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How to Save on the
Cost of College

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Realistic Options on How to Save Money on the Cost of College or Vocational School

College costs continue to rise and this leads to the age-old question from students "how am I able to save for college" OR "how can I save on the cost of college." Some relatively-few students are offered a full scholarship based on athletic or academic merits. However, a majority of students have to struggle to find the money for college or trade school. A majority of students will end up paying a lot of money for college, but there are options to minimize just how much money you actually spend on the cost of college. Following are some options that you may not have considered.


College Grants and Scholarships

I will start with the most obvious way to pay for college and that is through the use of grants and scholarships. A majority of students are forced to seek low-interest loans in order to fund college. However, loans have to be paid back and usually with interest. Many students graduate from college with a sizeable debt and with the economy being the way it is, many graduates are having a tough time finding jobs to pay off their school loans. More and more students are questioning how do you get money for college and they are looking more and more for grants and scholarships to help fund their education. Grants and scholarships ARE grants in that they do not have to be paid back. There are many college grants and scholarships that are available, but a majority of the grants and scholarships have eligibility requirements that restrict just who can apply for these scholarships.  

The U.S. Department of Education provides funding for several grants. The Pell Grant is one of the most popular grants that many, many students receive year-after-year. However, we need to mention a couple of other grants that may help. PLEASE do NOT underestimate the value of the Pell Grant as well as the following two grants by the Department of Education. Many students will qualify for, at least, some Pell Grant money. Some students will qualify for the maximum amount of Pell Grant money, which is over $6,000 for a year.

There are a variety of menus and web pages to view on their website. Here are some web pages where you are able to begin your search for funding:

PLEASE visit a College Financial Aid Office for more information about Federal and State grants, scholarships, and financial aid.

The rules as well the financial awards of Federal and State funding continue to change. The VERY BEST people to talk to about any type of financial aid is the staff at a College Financial Aid Office. It the job of the financial aid personnel to keep up-to-date on all the policies so that they can give you your best options for funding your education, whether it would be through scholarships, grants, or low-interest loans.

The world of higher education is a whole different culture with their own policies and language. Funding for college has been established over decades that incorporates a variety of rules that the staff at a college financial aid department are trained to handle. You may think that you receiving all the aid that you can, but do not count out the financial aid staff finding more.

MORE information about academic scholarships and grants can be located on our grants and scholarships page at



There is only so much “free money for college” to go around. There just is not enough money available to help everyone go to college and get a degree. A majority of college students have to receive federal-funded loans. As stated above, loans have to be paid back with some interest. The federal government presents well-established federal loans with low interest, but this is subject to change every year. Again, as stated above, PLEASE visit the college financial aid office of any college and make an appointment to talk with a financial aid counselor. The staff should be able to help you navigate the world of academic financial aid so that you can obtain the best possible financial plan to fund your education.

One fact to remember that has been told to me by a number of students who applied for loans is that many students advise to take out a loan for JUST WHAT YOU NEED.  You may be presented with a loan for much more than you need to fund classes. Whatever you accept for the amount of money for the loan WILL BE WHAT YOU NEED TO REPAY WITH INTEREST.  If you do NOT need all the money that you are offered as a loan, then you may NOT want to accept the full amount of the loan because you do NOT want to go that far in debt.

Here are some links to a few websites that give basic explanation for options about federal-funded loans. These websites should NOT replace a visit to a college financial aid office.

Federal Student Aid at

FinAid! gives plenty of general information about financial aid at

GO COLLEGE is a great site for the beginning student for finding out about all kinds of information about college. It would be worth your while to explore this site. Go College explains about Federal students loans at the following two links: provides lists of scholarships as well as information about loans at


College Textbooks

Each semester, students look for ways to save on the costs of textbooks. Students look for cheap used or new college textbooks.  Textbook prices increase each year and add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a college education each semester. There ARE alternatives to paying the high cost of a new textbook such as visiting some online bookstores to purchase or rent, new or used textbooks.
If you thought that the price of classes were expensive, wait until you get a load of the price of textbooks for those classes. It sure would be nice if you could find a way to get the books for classes at a cheaper price. Free textbooks, cheap textbooks, renting textbooks, and selling your used textbooks (some type of buyback plan) have been ideas for a long time. As far as we can see, there are four options to try, in order to get those books at a better price.

See if your local college library has the book. Most libraries have policies that restrict the purchase of textbooks. There are good reasons for this, but the economical cost alone of trying to keep up with purchasing each professor's class textbook is enough of a good reason. Still, some college textbooks find their way into the circulating collections, so you need to try to see if the library has the book.

