At various speaking engagements, one of the most common questions I get from families is to provide them with the best college cost saving tips. Keeping their college student on track and having them graduate in four years is the best advice I can give families. This sounds easy but accomplishing this goal is not always possible for many students. The national graduation rate after four years is under 40%. If you factor in the additional educational cost and the lost opportunity income of not getting a job, a delay in graduation is extremely costly.
As a parent of three college graduates, our family had multiple college experiences. Our experience included two school transfers, two major changes and a student athlete. Even with these changes, all three girls graduated on time and got a job in their chosen major. It required work, organization and most of all a constant plan to stay on track while progressing through the college experience.
Here is a list of the 10 best college cost saving tips for students to help them through the college process.
- Have a student pick a course of study or major early in the college process. It may prevent extra semesters and prevent the student from taking courses not relevant to their major. Visiting the career center in freshmen year will help in this process.
- Understand the educational requirements needed for the major and career selected. Many of today’s careers require post graduate or additional certification. You need to plan for these.
- Each semester re-map your current course load to make sure you are on track to graduate. Often students fail to do this and do not realize that certain courses have pre-requisites. This often results in a graduation delay, with extra cost of tuition, housing and the lost income of not working that year. This re-mapping should happen every semester until graduation.
- Check the dates and times of courses at your college. Some college courses are only offered in the spring or fall of each year. This can create problems with both pre-requisites courses and may also delay graduation for a student. This can create a problem for a student if they are unable to register for a required course especially if that course is needed for graduation.
- Understand the pre-requisites for the career in your selected major. As an example, to sit for the CPA exam an accounting graduate needs 150 specific credit requirements. An accounting major would need to check with their college and see how many credits they will have at graduation. If the degree is under 150 credits can the student attain the 150 credit goal in four years? If not does this mean taking courses in the summer, 5th year in college or Master’s degree?
- Consider attending the community college for two years and then transferring to a four-year university or college. Remember to check the pre-requisites of your major and whether all courses can be transferred.
- Take summer courses to either allow the student to graduate early or have the ability to take an internship during fall/spring of college. The student should always check with the college and get any summer courses approved. Each college is different and may have specific guidelines for course approval.
- Get a paid internship while in college. Not only will it build the resume for the student but it will also enable them to help with the cost of tuition. The best time to get a paid internship is second semester junior year since it will have zero impact on your financial aid if you graduate in four years.
- Work closely with the department head of your college major. Many of these professors have connections to the real world. This would be a great person to have as a referral for job interviews. Make sure they know you and have an idea of the activities you have participated in.
- Always fill out your FAFSA form. Filling out the FAFSA form will allow a family to get federal student loans verses a private loan. The federal loans will have a lower interest rate and depending on the career may have student loan forgiveness options.
A student should try to envision their quality of life after graduation. Knowing the amount of education you need, how much debt will be required and the income your will receive are critical to your future life style as an adult. Remember your plan needs to have flexibility, a goal and an endpoint. Your college life is a stepping-stone to adulthood and not just an experience.