How to Graduate from College without Owing a Ransom
“Tuition, student debt, threaten nation’s well-being,” an article in The Stamford Advocate on August 15th, sings a song that is now familiar to everyone who has been following the news. In only the last seven years, the total amount of student loan debt in America has more than doubled, and now amounts to more than $1 trillion. That debt load is so staggering, it could destabilize our economy if students begin to default on their loans.
As a case study, the article examines Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, a school that just got cited by Newsweek as one of the least affordable institutions in the U.S. Why least affordable? Because Sacred Heart costs about $50,500 a year to attend, and leaves students owing a median debt burden of $40,865 after they graduate. Ouch! But let’s face it. Sacred Heart isn’t the only university in America that leaves its graduates owing a ton of money. It’s an epidemic.
But What about You?
If you’re a college student or are about to be, how can you complete college without owing $20,000, $30,000 or lots more? Here are some strategies that smart college students are applying:
Cost-Cutter #1: Get credit for life experience. The College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) from The College Board lets you earn college credit for what you already know. Tests are given in 33 subjects, including English literature and writing, foreign languages, history, science, math and business. Once you pass a CLEP test, your college should grant you the same number of credits that you would earn after taking a class – but be sure to ask your college how CLEP results are processed and accepted.
Cost-Cutter #2: Complete two years at a community college, then transfer. We’ve recommended this strategy before on the StraighterLine blog. Community colleges can save you a lot of money. Typical costs per credit hour range from about $100 (if you live in the county where the college is located) to $250 (if you live in the state). And most of them make it easy to transfer to bigger state schools
Cost-Cutter #3: Complete your core curriculum with inexpensive courses online. You can do it here at StraighterLine. The credits you earn can be transferred to many colleges through the American Council on Education Credit (ACE). You really can complete a freshman year of college for $999 at StraighterLine. That can slash your overall college costs by as much as $50,000, depending on your college of choice.
Cost-Cutter #4: Go to a three-year college. Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, offers three-year programs. Another is Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Another option is to attend a school that combines high school with college, so you complete high school and college in six years. Bard College runs three programs: Bard High School Early College Manhattan, Bard High School Early College Queens (both in New York City) and Bard Early College at Simon’s Rock (located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts).
Cost-Cutter #5: Work the system after you get in. Once you are admitted to a college, you might be able to get college credit for a second language you spoke at home or for technical skills you learned in the military or in jobs. There are other “insider strategies” too that can speed things up, such as starting Italian 101, then telling the instructor that the class is too easy and asking to “place out” and move up to the next course. You can also take more courses every semester and knock a semester off your college program. But remember, these strategies are riskier, since you can’t try them until you’re already admitted. And remember, placing out of courses might not actually cut time from your program of study, since you’ll still need to earn a certain number of credit hours to graduate.