13 College Tuition Savings Tips

13 College Tuition Savings Tips

10 minute read

Let’s face it: college is expensive. How did earning a degree get so pricey? And how can you mitigate those high costs? We've come up with 13 proven college tuition savings tips that will help you avoid the high cost of college while still getting a quality education. We’ll start with how and when to start saving, then dive into actionable ways to cut down on college expenses.

How Has College Gotten So Expensive?

Over the years, college expenses have surged due to several factors. The increasing demand for higher education, coupled with a rise in financial aid and a decrease in state funding, has contributed to the escalating costs. The swelling number of administrators and extravagant student amenities packages also play a significant role. 

Since 1963, the average cost of college has jumped by 252%. From 2000 to 2021 alone, the average cost of going to college increased by 69%, even adjusting for inflation. As a result, the burden of paying for a college education has become significantly heavier for today's students and their families compared to previous generations.

When Should You Start Saving for College?

The short answer is: as soon as possible. But the reality is that not everyone can afford to start saving money at birth, and not everyone works a job during high school that can help them save for college. However, you can start putting whatever money you can into a college fund as soon as possible. Any amount can help when it comes time to pay for things like tuition, books, and other college fees.

How Much Should You Save for College?

When it comes to saving for college, the amount you'll need varies based on your unique circumstances. Assess your situation and set savings goals that match your expectations.

Begin by considering whether the plan is to attend a public or private institution. In the 2022-23 academic year, the average tuition for in-state students at public four-year universities was $10,940, as reported by the College Board. On the other hand, those attending private, nonprofit four-year universities faced an average tuition of $39,400. These costs covered tuition, fees, and room and board.

Timing matters when starting a college fund. A junior in high school needs to save more quickly than a first grader. Additionally, having some idea of which school to attend affects the amount you should aim to save — a 2-year community college is much less expensive than 4 years at an Ivy League school.

13 College Tuition Savings Tips

We have 13 ways to save on college. Some are straightforward; others will require some planning on your part. We’ve also included tips for saving money once you get to college. Keep in mind that the money you save today will go a long way toward cutting down on college costs later. Every little bit can help!

1. College Savings Accounts

There are several types of savings accounts designed specifically to help you save for college.

One option is a 529 Plan. With a 529, contributions are made after taxes, but earnings grow tax-deferred. Other benefits of 529s include:

  • Qualified distributions for college or K-12 tuition are tax-free. 
  • Contributions above $15,000/year ($30,000 for couples) can benefit from 5-year gift tax averaging. 
  • Anyone can contribute with no income phase-outs or age limits. 
  • The contribution limits range from $235,000 to $520,000, depending on the state. 
  • It's not limited to undergraduate expenses and can cover graduate programs, medical school, law school, and secondary education.

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), formerly known as the Education IRA prior to 2002, are also great college savings options. They share some similarities with the 529 plan. Both allow for tax-free interest earnings and withdrawals designated for qualified educational expenses. However, Coverdell ESAs have specific eligibility criteria put in place by the IRS:

  • The beneficiary of the ESA must be under 18 years old, though exceptions can be made for individuals with special needs.
  • The account must be defined as a Coverdell ESA on the day it is opened.
  • The ESA must be opened using documents submitted in writing.

Additionally, ESAs come with a $2,000 per year contribution limit.

2. Advanced Placement Classes

Taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school can have significant benefits for lowering the cost of a college journey. Scoring at least 3 out of 5 on the official AP exams at the end of the course can earn valuable credit hours for college. By accumulating AP credits, you reduce the number of college courses you'll need to pay for once you enroll in college. The key is to ensure the chosen college recognizes and grants credit for AP coursework.

On average, a high school student takes three AP exams during their academic career. Performing well could translate to significant savings in terms of college courses that the student has effectively placed out of.

3. Dual Enrollment Programs

Dual enrollment programs, usually operated at the state level, offer high school students the opportunity to take college-level courses. These courses are typically offered through a nearby community college, and students can take them while still enrolled in high school.

Compared to Advanced Placement courses, where students take high school courses and exams for potential college credit, dual enrollment means you earn actual college credits. Depending on which college or university you attend, these credits may be transferable and accepted as part of your degree program.

4. CLEP Exams

Prior learning assessments recognize and award credit for learning acquired outside the conventional classroom setting. These assessments include the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).

Administered by the College Board, CLEP exams cover an array of subjects, including foreign languages and American literature. These exams provide an opportunity for individuals to demonstrate their proficiency in specific areas of study, earning them college credits and saving money on college tuition.

