Jeanne Ogden never completed college. “I did about two years of coursework about 25 years ago,” she tells us, “and now I want to figure out how to finish up and earn my college degree. But I just read an article that says that college is going to cost me $40,000 a year now. But really, how much will it cost to go back to college today? It could be even more!”
It's true that college costs have been on the rise for years, but they can be a lot less with some effort and research. We recommend students do some work upfront to discover how to save money the entire time you're working on completing a college degree.
Here are eight ways to save some money on college costs.
Cut College Costs With Age-Based Scholarships
If you're 55 or older, you're probably eligible for scholarships based on your age. For example, all of California's state colleges have an Over 60 program, which offers free tuition if you're at least 60 years old. For example a look at Humboldt State University's program requirements. You can also take a look at StraighterLine’s partner college scholarship program which was specifically designed to be extremely accessible to students of all ages.
Although these programs aren't widely advertised, it's worth your time to roll up your sleeves, fire up your computer, and do some online research on the college you want to attend to see what you can find to cut your costs. One final resource to consider if a student wants to start out back at community college is the American Association of Community College's Plus 50 program.
Not only can students apply for scholarships prior to or at the beginning of their degree program, but they should also continue to apply while doing course work because each new school year brings fresh scholarship opportunities. You can start by exploring local scholarship opportunities at your own school because you are likely to get higher consideration because you are already a student. You should set aside some time every month to track down new scholarship possibilities and apply. Even if you only get small scholarships of a few hundred or a thousand dollars per year, that's more money back in your bank account for other things.
Do Most Of Your Course Work At A Community College Or Online
Community colleges offer relevant, valuable two-year degree programs that will make students more competitive in the job market. Jefferson Community and Technical College offers nursing, engineering, medical technology and health information technology degree programs.
In Texas, Cedar Valley College, one of seven colleges in the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) has many relevant associate degree programs, including ones for information technology, accounting, criminal justice, management, and computer graphics.
The average community college cost is about $3,347 per year, so the savings could be substantial for the first two years students return to earn their degree.
If you decide to do some of your initial college degree courses at a community college or through an online college course provider, you should still take the time to apply for scholarships and grants that are offered by your state, city, or county. Not all scholarships are limited to four-year schools.
Get Student Loans and Education Grants
Another way students can save money is by researching and applying for loans and grants. Although it can be time consuming to find these programs and apply for them, any loans or grants you get would reduce your future student debt loan amounts. Student debt can affect your chances for buying a home, purchasing a vehicle, or getting a job with the federal government because all of these pursuits evaluate your student loan payments in relation to your total debt picture.
First, students should consider Pell Grants. These are not loans that have to be paid back. If you are still pursuing an undergraduate degree, you are in luck because Pell Grants, with few exceptions, are only given to students who don't already have a four-year degree. The maximum amount you could get for the 2016-2017 school year is $5,815. If you are attending community college, there's a chance you could get the entire year paid with a Pell Grant.
Federal student loan programs through the US Department of Education offer students the opportunity to explore low-interest loans for completing your degree.
Not only can you apply for federal student loans, but if you’re also a military veteran, a military spouse, or an AmeriCorps member, you can get college cost assistance through other programs.
The American Association of University Women has a number of grants and fellowships that women also can look at for eligibility.
Students should initially concentrate on applying for federal student loan programs and Pell grants, because the interest rates on federal loans are much lower than privately financed education loans.
Pay For College As You Attend Each Class
If you plan on working at least part time, you can always set aside some of your salary to pay cash for college courses or books and materials to reduce student loan debt. Even if you can only pay $500 per year, that's $1000 saved over two years or $2000 for four years of college courses.
And if you plan on completing multiple courses online for credit at StraighterLine, you should consider enrolling in the Full Year of courses bundle which allows StraighterLine students access to any 10 college courses for a full 12 months for $1,299. Assuming you work full time and study at night and on weekends, you might be able to save even more which woud allow you to pay a large portion of your college costs upfront at your degree program.
Save On College By Bargain Shopping For Textbooks
One of the biggest costs you will incur while getting a college degree is purchasing textbooks several times per year. College Info Geek has some great tips:
- Ask your professor if an older or international edition will do.
- Check out the textbook from the college library.
- Buy used copies from students who have finished the course.
- Share one textbook with several fellow students.
Getting Your Employer To Pay For College
One great way you can cut your college costs is getting your company to pay for college. There are pros and cons to asking your employer to foot all or some of your degree costs.
- Students might not have to spend any money at all to get a two- or four-year degree.
- Your employer might let you attend some classes or work on your college courses during work hours.
- By attending a college that gives credit for your work experience, you might be able to complete a degree program a year early
- Your employer might only pay a few hundred dollars per year, leaving you to finance the majority of your degree
- You might have to sign a training agreement to continue working for the company for a certain period after getting her degree paid for. If you were to leave early, you might have to pay back some or all of the degree costs
- Your employer might limit the number of colleges and/or degree programs that the company will pay for. If none of these fit your educational goals, your would have to find other ways to finance your college costs.
Even so, students should ask their supervisor or human resources personnel to explain the company’s policies. If they line up with your educational goals, you could save a significant amount of money to get your college degree.
The US Military Will Pay For Your College Degree
Some adult learners might not meet the age requirements to enlist in the military for college course financial assistance, but anyone who is between the ages of 17 and 35 can apply to the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) to attend a four-year college or university. The Department of Defense also pays ROTC students a monthly stipend for expenses.
The catch is that the military student has to do a minimum number of years on active duty upon graduation to get a free education. If the ROTC student separates from the military before the minimum active duty time, you will most likely have to pay back some portion of the education costs.
How Much Will It Cost To Go To Back To College Using Online Courses?
You also can consider doing some of your college degree work using StraighterLine's college courses to do most, if not all of your general college course work. StraighterLine can save you thousands in student loans because we offer multiple courses in these areas:
- Health Science
- College Prep
- Social Science
You can enroll in professor-led courses or do them at your own pace. No matter which method you choose, you can reduce your college costs significantly with online courses at StraighterLine.
In addition, StraighterLine partners with over 100+ colleges and universities that offer Jeanne a large choice of degree programs to complete online.
Many of StraighterLine's partner colleges offer scholarships for students taking our online courses, so you can always start your scholarship search and submission right here.
No matter how you pursue reducing your cost of college, you will save money, reduce future student debt, and get a great college education using these tips and resources.