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15 Ways to Save Money On Your Student’s College Education


Let’s face it: paying for college can be scary. It can also be the last thing on your new college student’s mind when they’re preparing for freshman move-in. 

As a parent, you know those student loans don’t pay themselves back. 

A few months after college commencement, around the same time your new grad will get around to framing their degree, a letter will arrive in the mail: The first loan payment is due.

In the best-case scenario, you’ve been able set aside the money your student needs to attend the school of their dreams without taking on debt. But reality isn’t always a friend of the best-case scenario. 

Things happen. Life happens. Accidents or sickness leave us with hefty medical bills, our spouse loses their job, we get divorced. Suddenly your student is applying for college, and that savings account you set up when they were a toddler could be looking dismal. 

How Much Does College Cost?

Rising tuition costs make avoiding debt a real challenge for college students and their parents. Tuition at public universities can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 a year

The average cost of attending a public 4-year college in the U.S. is about $25,000 a year. Private schools are around double that.

This doesn’t factor in room, board, books, transportation and personal expenses. For those costs, you can expect to pay at least another $10,000 to $15,000 a year.

Then there’s the cost of grad school. But even with just a bachelor’s degree, you could be looking at a tab of $100,000 to $200,000 when all is said and done.

It’s no wonder that total student debt in the U.S. is currently a staggering $1.7 trillion dollars, and the average graduate owes nearly $40,000 in loans.

Ways to Save Money in College

Whatever your family’s financial situation, you want your student to get a quality education while saving as much money as possible. Even if your student is funding their education on their own, you don’t want them saddled with a mountain of debt after graduation. 

In certain situations, some students are able to take on student loans without too much worry. But many students get stressed by the debt they’re accruing while pursuing higher education. 

Concern about money is one of the main causes of stress in college students and a top reason that students drop out, leaving them with debt from their time spent in college and no degree to show for it.

Whether your student is planning to pay for college themselves, you’re footing the bill, the grandparents are chipping in, or you’re all teaming up to make it happen, one thing is certain: you want to keep the cost as low as possible.

Here are our top tips on how to save money on your student’s college education.

1. Buy Used Textbooks

New textbooks from the campus bookstore are expensive. The average cost of college textbooks per course is $150.

Fortunately, most textbooks that your student might need can be found used for a savings of 50%-90% on any number of websites, from eBay to

Before you head to the campus bookstore with your student at the beginning of the semester, encourage some advanced planning and buy online when you can.

2. Save with Student ID Discounts

College students qualify for all sorts of discounts, both locally and with global brands. 

With a student ID, your student can access savings on laptops, cell phone plans and other important software programs. They can also save on movie tickets, clothing, food, bank accounts and more.

Make sure your student keeps an eye out for student discounts!

3. Keep Housing Costs Down

Housing is one of the most expensive parts of attending college. Unless your student will live at home during school, it’s a cost that can’t be avoided.

The difference in price between a dorm and off-campus housing varies from college town to college town, so you may want to look at both options and figure out which will be the most affordable.Once your student is a sophomore, they may want to move out of the dorm and into a house or apartment off campus. Off-campus living will on average be cheaper by $100 or more a month than a dorm. And the savings will be even greater if they cook their meals at home. 

4. Stick to the Meal Plan and Home Cooking

How much college students spend on food depends on several factors, a big one being how often they eat out.

Campus meal plans are more affordable than eating out, and work out to be around $7.50 per meal. Many meal plans are all-you-can-eat, so your student won’t be walking away hungry. 

While meal plans are affordable for buffet-style pricing, they’re nowhere near as affordable as making your own food at home. But in the dorms, it can be tough to make healthy and filling meals, since most aren’t equipped with any real kitchen facilities.But once they’re out of the dorms and living off campus, students who commit to cooking their own meals can save a lot of money — hundreds of dollars a month even.

5. Take Advantage of Free College Facilities

College tuition doesn’t just buy access to an education. It pays for extra amenities that your student should know about and take advantage of. Three big ones are:

  1. The fitness center
  2. Transportation
  3. Entertainment

Most colleges offer free access to the on-campus gym, free use of public transportation on and around campus (which is much cheaper than bringing a car to college — a car means insurance, parking, gas, which is a lot more than free), and entertainment in the form of movie nights, live music, student plays and concerts, and on-campus comedy and improv.

6. Finish in Four Years — or Less!

If an undergraduate degree costs at least $100,000, that means a semester costs around $12,500. If your student can finish in three and half years, you just saved over ten grand.

On the flip side, if it takes your student four and half years to finish, college costs increase by the same amount. 

