The following post was contributed by Shanice Miller of Debt Free College Grad.
All over the news are tons of stories all centered around one big issue – student loan debt. While there are a few “lucky ones” that are able to graduate college debt-free, the majority of students have to take out at least one loan. With the cost of college tuition rising each year, many people feel that student loan debt is unavoidable. I have friends with this same mindset who have graduated with as much as $100,000 in student loans just for their undergraduate degrees and now are stuck paying as much as $1,000 a month to Sallie Mae for the next 15 to 30 years of their lives.
Although some may feel like they have no other choice but to take out loans for a better future, we should all strive to keep this amount as low as possible. I’m grateful that I was one of the “lucky ones” who graduated from college completely debt-free. I even received refund checks back from the college each semester, but I really had to learn a lot along the way to get to that point. One big thing that I learned is that no one has to graduate with a massive amount of debt. There are many ways that you can cut the cost of college to make it more affordable. Here are my three strategies that I used to save thousands of dollars during college:
Find Schools that Want to Give You Free Money to Attend
It was my senior year of high school and I just received my financial aid award letters in the mail. Anxiously, I opened the first award letter to discover that I received $20,000 in scholarships. I felt really proud up until I saw that the school would cost $40,000 to attend each year. I thought to myself, “Where would I come up with the extra $20,000 each year?” So I opened the second one. This school gave me $15,000 but it only cost $20,000 each year. Still wondering where I would come up with an additional $5,000 each year, I hesitantly opened my last award letter. This time I saw a long list of different scholarships that totaled the exact amount needed to attend the year. Finally! I felt like I won the lottery.
What I learned from this was that all schools want top students to attend their college, and colleges obtain the best students through giving them automatic scholarships. Receiving these is one of the best ways students can save during college – and the more valuable a college perceives you, the more money you will receive from the college.
I also learned that just because you are considered a top student at one school does not mean that you will be considered a top student at another school. I am sure that if I would have applied to an Ivy League university, I most likely would not have received any scholarships (or even have been accepted).
Get Your Textbooks for Free
My first semester of college, I thought I was set. I found a school that wanted me so they gave me a combination of scholarships that covered the full cost of tuition, room, and board. However, what I didn’t factor in was the cost of textbooks.
Equipped with my list of required books for the semester, I entered into the school’s bookstore and came out with $500 worth of textbooks, even though most of those were bought used. By the end of the semester, I was ready to rid myself of this “dead weight” that I spent $500 on and barely touched. Of course, if you’ve already been through college you know how this story ends: I only recouped $100 of my original cost and had to deal with a $400 loss.
After that first semester, I learned to write down the titles and ISBN numbers that are located on the back of each textbook where the barcode is. Using those numbers, I looked up and purchased the exact textbooks that I needed on Amazon and Ebay. (Note: the international editions are exactly the same as the regular editions except the pages numbers are slightly different.) Using this strategy, I only spent $100 on textbooks for the next semesters; and after each semester was over, I sold the books back on eBay and received at least $100 for them – making my textbooks free.
Textbooks are a huge expenses, so putting in the effort to search for materials online will go a really long way in helping students save during college.
Save During College by Minimizing Fees, Not Just Tuition
If you have ever checked any college’s tuition and fees section on their website, you can see that tuition alone won’t add up to the thirty, forty, or fifty thousand dollars that people say higher education costs every year. An average in-state college’s tuition and fees add up to approximately $10,000 annually. It’s the fees that will get you.
After 4 years without scholarships or financial aid, tuition may add up to $40,000 (which is no paltry sum, but is less than what most people think of when considering the cost of higher education). However, the majority of students also add in fees like room (housing) and board (food) into the mix which adds an extra $10,000 onto the cost of tuition annually. With that alone, the cost of attending university doubles.
You can drastically slash your education costs by living with your parents. Now, some people are going to say, that’s nice but I don’t have that option. If that is your case, you can get a group of fellow students or friends together to rent an off-campus house. Splitting the rent of an off campus house will typically be cheaper than the cost of the school’s dorm room which you will already be sharing with at least one roommate anyways.
I’ve only listed 3 ways that can help you save during college, but there are so many more. Which of these ways did you find most helpful and why? Can you think of any others to add to the list?
Author Bio: Shanice Miller is the author of “How to Graduate College Debt-Free with Money in the Bank” and founder of DebtFreeCollegeGrad.com, a website dedicated to helping students graduate college debt-free.