Your Cheat Sheet to Saving Thousands on College Costs

College is expensive. Even those who attempt to save money by living off-campus and attending an in-state institution face extremely high costs. For tuition and fees alone, an in-state resident is looking at close to $9,000 per year. At a private college, cost can get up into the $30,000 or $40,000 range.

Books are another astronomical cost. New editions are published regularly, making it difficult for students to gain significant resale value from textbooks. It seems as though college students have costs coming from all directions, making it exceedingly difficult to get through college without student loans.

College students can benefit from a few money saving tricks. If the goal is to obtain a college education, for the lowest cost possible, there are a several strategies to help achieve this.

Data Source: College Board

Data Source: College Board

CLEP: general ed requirements for around one-ninth of tuition cost

Most people have heard of CLEP tests. You know, those tests you can take in place of college courses? It may sound to good to be true, but really, it’s not. If you’re really knowledgeable in a subject area, you can take a CLEP, or college-level examination program test, for $80 per exam. Compared to the average cost of $700 for a college course, an $80 CLEP test is a great deal.

The College Board currently offers 33 CLEP exams across five different subject areas, which are listed in the chart above. Different schools have different CLEP rules and requirements and your school may not allow all 33 subject exams, but most institutions grant credit for the basic general education requirements like English, Math, Foreign Language, and History. Sign up is usually pretty simple, as well. Most institutions allow you to sign up in right in their testing center. In most cases, you simply pick a testing date, pay the fee, and take the test. If the CLEP exam indicates you possess enough of a level of knowledge, you get college credit. This credit transfers to most institutions, and it generally does not impact your grade point average.

CLEP testing also allows you to complete your degree requirements at a faster pace. Because these test only take a short amount of time and you’re working with a familiar subject area, only a moderate amount of preparation is needed. The college board also has CLEP resources available to help test takers prepare. Taking these exams allows you to complete more than the traditional 12 to 18 credit hours in a given semester.

Source: K.lee / Wikimedia Commons

Source: K.lee / Wikimedia Commons

Books: International editions are a fraction of the price

Programming the World Wide Web, Seventh Edition, costs between $80 and $100 for a new copy. Many books are either at or above the $100 price range. With five courses, these books add up to a cost of at least $500 per semester. Scholarships.com estimates the cost of books and supplies at around $1,100 per year.

If you opt for the international edition of that same book, Programming the World Wide Web, Seventh Edition, except only you buy the international economy edition, you’re looking at a price of $20, instead of $80. International editions contain the same educational information and virtually the same text, they may just look a bit different, the exercises may be slightly different, and the book may be slightly less colorful. Buying international economy editions whenever available can save you around 75 percent on the costs of books.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Cut out room and board for a year: The college experience costs around $10,000 per year

Just about everyone wants to live through the college experience, living with a roommate in a dorm and being dirt poor. However, this experience is the source of most of your college costs. During the 2012-2013 academic year, the average cost of tuition alone at an in-state public school was $8,655.

Room and board is more expensive than the actual education, averaging $9,205 for the 2012-2013 academic year. By living at home and commuting for at least one year, you’re saving big bucks and you still get the college experience for some of the time.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Community College: save more than half on your first two years

For those looking to really save, attending community college for the first two years may be the way to go. With proper planning, you can complete a two-year associate’s degree, complete all of the general education requirements and prerequisites for your upper-level courses, and transfer all of your credits to a four-year institution.

The average cost of tuition at a two-year school for the 2012-2013 school year was $3,131, less than half of that of four-year schools. This means you can complete your first two years at a community college for less than the price of completing one year at a public, four-year school.

If you opt to complete CLEP tests during your time in community college, these may not count towards the 60 transfer credits students are permitted to transfer from a two-year to a four-year college. These additional CLEP credits may render you able to transfer more than 60 credits to your four-year institution. Depending on your bachelor’s degree requirements, you may then be able to finish you bachelor’s degree more expeditiously.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Pay in cash: avoid loan interest

With cheaper college costs, you may reduce or eliminate your need to take out student loans. Those who cut costs, CLEP test at least four courses, purchase international editions, attend community college for the first two years, and live at home thee out of four years may reduce their expenses to around $9,500 per year, as opposed to the average cost of around $22,500 per year.

This places college costs at around $792 per month. If you can afford to pay this amount without taking out student loans, you then avoid monthly payments and interest later on. You can then graduate with your degree, debt free.

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