Many college libraries have a "Reserve" collection where teachers place materials on the shelf for their students to access during the semester. Many times the textbook is included in these materials that are placed on "Reserve." Often, the student can check the book out of Reserve for a couple of hours. It is a way to access the textbook for free, if the book is on Reserve. It is inconvenient because you cannot check the book out from Reserve for long BUT the book is available for free. We have noticed a number of colleges using grant money for purchasing the teacher’s textbook and placing it on Reserve within the library for students to use.

Interlibrary Loan is a possibility. Your local college may not have the textbook but another library somewhere in the country may have the book. You can ask your library to check to see if your textbook is available from another library. Usually, interlibrary loan is a free service.

Using the library is an option, but this option has its disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that if you check the book out of the library, usually, you need to return the book within three or four weeks. You can try to renew the book but it is likely that someone else (from your class) wants the book, too. The same is true for interlibrary loaning the book. If you receive the book from another library, the loaning library is NOT going to want to loan the book out for ten to fifteen weeks for a semester.

Sadly, purchasing the book may be the best option. However, it does not mean that you have to pay a high, retail price for the textbook. You have options as many bookstores now offer used textbooks and cheap textbooks. Many stores allow students to sell their used textbooks to them and through this buyback option, many bookstores will offer used, cheap textbooks:

The following online bookstores offer used and new textbooks:


RENTING textbooks. Can you believe it? You have the ability to rent science textbooks, math textbooks, and a variety of college textbooks. The idea has been around for decades, but some companies are now doing this. They are renting college textbooks. It is a relatively new practice so we will present just three links to three companies. We picked these particular companies because of their reputation and popularity. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

The following online book stores will rent textbooks:


Get a store to BUY BACK your textbook after you are done with it. Most on-campus college bookstores have buyback plans for used textbooks. For many years, students have had the idea of selling their used textbooks. Now, many online bookstores will buy back used textbooks if the students are willing to sell their used textbooks. At the end of the semester, many on-campus bookstores will offer a time when they will buy back the textbook that they sold the student at the beginning of the semester. Some on-campus bookstores give a decent price for the "used" college textbook, but all too often students are concerned that the buyback price is not good enough. For a number of reasons, some on-campus bookstores will not buy back the textbook. Students have options when trying to recover some of the cost of the used textbook. If you want to sell your used textbook, then the following online organizations will offer some buyback plans for purchasing some specific textbooks.

The following online book stores will purchase some textbooks:


Community Colleges and Trade (Vocational) Schools

If you can obtain the degree that you want from a community college or are willing to transfer class credits, then a community college can save you A LOT of money. Most community college classes cost two or three times LESS than the same classes at a four-year college or a university. For example, a three-credit class at a community college might cost about $90.00 a credit where a university offering that same class will be about $200.00 a credit. That means that the community college class costs $270.00 and the university class costs $600.00.

There are many quality associate degrees and training programs that can be obtained in two or three years from a community college.

Many students will fulfill as many college credits at a community college as they can and then transfer into a university to finish the degree. By doing this, the student receives a bachelor’s degree at about half the price as going all those years to a university. You have to work with your school counselors to make sure that you take classes that WILL transfer to another college. Please remember that NOT all classes at one school will transfer to another school.

Many trade schools offer similar cost savings, but trade schools can help save costs in other ways. Trade or vocational schools are known for offering “certificate” programs for occupations such as auto mechanics, computer technician, medical transcription, nursing aides, welding, and other such trades. Often, students who graduate from these programs can enter the work force within months instead of years. One of the real concerns that students have to investigate with trade schools is accreditation. The schools and their programs have to have the proper legitimate certification, or your degree/certificate may be close to worthless.

Another added benefit of attending a trade school is that usually the student does not have to take classes that really are not related to their career. For example, at a welding school, you would not have to take a mandatory number of classes in the humanities, sciences, or English that may be required at a college. Usually, vocational schools teach you the specifics of what you need to do the job.



Online Classes

More and more colleges are offering more and more classes online. If you have a computer with a fast Internet connection, you can save on transportation costs to and from college by attending classes at home. Online classes allow more people access to a college education than ever before.  Parents whose daily routine included handling children, babysitters, and work can now attend classes at home. With just a little imagination, you can understand how online classes can save you time and money.

To those people who are use to attending high school and college classes on campus, the world of online classes can be VERY confusing. You have to see or use one of the “course management software” programs to actually understand how it works, but let me tell you some basic information. Special email-type of programs have been developed that allow sophisticated communication between teacher and students over the Internet. These special email-like computer programs are part of a category of software called “course management software.”  For example, where the popular Microsoft Word program is used to type documents, programs such as Blackboard and Desire2Learn (D2L) are popular programs that allow online learning to happen. The very basics of programs such as Blackboard and D2L offer a form of live chat email session between teacher and students. The teacher provides a list of assignments that need to be done on time and the student is required to do the assignment and send the finished assignment to the teacher, online.  The teacher may have links to a variety of websites, videos, and audio files that the teacher may require the student to view and listen to over the Web. These programs are so developed that the teacher can provide online tests for the students to complete within a specific amount of time. Definitely, going to school is not what it used to be.


