Not all college degrees cost the same and you can use this knowledge to your advantage. By looking closely at your options, you can select a college degree path that can dramatically lower your overall costs for earning a degree.
In addition to the clear economic advantages for earning a college degree, there are a number of ways you can reduce the overall cost of your degree program to maximize your return on investment. Here is a list of the best ways to evaluate your cost options:
1. Where’s the finish line?
When comparing degree programs and institutions, be sure to look very closely at the path and the time to completion. Can you get the courses you need on the schedule you want? Your overall time to completion is one important factor to control your cost – you will likely pay less overall, or borrow less in loans and repay them sooner.
2. Two schools can be better than one!
Look for completion programs where you can combine an associates degree from a community college with a bachelor’s degree from a four year school. The cost of your fist two years is much lower than doing all four years at the four year school.
3. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Don’t overlook a school because you think it is too expensive. Many expensive private colleges offer special tuition rates for adult learners that are lower than tuition charged to residential students. Colleges and universities with adult learning programs can be much more affordable than you might think.
4. Your previous experience may translate into earned credits.
Look for prior learning assessment opportunities. Many programs will offer ways you can earn credit for previous certifications, business experience, or other equivalencies. You can often earn up to 12 or 15 credits hours with a little bit of work on your part, but it can save you a lot of money in the process.
5. Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships.
You have to look, but each year there is an awful lot of scholarship money left on the table because students did not apply. The amounts may not be large, but every dollar helps – and if you can reduce the amount of loan money you borrow, you can save two or more dollars for every dollar in scholarship money.
6. Your Employer may help!
Employer sponsored benefits. About 30% of adult learners receive some assistance from their employer through tuition reimbursement benefits. Ask your employer if they sponsor such a program. If you are changing jobs, ask about tuition assistance benefits and look for employers who provide assistance.
7. Tuition is not the only cost!
When comparing colleges or universities don’t just look at tuition costs – be sure to investigate fees and other costs such as parking, lab fees, activity fees, deferment fees, and facilities fees. Be sure to ask about the total cost of attendance and avoid any surprises when you get your bill.
8. Borrow smart – Not all student loans are the same!
When taking out loans, be sure you understand the loan repayment terms, the interest rate, and when interest begins accruing. The interest rate on your student loans will affect your overall cost of education. While you may not have to pay back your loan until after your finish college, the interest rate may accumulate while you are still in school.
Look to borrow money through Federal Loan programs first. These loans are guaranteed by the federal government and have lower interest rates, better interest deferment plans, and have more flexible repayment terms than other types of loans.
When you borrow money look closely at how much you will have to pay back in principle and interest over how many years. It is not just the monthly payment that matters. Know your total loan costs up front and don’t borrow more than you absolutely need.
Borrowing smart can really lower your overall cost of education significantly.