Trimming college costs up front can help families avoid excessive college borrowing and the burdensome student loan payments that come with it. Here are some ideas.
1. Pick a college with a lower net price. You can use a college's net price calculator (available on every college's website) to estimate what your net price (out-of-pocket cost) will be at individual colleges. A net price calculator does this by estimating how much grant aid a student is likely to receive based on a family's financial and personal information. Colleges differ on their aid generosity, so after entering identical information in different calculators, you may find that College A's net price is $35,000 per year while College B's net price is $22,000. By establishing an ideal net price range, your child can target schools that hit your affordable zone.
2. Investigate in-state universities. Research in-state options and encourage your child to apply to at least one in-state school. In-state schools generally offer the lowest sticker price (though not necessarily the lowest netprice) and may offer scholarships to state residents.
3. Research colleges that offer generous merit aid. All colleges are not created equal in terms of how much institutional aid they offer. Spend time researching colleges that offer generous merit aid to students whose academic profile your child matches.
4. Graduate early. Earn college credit in high school by taking AP/IB classes and then graduate a semester or two early. Or look at colleges that specifically offer three-year accelerated degree programs.
5. Seek out free room and board. There are two ways to do this: The first is to live at home (though transportation costs might eat into your savings), and the second way is to become a resident assistant (RA) on campus, a job that typically offers free room and board.
6. Work during college. Working during college and contributing modest amounts to tuition along the way — say $1,500 to $3,000 a year — can help students avoid another $6,000 to $12,000 in loans.
7. Combine traditional and online courses. Does the college offer online classes? If so, you may be able to earn some credits at a lower cost over the summer or during breaks.