No matter how much you prepare for college, it's the sort of question that can keep you up night:
How can we afford college?
It's not just the ever-rising college costs, either... there's also all the attached spending. And if you have two or more children in school at the same time, the costs of going to top schools can really appear prohibitive. Today let's take a look at three of the best ways to shave tuition costs off your college bill – and make even the best schools more affordable.
1. Go "Where You're Wanted"
We have a saying: Everyone's a star somewhere. I don't just mean coveted athletes here. Simply put, many students have a skill, interest, or background that's attractive to some schools.
It might be that your child is involved in an extracurricular activity that's highly valued at a particular school. Perhaps your child is interested in an area of study that one college wants to beef up. There may be an ethnic group that's under-represented at a school. Or, in some cases, schools could be looking to enroll students from regions that simply do not produce a lot of students.
The point is, most college admissions are driven by a desire for diversity as much as by quality screening.
And if you spend time identifying what your student's star qualities are, and where they'll be most appreciated, you'll find that colleges are willing to pay top dollar for their preferred balance.
That means bigger financial aid rewards for you – and a stronger bargaining position, if it comes to that. Which brings us to the second point...
2. Before You Blindly Take that First Offer...
Many families don't realize that financial aid offers often aren't the end of the discussion. They can simply be the starting point of a negotiation.
Now, to be clear, this isn't always the case. Sometimes a school has a set formula, and won't stray from it. Sometimes the school will have a plethora of applicants with your student's star qualities, and thus won't extend themselves to keep you.
At times, though, a simple letter explaining why you think you deserve more financial assistance can result in a better offer. You'll need to do your homework. Research what the school's average financial aid package is, and see how yours stacks up.
If yours is less than average, you've got a great bargaining chip. Likewise, if another school has made a stronger offer, you can use that as leverage. In this instance, a safety school offering a full scholarship isn't as effective as a school of similar rank offering a better package.
And, while it doesn't need to be mentioned in any letter challenging your financial aid package, it will always help if you know you've got the star qualities the school seeks.
3. Cut Down On Your Years in College
The best way to cut down on college expenses is to cut down on the time you spend in college. How can you do that? Most schools accept AP credits in lieu of college courses. That means, if you take the AP test and score above a 3 or 4 (out of 5), you'll get credited as if you'd taken the relevant course at the college. This can reduce the number of classes you need to graduate – thus reducing the amount of time you need to spend in college.
Each school treats AP credits slightly differently, so make sure you know how your preferred university rewards AP credits.Don't want to graduate early – prefer to have the full college experience? AP credits can still come in handy – you might be able to attend your senior year part-time, for instance, and save quite a bit.
The important thing to remember is this: most colleges charge by the course credit. The more credits you have in the bank heading in, the more you can save. Follow these three steps, and you may be able to save thousands on the total cost of college.