Financial Aid Paying for College

Top 10 Ways to Reduce the Cost of Financial Aid

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You’ve run the programs that estimate your FAFSA and Profile contributions and you know you aren’t going to qualify for financial aid at any college. Even though these forms say you can afford almost $200,000 for 4 years of a private college, you just don’t want to pay that much. So what are the options for your child to attend college but keep the cost down?

Here are 10 options to attend college but pay less than $200,000. All of these options may not be appropriate for every student, but if you keep an open mind you should be able to use these tips to save some money.

1. Apply to colleges that award merit aid

Merit aid is money given by the college to encourage particular students to attend that college regardless of their financial need. Academic and athletic scholarships are the two best known types of merit aid although some colleges may award merit aid based on musical ability, activities engaged in, or a host of other factors.

A strong academic background is the obvious way to merit scholarships at most colleges. Many of the most selective colleges offer no or very limited merit aid so you might need to set your sites on a somewhat less selective college. The general rule of thumb is that if your grades or test scores place you in the top 25% of applicants to that college, you have a chance at merit aid. However, there are some colleges that automatically give merit aid to any student whose test scores and/or grades are greater than a certain level. See the site for Southwestern College as an example of such a program. To see an example of some financial aid programs based on merit go to the web site for Calvin College or Lewis and Clark College. National merit scholars also have a variety of options for merit based financial aid.

While having a strong academic background is one of the most direct ways to merit aid, remember that merit aid can be awarded for many other reasons. Athletic scholarships for a recruited athlete at colleges that offer such scholarships are non need based.

To determine if you might qualify for a non need based scholarship you will first need to evaluate who you are and what traits you might have that a college would be willing to pay for. If your specialty is playing the oboe, look for a college that only has one oboe in the orchestra and who is a senior. Not sure how to find this information out? Call the colleges in which you have an interest to see where you might be needed the most.

2. Apply for all the scholarships you might qualify for

Students who do not qualify for need based aid can use all of the money received from a scholarship to reduce the cost of attending a college. Therefore, all students who do not qualify for non need based aid should apply for any and all scholarships that they might qualify for. This is free money and every student should attempt to get as much of the free money as possible. You can download a FREE GUIDE to $38 Million in Scholarships at Course Advisor. Two of the best scholarship search engines that offer customized lists that match your interests, abilities, and achievements are: FastWeb and ScholarshipExperts. Students looking for a way to pay for college should do a search at both sites and it is free, too! There are even random drawing scholarships that do not require much work at all, other than completing the entry form. FreeCollegeScholarships is such a site that offers a monthly drawing for $10K to pay college expenses.

3. Find colleges that are generous with credit for AP or IB tests

If you attend a college that gives credit for having taken AP exams or IB tests, you may be able to reduce the time it takes to graduate. An alternative to this is taking college courses during the high school years. Check with the colleges you are considering to make sure that they will grant credit for such courses taken while in high school.

Some students with sufficient credits have been able to reduce their time at college by an entire year. Less time at college means a lower bill.

4. Go to college in Canada

Canadian colleges are cheaper than many colleges in this country and yet provide a similar education. Because of the proximity it is often no more difficult to attend a college in Canada than one in the United States. Also, students attending college in Canada still qualify for loans such as the Stafford loan as well as federal tax credits including the Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits.

5. Consider a college that has a co-op program

Several colleges offer a cooperative education program where the students combine going to college with practical work experience. Although this form of education can take a little longer, the student gains work experience during the college years and in some cases is also able to earn additional income during the work experience portion of their education. If you want to know more about cooperative education, check out the National Commission for Cooperative Education.

6. Consider attending a U.S. service academy

If your academic interests are in fields that might be available at one of the service academies this can be a very cheap way to attend college since all of the costs are covered by the federal government. The cost of such institutions occurs after graduation when you need to commit to active duty military service for several years.

A variation to this approach is joining ROTC where the government helps provide funds to pay for some of the costs of college. Again, there is a requirement for military service after college using this option

7. Attend public colleges or community colleges in your state

Although the cost of public college and universities has been increasing even faster than private colleges, they are still substantially cheaper for in state students. One of the disadvantages of many public colleges is a lower graduation rate compared to many private colleges. Honors colleges at public schools often have an improved graduation rate and can be a great deal for the student able to be admitted. They also offer increased personal attention that can help the student succeed at the chosen college.

Community colleges are usually an even cheaper option than public four year colleges. Although community colleges are cheaper there can be a bit more planning involved if you attend such a college because of the need to transfer to a four year college after the first two years. If considering attending a community college also be sure to look into the 4 year colleges to which you might transfer to that you will get credit for work taken at the community college.

8. Consider applying for non-need based loans

There are a number of non need based loans available from a variety of sources. The largest source of government non-need based loans is the unsubsidized Stafford Loan. A family should evaluate non-need based loans to see if the interest rate is less than the interest being earned on investments. If so, it makes more sense to borrow the money at the lower interest rate while continuing to earn money on the investments.

9. Consider participation in Americorp

Americorps is a network of service programs that allows thousands of people each year to provide service to meet the country’s critical need in such areas as education, public safety, and health. Some of these programs also provide a small living allowance during the time the person is participating in the program.

In addition to a living allowance, all full time participants in an Americorp program are provided an award of $4,725 for each year of participation to pay educational expenses. If you want to give something to the country by joining one of these worthwhile programs, you can earn money for your future education.

10. Live at home

It’s not exciting and you may miss out on part of the college experience, but an easy way to save money is to live at home while attending a local college. Saving on room and board can be substantial at many colleges. Remember though that you will now have commuting expenses that will reduce these savings somewhat.