5 Sneaky (But Totally Legal!) Ways to Reduce College Costs

What I’m going to say shouldn’t surprise you: college is expensive. In fact, according to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014–2015 school year was $31,231 at private colleges, $9,139 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,958 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Yikes!

But thankfully, with a little creativity and sweat equity you can lower — or at least temper — some of those costs to make your college years more manageable. Here’s how:

Tuition installment plans.

If you haven’t asked your financial aid office about this, you’re missing out. About 90% of schools offer tuition installment plans, which allow students or their parents to pay tuition over nine to twelve months (instead of just two lump payments). There is no interest rate attached to the plan. However, beware of one potential caveat: if you fall behind on payments, the school might not let you register for classes for the next semester.

Zero-interest loans from the college.

If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because for many families, it is. Not all colleges offer this option, and families need to display both a substantial need for the loan and the ability to repay it. If you qualify for this option, be extra super careful to stay on top of payments; if you do fall behind on your payments, the interest rate could jump all the way up to 9%.

Take core classes at community college.

Many liberal arts schools require that their students take core classes (typically basic English, math, and science) no matter their major. But the per-credit cost of these classes can be steep, especially at a private institution. So knock them out over the summer by enrolling in your local community college. Just make sure the credits transfer, or you could be out even more dough. Bonus? You’ll have that many more credits under your belt before the school year even starts, meaning you could graduate early and save more money!

Be booksmart.

Ask any student at they’ll tell you: one of the biggest up-front expenses at school is books. Save yourself some money by renting your textbooks instead of buying at Chegg.com, which offers free shipping and free returns. Or buy used books at a discount (and then sell them back) with TextbookRecycling.com, which specializes in buying, renting, and selling new and used college textbooks as well as trade books.

Get a job.

A campus job, that is. And this doesn’t have to mean working at the student union. Get paid to be a social media brand ambassador for your school while boosting your social media savvyness. Most schools and universities have Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts nowadays — not to mention separate accounts by department, sport, club, etc. — and they constantly need to be updated to keep students as well as huge alumni networks abreast of what’s going on. Bonus? Networking! You never know who might send you a DM with future job prospects to pay off those loans.


A simple 12-step plan to leap over the wealth gap once and for all.