Don’t Let College Become Your Personal Fiscal Cliff

Barry Lenson

What exactly is the fiscal cliff that’s been making the news lately? You can define it in many different ways. (The taxes go up, up, up, and the services go down, down, down. That’s one way.) But when you boil it all down, you realize that the fiscal cliff can be defined as . . .

A situation in which there simply isn’t enough money coming in to pay all the expenses that are going out. And something needs to be corrected, or the economy will fall of a precipice.

As former president Bill Clinton said that the Democratic National Convention, such problems can be stated simply: “the math doesn’t work.”

As we know, not only governments get into situations where the math doesn’t work. People who borrow money to buy houses fall off cliffs too when they aren’t earning enough money to pay their monthly mortgage bills. People who buy cars fall off cliffs too, when they opt for luxury cars and then can’t make the payments. (That’s where the repo man comes into play.)

But let’s not forget that college can become one heck of a fiscal cliff too. All over America, tens of thousands of students have borrowed too much for college and are now having a very difficult time paying back their loans. Many of these former college students have not been able to find jobs in the still-recovering economy. You’ve read the news. Some of the headlines say that “the college bubble is about to burst” as those former students begin to default on their loans.

So, how can you avoid falling off your own personal financial cliff regarding your educational expenses? The best strategy is to plan ahead, if you have the luxury to do so. In other words, find ways to avoid overspending before you start college, not after you have already gone to college and spent too much.

Here are some money and time-saving strategies that I have written about before on this blog . . .

Strategy One: Take one additional course every semester. If you take one extra course every semester during your first three years of college, that adds up to six additional courses – more than one semester’s work. You might have to work hard, but if you graduate a semester or more early, you’ll get a big payback.

Strategy Two: Attend a college that offers a three-year degree program.  A growing number of colleges now allow students to earn undergraduate degrees in three years. They include: Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York; Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania;  The University of North Carolina at Greensboro; and Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus. And the University of Illinois will probably introduce a three-year undergraduate program too.

Strategy Three: Take online courses for credit. The courses offered by StraighterLine.com serve many purposes. They let you complete core curriculum courses – like College Algebra or English Composition – before you arrive at college, or during summer breaks. And they cost far less than similar courses at regular “brick and mortar” colleges.

Strategy Four: Take courses during the summer. Many college students have discovered this tactic. They are taking at least one college course during every summer break, and sometimes two. Many summer courses can be completed in about six weeks, and most cost less than similar courses offered during the regular academic year. Note: Be sure to investigate summer classes offered at community colleges. They are often bargains.

Strategy Five: Turn what you already know into credit hours. Did you grow up speaking a second language at home? Did you receive training in the military that could earn you credits in science, electronics, engineering – or some other subject area? You can take a standardized test administered by Educational Testing Service (the same company that offers the SAT, GMAT and other standardized tests). Called the CLEP (College Credit for Life Experience) test, this exam is offered in more than 30 subject areas that include languages, history, mathematics and science. The cost is currently $72 per test – much less than the cost of most college courses. So ask the colleges where you are applying if you can utilize the CLEP to earn credits.

Strategy Six: Find a degree program that favors your life experiences. If you learned a lot about computers while you were in the military, for example, that knowledge will earn you more credits if you study computer science at a polytechnic institute than it will if you study English literature at a liberal arts college.  If you can “slipstream” into the right degree program, you can save time and money.

Those are six powerful strategies for avoiding falling off your personal financial cliff when paying for college. They really work. If you have found other strategies too, or want to comment on ours, please take a moment to post a reply to today’s post.

Related Readings

Applying for Scholarships Or as I like to call it, “Winning at Tuition”
Unusual Sources of Financial Aid
Connecticut Woman Sells Historic Baseball to Pay off Her Son’s Med School Debt

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