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4 Tuition Hacks to Make College More Affordable

by Will Geiger, on May 23, 2019 12:00:00 PM

“Will, you have some mail,” I heard my mom say.

I rushed over to the kitchen table and saw an envelope with my name on it. Most 15-year-olds don’t receive much mail, so personally receiving something was a bit of a thrill. I was even more excited to see that inside the envelope was a brochure from a college. I plopped down on the couch and immediately started browsing through it.

However, when I got to the page entitled “Tuition and Fees”, my heart sank a bit. I looked again and ran a quick calculation. The total four-year cost of this college was multiple times the amount of money my family earned each year. I was the oldest of three children so my parents would have to pay for my brothers’ tuition, too. Imagine my surprise when I found out later in the admissions process that attending a pricier private college would be cheaper than my in-state public university.

However, making college more affordable does not stop with financial aid. During my time in college, I was able to find several ways to decrease the cost of attendance. Some of my “tuition hacks” included graduating a semester early and serving as a Resident Adviser (which meant free room, board, and a stipend). In this post, I am going to talk about tuition hacks that you can start working on now!

1. Get college credit as a high school student

Many colleges charge students per credit, so you can save some serious money if you enter college already possessing some college credits (this is actually what allowed me to graduate college in only seven semesters). Sure, you can take actual classes, but that can be expensive. I think that the better route is taking Advanced Placement exams and CLEP tests. If you take these tests and achieve a certain score, many colleges will award you credit. Modern States has a great list of colleges and universities that accept these tests, as well as free online courses to allow you to apply. Note, some colleges do not accept these tests or will cap the number of credits you can receive. Nonetheless, if you include some of the colleges that do accept AP exams or CLEP tests, you could be in for massive savings.

2. In the admissions process, focus on the discount rate

The “discount rate” of a college is the average amount of money that they discount tuition. At many colleges, the discount rate is fueled by need-based financial aid. In my financial aid package, this is what drove the cost of attendance down (tip: the Net Price Calculator is your go-to tool for estimating need-based financial aid).

However, many colleges also drive down costs through non-need based scholarships. In fact, at some colleges, a sizeable chunk of students receive these scholarships (and remember, this does not include need-based aid). Colleges that award a large number of non-need based scholarships are worth considering if you are looking to save money on tuition.

3. College, Université, or Hochschule?

If you are feeling adventurous, you can attend college abroad and save substantial amounts of money. Many colleges abroad cost a fraction of what they cost in the United States (even including increased travel costs). Some great options to think about include McGill University in Canada, the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, and Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan. These institutions will have diverse student bodies (including many other international students) strong international reputations, and instruction in English. Germany goes a step further and offers free tuition for all students, even international students.

4. Income Share Agreements

A new wave of institutions including Make School, Lambda School, and Holberton School are changing the game of computer science education (note that only Make School allows students to receive an actual Bachelor’s Degree). These schools provide a very career-focused, hands-on experience for students who are laser-focused on becoming developers and technical professionals. They also allow students to pay for their education through an Income Share Agreement or ISA.

An ISA does not require students to make any up-front tuition payments, but instead will require students to pay back a portion of their future salary. This also means that the school has a vested interest in your success and helping you get a high-quality job upon graduation. Income Share Agreements are also becoming more common among traditional colleges and universities. The ISA concept is simple: instead of paying upfront tuition, students promise to pay back a percentage of their future salary. This post from EdSurge lists several colleges that are offering this arrangement. Note that many of the universities will cap the amount of money that you can receive through the ISA (usually this will replace the loan portion of your financial aid package).

Even though there is so much focus on the student debt crisis and the annual tuition hikes at many institutions, there are still lots of opportunities for innovative and hardworking students. College does not need to be so expensive and with these tuition hacks, you can make a dent in your own tuition bill.

Topics:college admission