Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How I cut the cost of college

The cost of college is becoming exorbitant and its growth has outpaced inflation significantly for the last several years.   I graduated from college without any student loans, helped largely in part by my parents' prudent savings.  However, I also helped defray costs significantly.  Here are nine ways I cut expenses and boosted income while in college to make it more affordable:
  1.  Resident assistant - I held study breaks and let students into their rooms when they got locked out.  In exchange the college gave me a room in the dorms for free.
  2. Full tuition scholarship - Mine was merit based.  Don't underestimate the power of top-notch SAT and GPA stats.  Others may be need-based.
  3. Comparison shopped for textbooks and sold them afterwards - I think during my four years of college I might have bought a new textbook twice since they were brand new editions.  I used a textbook price aggregator like to shop around both when buying my textbooks and in selling them when I was done.  Amazon's fulfilled by Amazon program made selling a pile of textbooks easy. 
  4. Technical major - In my unscientific survey, engineering, computer science, and hard science majors tend to get more scholarship money.  There are tons of merit and need-based scholarships out there that target "STEM" (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors.
  5. Landed an additional scholarship - Even after tuition is covered you still have room, board, books, and other living expenses to cover.  My additional scholarship allowed me to keep any leftover money as taxable income.  This allowed me to graduate with a nest egg that was a little bigger.  A big plus compared to graduating with student loans.
  6. National Merit - Just take the PSAT and score high and you might qualify to become a National Merit Scholar.  Many schools automatically give these kids scholarships.  Mine didn't but I received offers from other schools of anything from $1,000 per year to full cost of attendance just for scoring well on a test.
  7. Worked summers - I got a job in my field every summer during college and worked full-time for every week of the summer break except maybe two. I earned more than enough money to cover my expenses for the summer and saved the rest.  More importantly, I gained valuable experience in my field and had a much more dense resume than many of my peers when I graduated.
  8. Worked during school - By working part time in my field during school, I gained more experience, covered all incidentals and textbooks, plus saved some.
  9. Kept expenses low - As always, I didn't spend extravagantly while in college.  I either had a tight budget or was paying for expenses out of pocket so partying, eating out, and bars were limited.
I'm sure there are plenty of other ways out there.  What did you do you cut the cost of college?

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. This is great stuff. I went to a pretty expensive school but by working, keeping expenses down, and staying focused, I was able to get through relatively unscathed from a financial perspective!

    3. Wonderful tips for those looking at getting an advanced degree!

    4. For graduate school, I made the decision that I would not go anywhere that did not offer me a full tuition scholariship plus a stipend. I managed to finish a BA and an MA with no student loan debt. I also made sure that I followed steps 7-9 on your list.

    5. My sister wants to go to med school so to help with the cost of the MCAT she got a job for a MCAT prep company so she gets a bit of extra cash AND takes the MCAT prep course for free. Pretty baller

      I on the other hand have just worked odd jobs since I started university (while volunteering in my field). Thankfully, in the past year I've modified my spending habits and stopped going further into debt!

    6. Great stuff. I did most of it for grad school (easier to get research assistant ship in grad school I guess) except the free housing. But the RA and summer internship paid enough to cover the living expenses. Great stuff.

    7. Money Beagle - Congrats! Staying focused is important - a four year degree stretched out to six years costs 50% more plus lost earnings.

      Jana - I am envious of your scholarship and stipend for grad school. Wish business schools did that. What did you get your masters in?

      Jenny Z - Your sister is pretty clever. I'm surprised the MCAT place let her teach without having taken the test already. Did she have teaching/tutoring experience?

      Suba - It is easier to get paid for doing research in grad school and, from what my PhD candidate friends tell me, the money helps a lot.

    8. Awesome; I remember the TAs and never thought of doing it myself; do you recall what kind of money you earned/saved doing that?

    9. Great tips! I tried to become a RA, but was turned down my first year, so I moved on to part-time on-campus and weekend jobs. I also kept my expenses low and received enough scholarships to cover 65%-75% of costs every semester.

    10. How I cut costs in college: Ramen Noodles!

    11. Great tips. During my undergraduate degree I entered essay competitions, often winning a few hundred pounds for my entry. During my postgraduate degree I freelanced for a market research company. Best thing I could have done- great money but was also very easy to fit around my studies. I also had a lot of friends that tutored kids and teenagers in the local area.

    12. Crystal - Covering 75% is most of the way there!

      Kevin - Ha ha. I knew a lot of kids that did that!

      Harri - I never had luck with essay competitions. Guess you're a better writer than me ;) I'd love to find some very flexible, well-paying work for while I'm in grad school. It's a tall order though.

    13. My parents didn't believe in college for girls (sigh!) so I decided to do it on my own! Had help from scholarships, grants, 2 work-study jobs, another 30 hr a week job and as a last resort, loans.

      Graduated with $2,400 worth of student loan debt which I paid off in 2 years.

    14. Kath - $2,400 is a surprisingly reasonable amount of debt considering you did it all yourself. Congrats on making it through and paying it all off! Sounds like you worked hard for it.

    15. Nice work! Did you got to private or public school undergrad?

      I worked in the library for a bit til I got bored. Started day trading instead!

      Best, Sam

    16. financial Samurai - Private. Did you make more day trading that at the library? I'm impressed! I don't know if I have the guts for day trading.