From a savings standpoint, the goal is for your student to finish their degree in four years or less. One way to help make this happen is for them to enroll in summer courses when possible, or to take on more credits each semester.

Of course, money isn’t everything. Trying to cram four years’ worth of credits into three or 3.5 years can be stressful (or downright impossible for some of the more demanding majors, or for students who choose to double major or add a minor). Sometimes students need to take a semester off or lower their course load to keep up good grades. 

Getting done quickly will save money, but it may not be worth it if your student is stressed out all the time, or graduates with a low GPA.

The good news is there are some other ways to finish school faster without having to take on lots of classes each semester. That brings us to our next tip.

7. Test Out and Transfer When Possible

Your student gets their degree when they’ve accrued a certain number of credits. Each course they pass earns them credits. This means that each course costs thousands of dollars. 

Whenever your student can skip courses, they can save serious money. There are a few ways to bypass courses or take them on the cheap:

Take AP classes in high school

  • Depending on the college and/or degree your student is pursuing, AP credits can be applied to your student’s degree, allowing them to bypass certain introductory courses.

Test out

  • Some courses allow students to test out.
  • This means taking a test that will demonstrate your student knows the material, allowing them to bypass the class while still collecting the credits.

Go to community college for a semester or two and transfer credits to a 4-year institution

  • Courses at 2-year schools are typically much cheaper.
  • Summer classes at community college may also be an option. 

8. Apply for Scholarships — and Don’t Stop

Scholarships are one of the best ways to save money on college. There are many scholarship opportunities out there and it’s likely your student is eligible for some of them.

But what many students don’t consider is the importance of scholarship hunting after freshman year. 

There are scholarships just for college juniors and seniors, which students become eligible for after completing their first few years of college.

Many scholarships are renewable, so your student should look to apply again for scholarships they’ve received in previous years.

Plus, as your student works their way through college, they build up experience that will qualify them for more scholarship possibilities, like an entrepreneurship award.

Keep in mind that applying for scholarships can take a lot of time and effort, and of course that work doesn’t always pay off. It may be wise to seek out smaller scholarships that your student is more likely to receive than bigger, more competitive scholarships.

9. Research the Most Affordable Loans

A good rule of thumb is to stick to federal loans and avoid private loans, which are bound to come with higher interest rates.

This is why getting your FAFSA application right is so important. The more federal aid your student is eligible for, the less they’ll have to rely on higher-interest and potentially predatory student loans.

10. Start Making Loan Interest Payments ASAP

Even though payments aren’t due until after graduation, student loans start accruing interest right away. If you pay off the interest on the loan as it is applied to the principal debt, you can avoid compounding interest (the interest that’s applied to the previous interest on the debt).

Paying off the interest on an average student loan often only means paying about $20 a month. Tackling that now will make a big difference in how much your student owes down the road

11. Know Your Tax Write-Offs

There are a few ways you can save on your taxes when paying for college:

Sales Tax Refund on Textbooks

Write Off a Portion of Tuition Expenses

Invest in College Savings Plans

12. Search for a Job that Will Help Pay for School

If your student is willing and able to work while in school or before, it could pay off over time. 

Aside from making extra money, more and more employers are offering reimbursements to employees who pursue and receive a degree.

Another option is service in the form of the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or the military. These programs can help your student pay for their college education.

13. Pay in Advance

Some institutions will allow you to pay for an entire 4-year education in advance, at the current tuition rate.

Considering that on average tuition increases by 8% each year, this is a powerful way to get an education for less if you have the cash to cover it.

14. Look for Legacy and Regional Reciprocity Pricing

At public universities, out-of-state tuition is usually more expensive than in-state, with some exceptions.

If you or your spouse graduated from a university that is out of state for your own child, it’s possible your student could be eligible for in-state tuition prices as a legacy student.

Tuition reciprocity programs like the Midwest Student Exchange and Western Undergraduate Exchange offer a limited number of reduced price tuition opportunities to students from neighboring states. Definitely an option worth exploring!

15. Apply for a Student Credit Card

A credit card can be a powerful way for your student to build credit and learn how to pay off bills in a responsible way. A student credit card can save them money by offering rewards points that they can use for gift cards, restaurant vouchers, and more.

Use the experience of applying for and managing a credit card as an opportunity to teach your student financial literacy — starting with needing to pay off the balance at the end of every month. 

If you don’t feel your student is ready for a traditional credit card, you may want to consider a secured credit card. It has the credit-building benefits of a normal credit card, but requires a deposit equal to the credit line. 

CollegiateParent supports you on your own personal journey during your student's college years. We answer questions, share stories and connect you to life on campus. Reach out to us at any time!
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