I was able to receive 3 degrees, AS, BS, and MBA, and not go into debt. It was because I did everything I could to pay less for college. I didn’t take out a single student loan. I had no college savings account (529) and I never received financial aid (FASFA). Nor did my parents or anyone else solely pay my way.
It was through wise choices and strict spending and saving, I was able to pay less for college and avoid student loans, and graduate debt-free.
Here are my top 3 tips that might help you pay less for college:
1. Choose A In-State Public University
I chose to attend an in-state public university.
When you’re a senior in high school and you’re filling out applications it’s difficult not to get swept up in the idea of going to a top university. Though hard, don’t be in awe of prestige and name. For 90% of students, this will not be a factor in getting a better education or job. Bragging rights of attending a higher institution will wane and you be left with huge debt and a degree that a lot of other people have too.
In-state public universities are often the least expensive option, and many of those colleges rank highly. You will pay less for college if you choose an in-state public college. I would know, because I received my degrees (BS, MBA) from a state college, California State University, Sacramento.
I got into every university I applied for. Some are very prestigious. I spent countless hours calculating costs, benefits, classes, and accreditation. My major was business, so I reached out to executives, managers, and supervisors and spoke to them at length about who they hire, and what they are looking for in an employee.
I asked where their degrees were from. Not one of them had a degree from a top university, though most did have a graduate degree. I then asked how they would perceive me if I received my degree from a state college vs a private one. Every single person I spoke to in the business world said it wouldn’t make much difference when making their decision to hire me. They said while the degree was important, where it came from necessarily wasn’t if there was accreditation.
They also said they preferred work experience and recommendations. If a potential employee had a degree from a higher institute vs someone with the same degree from a state college plus experience and/or a recommendation they would pick the latter every single time.
Public In-State College Cost Less
The average student loan debt for a recent college undergrad graduate as of 2020 is $29,000. This jumps to $71,000 for a graduate degree. The average student loan debt keeps growing every year, and the cost of a college degree will only go up.
Tuition is one of the most expensive aspects of attending college. Out-of-state tuition can be double, often triple the cost of in-state. For this reason alone, choosing a college out-of-state is foolish unless you’re getting a full ride, therefore, I recommend against it.
According to Educationdata.org, the average cost for the 2021-2022 academic year for tuition is, public out-of-state: $22, 698. Public, in-state: $10,338. The national average is double, and these numbers do not include room and board and other additional expenses. It just doesn’t make sense to pay twice as much for the exact same degree you can get in-state.
2. Live At Home
I chose to live at home.
When you go to college housing costs are the highest cost you have, they are higher than tuition. Typically, they are double tuition. This expense is where you will spend less on college and save the most. I cannot emphasize this enough, this is going to be your biggest savings.
You need to live with your parents. I will repeat, the best financial decision you can make while going to college is to live with your parents. If that’s not possible then find another family member. Do you have a grandparent, uncle or aunt, or cousin that lives near a school? Reach out and asked them if you can stay with them. Explain that you want to save money, you want to pay less for college. Strike up a deal, you can help take care of the house, yard, or animals in exchange for room and board. You can give them a small amount of rent. Most people want to help someone who is working hard.
When you live at home or with a family member you also save on other costs too. For the most part, I didn’t grocery shop, my mom did. I didn’t pay utilities; power, water, phone, internet, television, or for household items; cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, toilet paper, bedding, towels, etc. I was responsible for my gas, car insurance, and any personal items I wanted. This is where I saved the most.
3. Community College
I chose to attend a community college, Butte Community College, before transferring to my university.
You will get tired of reading how frequently I preach community college. There’s a reason why I recommend it so often. It can literally save you thousands of dollars. This is not an exaggeration to try and convince you, it’s a fact. Community college tuition is vastly cheaper than university. My community college tuition was approximately $1,370 per year while my university was approximately $7,400 per year.
If you attended a community college for the first 2 years, you will pay over $10k less for your degree. You can save even more if you live at home.
It gets even better…
There are approximately 20 states where community college is free. If a student takes the right number of credits (a full semester load), they have the potential to earn an associate degree for free. It doesn’t get more efficient than free.
Transferring To A University
Community colleges can guide students into four-year universities seamlessly. Usually, community colleges have an “articulation agreement” with public in-state universities. I took advantage of my community college’s “articulation agreement” and it paid off substantially. I transferred to an in-state university, California State University, Sacramento, with an AS-T in Business Administration. The “T” stands for transfer, Associates for transfer.
This gave me a slight edge and there were a few prerequisite classes that I wasn’t required to take because my AS-T required classes counted as equivalent courses. I was also able to go straight into my major, Business Entrepreneurship, while students who transfer without the “articulation agreement” had to apply and be accepted into their major. An additional benefit of attending community college and transferring was, that I would earn my bachelor’s degree in 60 credits or less, in other words, if there were required classes that went over 60 credits the university would drop them. Less credits mean less money.
This is for all the high school and homeschool students reading this. If you attend community college through concurrent enrollment, tuition and fees are waived. Concurrent enrollment was how I graduated high school at 16, and received my AS degree in Business Administration at 17. I only had to pay for one year of community college.
Businesses That Pay For College Through Tuition Reimbursement is another great way to help pay less for college. Try and work for one of these companies while you are in college.