If you were a student at an in-state public university in the 2016 academic year, you likely paid about $9,600 for tuition and another $10,400 for room and board. This means your four-year degree cost roughly $80,000–and if that doesn’t make you want to look for college savings, we don’t know what will!
Fortunately, there are tons of great ways for students to save money without sacrificing the benefits of a quality education. In this guide, we’re outlining three categories you can find big savings in: supplies and books, tuition, and living.
Saving Money on Supplies
On average, students currently pay about $1,250 a year on books and school supplies. For somebody who wants to save on school supplies, this is a category well worth exploring!
1. Stay Away From the Campus Bookstore
It’s awfully tempting to head straight to the bookstore on campus, but that’s a big no-no. Products featured here are usually marked up at high rates. You can often find huge back to school savings at local discount stores or even online. This applies to things like notebooks and pens but also goes for your books. One easy strategy is to grab a printout of your assigned books for the semester, and then take your list online or to local used bookstores.
2. Wait to Buy
Depending on your major and your class size, you also might consider waiting to purchase your books. Obviously, you don’t want to jeopardize your grades, but some professors only assign a book because they’re required to do so, and won’t actually teach from it or assign it.
If you have fairly easy access to your professors, you might mention to them that you’re hoping to save money, and ask if they have suggestions, or if they plan on using the book heavily at all. With textbooks sometimes well over $100 a pop, even if a professor lets you off the hook for just one book, you’ll see significant savings.
3. Go Used & Online
As we mentioned earlier, the best prices are often online thanks to a thriving second-hand textbook market. In fact, there’s no reason to buy new books unless a publisher has recently released a new edition. Even in that case, sometimes you can manage to get away with the older edition. It’s worth doing your research online and comparing before making your purchase!
In addition to buying used and online, you can also rent used books online. For textbook heavy fields of study such as physics or biology, this can add up to a lot of savings. Keep in mind, however, that if you have a history of abusing your books, this isn’t a great option for you–you’ll need to keep them in good condition to get your deposit back!
4. Buy the e-Book
Did you know you can purchase some textbooks in e-reader format? Before you purchase a physical copy, check to see if there’s a digital edition. Not only is this often cheaper, but it’s also more convenient (no lugging heavy books around to class and study sessions) and environmentally friendly.
5. Check Your Local Library
Your campus library or your local library are both great options. While you might not find the newest edition of that engineering textbook you need, you probably will find copies of works you’ll need for history or English class. Keep in mind, however, that availability might be a problem.
Save Money on Tuition
We’ve already talked about the high cost of tuition, so it stands to reason that this is another key category to find savings in.
1. Stay In State or Go Public
It’s tempting–especially if you get into an Ivy league school on the other side of the country–to make the leap, but it’s also worth considering staying in-state and/or going to a public university instead of a private university. This isn’t always the case (sometimes a small private school might offer you more in financial aid than a large public institution), but it’s worth applying to a wide net of different types of institutions so you have multiple options to evaluate.
2. Take Dual Credit or AP Classes
Signing up for Advancement Placement classes in high school might enable you to skip entry-level courses (same for taking dual credit classes in high school). This may help you simply take fewer classes so you can work part-time during the semester, or it might help you graduate early.
3. Go to a Junior College First
Community college or junior college can be much, much cheaper than two years at a university. Even if you have your heart set on graduating from a four-year institution, spending the first half of your college years at something local can help you save big, and not just on tuition, but on room and board as well! It can also help students transition gradually, as sometimes college classes can be a rough ride.
4. Prepay Tuition or Take Advantage of a Savings Plan
Depending on how much time your children have between now and college, there are all sorts of saving plan options. One of our favorites is an opportunity some colleges offer to prepay student tuition. If you know your child will definitely attend a certain college, this might save a huge amount of money, especially considering how fast college tuition has inflated over the last twenty years.
Other states offer savings plans–for example, Texas residents may open a Texas 529 Savings Plan that offers tax-free growth and withdrawals that are used for qualified education expenses, such as books and room and board.
5. Do the Paperwork Carefully and Negotiate
We can’t stress this enough: do your research thoroughly and do the paperwork carefully. Errors, such as accrediting a parent’s assets to the child, can end up costing the child a significant amount of financial aid. It’s also possible to negotiate a financial aid package.
If your child has had a change in a living situation since applying (such as having a parent laid off) or your child has his heart set on attending this particular institution but the financial aid offered doesn’t sufficiently cover expenses, having a polite conversation about reconsidering the offered package might help.
6. What About Grad School?
Looking for how to save money for graduate school? Many of the tips we’ve outlined in this article apply to a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree, but saving money here also requires its own category. One suggestion is to look for research grants or assistantships in your field that will cover your expenses and another is to apply early before aid money is already spoken for.
We also suggest that grad students carefully consider the options. Today, there are a wealth of online or weekend programs available, so that students can earn a graduate degree while working full-time (or at least part-time). You can also try looking for newer programs at established schools, which often cost less but still provide terrific opportunities, and reach out to your alma mater, which might offer discounts.
Finally, be willing to apply to different programs, and don’t be afraid to encourage a little friendly competition among schools. High-quality candidates are often actively sought after!
Saving on Living Expenses
Another huge expense for college students is room and board. This can vary wildly by student, school, and other details, but here are two ways to limit excessive costs:
1. Live at Home or Find Roommates
Living at home isn’t usually a college student’s idea of fun, but when it’s possible, the cost savings can be tremendous. If it’s not an option, find roommates. Again, this isn’t always fun or easy, but it can help save big on things like electricity, water, internet, and rent.
2. Look Into Campus Housing
It’s common for universities to require students live on campus for their first year, but that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes, campus housing can be more cost effective, especially if you can demonstrate financial need.
One of the biggest expenses in housing is the meal plan you’re also required to purchase, but again, you don’t have to purchase the biggest plan. If you’ll be eating meals in your room, you can often get away with a smaller meal plan, which is a saving that will add up over time.
Increasing your college savings–and making a college degree more accessible–is easier than ever thanks to these great ideas for saving on supplies, tuition, and living expenses!