Go Local

I know that this is NOT a popular idea with many, many high school seniors. So many high schoolers are READY to GET AWAY. It is almost a rites of passage thing. However, going away to college can be VERY EXPENSIVE taking into consideration room and board. It is so much less expensive to be able to stay at home while attending classes at a local college. Another thing to consider is that most colleges charge in-district and out-of-district fees. This means that if you attend a college in the area where you live, then you will be charged a much less expensive rate for classes as those people who attend a college that do not live in the college's district (area). For many colleges, the out-of-district fee per credit is almost DOUBLE the in-district per credit fee. I know that going local is not a popular option for many students, BUT it can SAVE A LOT of money for you and your parents if you attend a local college while living at home.


Get It Done

I questioned whether adding this simple concept, but it is something that students struggle with and not getting it done on time, costs money. I have sat in meetings with teachers who have mentioned one of the basic ways to save money and that is to “get it done” when trying to achieve a degree. It makes a lot of sense or should I say “cents.” For whatever reason, many, many students take quite a few classes and then find out that they do not need those classes. A lot of students do not know what they want to do for a career when they enter college. Many students think that they know what they want to do for a career but change their minds and major. I have seen a lot of students waste a lot of time and money on classes that they did not need, for whatever reason. 

I have seen students start, stop, and start again a college education for whatever reason. Sometimes life just gets in the way.
One of the most basic ways to save on the cost of college is to GET IT DONE as fast as possible. As long as the student is in college, college costs will go up and up. Increases in tuition, book prices, travel costs, copier fees, and parking permits will continue to rise. The prices of what I just mentioned will be cheaper at the beginning of a four-year bachelor’s degree than at the end of those four-years. The longer it takes you to get your degree, the more costly that degree will be.

I know that it is hard taking all the right classes, but there are career aptitude tests that a college’s career development department can provide. Tests such as Myers-Briggs can help you decide which career is for you.  Once you start college, a good college counselor/advisor can help you stay on the right path for obtaining the classes. Every student is different. Taking too many classes a semester can be overwhelming. Pace yourself according to your own abilities and lifestyle. However, please keep in mind that one way to save on the cost of college is to  GET IT DONE as soon as possible.


Chronicle Financial Aid Guide provides different indexes so that you can search by private organizations, federal financial aid programs, state and regional programs, and by subject area of study. Overall, this is an excellent book. Along with a listing of grants, the book gives some basic information about financial aid in the front of the book that can be helpful.

The College Blue Book: Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Loans. MacMillan Reference USA has been publishing this five-volume set for decades, which they call the College Blue Book . Usually, this source is found in the Reference section of the library. Each volume covers something different about colleges. For example, one volume will list colleges by degree and subject. Another volume is devoted to giving detailed narrative descriptions of colleges. However, one volume covers "Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Loans." This volume has a few indexes that will help find the money.

College Board Scholarship Handbook gives information at the front of the book about understanding financial aid, finding and applying for scholarships, and sources of information about state grant programs. Most of the book is devoted to listing thousands of grants by using different eligibility indexes such as: corporate/employer, disabilities, field of study, gender, international student, military participation, minority status, ethnic background, organization/civic affiliation, religious affiliation, returning adult, state of residence, and study abroad. This book covers grants, scholarships, internships, and loans. There is a sponsor and program index.

Peterson's Scholarships, Grants, & Prizes. Peterson's is a well-respected company in the field of education. They have an online searchable scholarship database at their site. They continue to publish this very useful book allowing people to search by using a variety of indexes.

Scholarships: Billions of Dollars in Free Money for College. This book starts out by giving advice on searching for scholarships, with a special note for international students. Scholarships are listed according to several indexes such as: unrestricted by subject area, humanities, sciences, social sciences, subject, residency, tenability, sponsoring organization, and calendar.

Scholarships, Fellowships, and Loans is a two-volume set that "lists more than 6,000 major awards to U.S. and Canadian students for study throughout the world." Volume one lists sponsors and their scholarships in alphabetical order. Half-way through volume two will be other indexes to help you find scholarships. Other indexes include: field of study, legal residence, place of study, ethnic groups, associations, employers, disabled, female, military, and more.

The Ultimate Scholarship Book lists scholarships based on: field of study, career, interests/hobbies, special circumstances, state of residence, military-related, ethnicity/race, religion, disability, membership, sponsor, and scholarship name.

These books tend to be available in LIBRARIES rather than traditional bookstores. IF the library does not have the book, then ask them if they can interlibrary loan the book. Often, interlibrary loan is a free service. However, big online bookstores like Amazon have these books. The search strategy is to search for books with the keywords within the title that you want, such as the word scholarships. You are able to program the search box to search for recent publications.


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