A college education is one of the most important investments you can make in your future, and it definitely doesn’t come cheap. Here are eight secrets that will help you keep your spending in check during your college years.
Reduce your tuition costs
Obviously, quality education can carry a hefty price tag, but you have options for limiting how much you spend on tuition without lowering the value of your degree.
What’s the simplest way to spend less on tuition? Complete your degree in less time. This takes some dedication and careful planning, though. According to a 2019 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, only 41% of full-time students seeking their first bachelor’s degree graduated from a four-year university in that many years. Study hard to make sure you graduate on time or even early if possible.
One way you could wrap up your undergraduate degree ahead of time is to earn college credit during high school by taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams. Some schools may also allow you to test out of certain general education requirements based on high scores from your college entrance exams.
You could also take summer classes at your university, or for less money, at a nearby community college. Just make sure those credits will transfer over. You can accelerate your path to graduation by making sure you take the maximum number of credits possible each semester. Overloading may help, too.
Many prominent public universities have streamlined programs for accepting transfer students from community colleges. By taking your prerequisites and general education courses at a community college and then transferring to a university to complete your coursework, you could save a lot of money. Be careful with this strategy, though. If your transfer school doesn’t accept your credits, you could wind up taking longer to graduate.
If you already know you want to get your master’s degree in a specific field, look into combined bachelor’s and master’s programs. You may be able to shave off a year or two of tuition this way.
Borrow only what you need
While you won’t have to pay off your loans when you’re still enrolled in school full-time, you should still be careful to borrow only what you need to cover your expenses. Borrowing extravagantly, especially from higher-interest private loans, will lead to more long-term debt.
Still, if you’re running low on funds, borrowing more in student loans will probably be preferable to more expensive credit card debt.
Use credit cards responsibly
That brings us to our next point. There are lots of people who take out their first credit cards while they’re in college. This can be great for emergencies, and it’s a good way to build up credit, but pay careful attention to the interest rate on your credit card. Credit cards are not free money, and the interest can add up quickly if you’re not careful. It’s best to pay off your credit card balance each month.
Follow a strict monthly budget
To avoid issues that would lead you to reach for your credit card, map out a carefully planned monthly budget before the year starts. Make sure to plan for seasonal expenses, like back-to-school spending in the fall and holiday travel during your breaks.
Use your transit benefits
Many colleges and universities offer substantial transit benefits, from operating their own shuttle systems to providing discounted mass transit rates or free bus passes. If you plan to live on campus or commute, talk to current students who can tell you if it’s easy to be car-free. Even if you need a car, reducing the amount you spend on gas can add up to big savings.
Collect refunds for mandatory fees
This secret might require you to do a little research about your particular school. Some colleges and universities charge mandatory fees at the start of the semester, but after a certain date, students can request refunds by visiting specific offices or filing paperwork. Be careful about this, though. If you want to show your support for the campus resources that receive these funds, look for other areas where you could tighten your budget first.
Get textbook savvy
According to a 2019 report from the National Association of College Stores, students spent an average of $415 on required course materials during the previous academic year. That’s no small amount.
It’s important to note that the vast majority of students purchased textbooks straight from their college stores. This is certainly a convenient option, but there are many ways to cut this bill down.
Some expenses, like access codes for online resources, are pretty much unavoidable, and sharing physical copies with classmates isn’t ideal, since it will limit your access. Here are a few alternate suggestions for spending less on textbooks.
- Contact the instructor
Your professor may have suggestions to help you find class materials for less, or they may be able to let you know when certain items will be needed. There’s a chance some of the books on their syllabus are simply optional academic supplements.
- Buy used books
Still want the convenience of the campus store? Look for used books. They’ll cost a fraction of the price. Many stores will also buy books back at the end of the semester to resell them again.
- Buy e-books
Electronic versions are typically less expensive than new hard copies. Make sure to check your instructor’s policies regarding in-classroom technology usage.
- Buy books through a campus exchange
There may be formal or informal book exchanges in your campus community. Buying and selling directly with other students can help you avoid the markup that bookstores charge.
- Rent your books
Some textbooks may be available for rental. Just make sure you turn the book back in at the end of the semester and that you don’t damage it.
- Borrow from the school library
Checking out required textbooks from the school library will probably require some advanced planning, and if you do acquire some of your books that way, you probably won’t be able to renew them. Scan and save the relevant passages instead.
- Borrow from the public library
If you live or go to school in an area with a large public library, you may have a better chance of picking up textbooks from there. Try out an interlibrary loan to get the materials you need, too.
Look for student-friendly banking
You need banking options that don’t charge unnecessary monthly fees or require high minimum balances. For customers under the age of 25, a Student Checking account from Trustmark can provide you with convenient access to your funds, as well as online banking, mobile deposit and a lot more. Visit your nearby Trustmark branch for more information.