receive your resident status. 

While this may put you a year behind in your studies, it could save you thousands of dollars in student loans down the road. You could use this time to get to know your area, get some work experience, travel, make connections, and the list goes on.

Apply for Student Aid – FAFSA


One of the most well-known forms of student aid is the Federal Application For Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA is a federally funded program that assesses a student’s need for aid through a yearly application submitted by the student.

FAFSA opens up for applications in October of the year before you are needing the aid. For example, if I applied for FAFSA October 2019, that aid would apply for the 2020-2021 school year. 

FAFSA will review your individual financial status if you are independent or have special circumstances, but will require parent’s financial information if you are a dependent until the age of 24. They will then offer you different loan and grant options depending on your assessed need.

The FAFSA is a bit of a chore to fill out every year, but most universities require it from all students if they are using any form of student loan to pay tuition. 

Each school will have different application deadlines, so make sure to stay up to date with your specific university’s timeline for FAFSA. 

The FAFSA fund is also a first-come-first-serve situation in many states, so applying early will give you the best chance at receiving the aid you are qualified for.

Apply for Scholarships and Grants

The ultimate money-saving hack is to apply for scholarships and grants to help lower your tuition costs. 

Scholarships are normally distributed through a merit-based system, while grants are given based on a student’s or family’s need. The great things about a scholarship or grant is that it is free money that you do not ever have to pay back!

A quick search online will open a world of savings for you and your family, as there are what seems to be an infinite amount of free money out there if you meet the qualifications. 

Scholarships range from academic, to athletic, to personal, to even paying you for the hobbies or groups you take part in.

Scholarships and grants can be found from the federal government, state government, individual universities and schools, religious organizations, political organizations, nonprofits, and even private corporations. 

The bottom line is that there are a lot of resources available to you as an upcoming college freshman so it doesn’t hurt to apply. 

Even if you think you may not qualify for something, apply anyway! Many of these scholarships and grants are seriously under-applied for so you may just get it.

Attend a Community College for the first 2 years

While it may not be full of the glitz and glam of a four-year university, community college is a great way to start your college career. 

Unlike a competitive university, most applicants are accepted to community college right away, so there is no reason to put off applying. You can also usually apply at any time and start the following quarter or semester. 

In addition to the ease of getting in, tuition costs are almost always lower at a community college, making the choice much more affordable. 

While attending school full time (15 credits) and working only part-time in Seattle, I was able to pay all my tuition and supplies costs without any financial aid. That’s almost unheard of when talking about university tuition, not to mention the cost of books!

One of the best perks of finishing your first two years at a community college is that you will most likely graduate with an Associate Degree, giving you an immediate advantage and raising your human capital.

Apply for Resident Advisor roles

resident advisor

A cheaper option to living the dorm-life you’ve always wanted is to sign up to be a Resident Advisor (RA) for a dorm on campus. 

The RA is in charge of monitoring the dorms, upholding dorm rules and regulations, helping out students who live there and putting together programs for dorm-living.

While it varies from college to college, many RA’s are granted free room and board, free meal plans, free parking, and lowered tuition costs, all in addition to a small extra monthly stipend of cash.

While the perks are pretty unbeatable, being an RA comes with big responsibilities. Remember, you are being put in charge of helping and monitoring young college students, so you may feel a little like a parent to your peers. 

If you can get over that and learn to enjoy the job, it is a great way to save some serious bucks while attending university.

Live Off-Campus

live off campus

While dorm-life might be one of the parts of college you are looking forward to most, it seriously raises the price of your university bills. 

In addition to tuition, books, and supplies, living on campus brings extra expenses like room & board, transportation, and meal plans that can add up to thousands of dollars.

Instead of heading straight for the dorms, try looking around for housing in the neighborhoods bordering your university. 

In most cases, apartments and houses are cheaper in these areas and provide much more privacy than a shared dorm building would.

Another simple solution would be to stay in the dorms for the first year to build a good group of friends and get that dorm-life experience. 

After the first year, find a big apartment or house that you can share with your friends. This is both cost effective and space effective for all of you.

Additionally, find ways to adopt some ideas from this extensive list of 35 ways to save you lots of money

Consider Online Bachelor Degree Program

online degree

Online university is an option not many people think of when considering their educational options. In our day and age, technology has made a college degree from real universities accessible to everyone right from your own home.

While online school does not provide the campus and college lifestyle that a physical university does, it does provide flexibility and autonomy in your educational journey, while comparatively saving you money.

Online school is a great option for students who have a busy lifestyle, work a full-time job, have children or dependents, or even just anyone who is looking for more free time in their life.

If you are planning on transferring to a physical university later on, make sure to check that the credits you receive from your institution are compatible with your future school. It would be a bummer to do all that work and not have it count!

BONUS TIP – Don’t Just Get a Degree, Learn a Skill that pays 6 figures!

learn skill

You might think this is contrary to what this article is about, but let me explain how it is not.

Why do we really need a degree? To get a job that makes more money. To expand our knowledge and expertise. To get job satisfaction and security.

And why do companies prefer candidates with bachelors and masters degrees? Because they see college graduates having more knowledge and expertise in a certain field. Moreover, it shows that people with degrees have demonstrated perseverance towards a goal and succeeded.

The common links in both answers are knowledge and expertise, and getting a degree has historically been the only way to obtain that. Not anymore. 

We have to realize that we live in 2020 and technology has dramatically transformed every single aspect of our lives. Education is not far behind. 

Plus, it doesn’t make sense from an ROI standpoint to spend $50k a year on a 4-year college degree to make $50k a year on a job later on.

Glassdoor recently released an article listing top companies like Google, Apple and IBM that no longer requires a degree. More companies are dropping their degree requirements on jobs that pay a six figure salary.

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