5. Grants & Scholarships

Unlike student loans, scholarships or grants do not require repayment, making them an excellent way to save money on college costs. Grants primarily hinge on financial need, while scholarships can be either need-based or merit-based.

Scholarships typically require students to actively seek and apply for them. Eligibility criteria vary, accounting for factors like financial need, minority status, chosen major, academic achievements, and affiliation with specific organizations.

High school counselors and college financial aid offices can help you find scholarships. Start looking as early as possible for a solid head start.

6. Community College Course Sharing

Opting for community college courses, even if you're already enrolled in a four-year institution, can be a savvy way to cut costs. This strategy is known as course sharing. It allows classes to be taken at a local community college during the summer or evenings and have it count toward the student’s overall coursework. 

It will be important to check with your college or university to see if there are any limits on their course sharing programs, like a credit limit or certain courses that you can’t transfer.

7. In-State Tuition & Regional Tuition Exchange Programs

Opting for an in-state school can often provide the opportunity to complete a degree program that compares to some of the country’s top schools at a significantly lower cost. This choice also reduces moving expenses and the costs associated with visiting family and friends throughout the school year.

For students in nearby states, regional tuition exchange programs provide affordable out-of-state options. Many states participate in specific programs, such as the Western Undergraduate Exchange, the Midwest Student Exchange Program, the New England Regional Student Program, and the Academic Common Market in the South. 

Under the Western Undergraduate Exchange, for example, students applying to designated programs pay no more than 150% of the in-state tuition rate at participating institutions.

8. Live at Home

When students live at home, they avoid paying for things like dorm fees and dining plans. These fees for room and board are often folded into the cost of tuition, so living at home during your college years can offer significant savings.

9. Use Public Transportation

Utilizing public transportation can lead to significant cost savings. Avoiding car payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance expenses allows you to allocate those funds toward a college education. Additionally, unexpected repairs and regular upkeep can quickly eat into your budget. 

Check if your school offers discounted or free public transportation for students. For added convenience, consider investing in a year-round pass for public transportation. This streamlines your commute. Additionally, opting for online classes can eliminate the need for a commute altogether.

10. Get a Job

Securing a job while in college is a practical way to generate income. On-campus jobs offer convenience and an opportunity to connect with fellow students. Managers at on-campus positions sometimes accommodate class schedules, making it easier to work and study simultaneously.

For students who can’t work during the academic term, consider getting a job during school breaks, especially over the summer. This allows you to save money for the upcoming academic year and possibly have funds for non-school spending.

11. Create a Budget

A budget provides a clear overview of income and expenses, allowing students to allocate their funds wisely. This prioritizes essential costs like tuition, textbooks, and housing while identifying areas where spending can be minimized.

A budget also promotes financial discipline and responsible spending habits. By setting specific limits for discretionary expenses like dining out or entertainment, students can avoid overspending and ensure they have enough to cover necessities. 

Moreover, a budget helps students plan for the future. By accounting for long-term expenses like savings for emergencies or future tuition, they can gradually build a financial safety net. This proactive approach reduces financial stress and provides peace of mind.

12. Look for Student Discounts

Student discounts can add up to a lot of saved money during college. Many local communities and businesses offer special deals exclusively for students, typically requiring nothing more than the presentation of a school ID. This can lead to substantial savings on a range of items, from movie tickets and electronics to room decor and even takeout.

13. Complete College Courses Online

Enrolling in online college courses is a highly cost-effective method to earn a degree efficiently. While the tuition rate may vary depending on the provider, low-cost options like StraighterLine help allow students to save on expenses like commuting costs, textbooks, and course materials. 

At StraighterLine, for example, the cost of a single course is significantly less than the cost of a single course at a traditional college or university. Over time, the more classes you take online, the more money you save.

Online courses also offer the flexibility to study from the comfort of your own space, eliminating the need for a daily commute and the cost of room and board. Additionally, many online resources and materials are available digitally, reducing the need for costly textbooks. 

By maximizing your online course options, you can make significant strides towards your degree while being mindful of your budget.

StraighterLine Can Save You Money on College Tuition

StraighterLine offers affordable, flexible online classes that meet many common college prerequisites. The credits earned with StraighterLine are transferable to over 150 of our partner colleges and universities, saving you money on the cost of tuition. Check out our complete list of available courses today and see how StraighterLine can help you mitigate the high cost of college!

« Back to Blog

Added To Cart

Your cart includes: