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How Can I Get The Cost of College Down?

June 9, 2021

Last month I let you know about some of the changes to how college is financed, starting with the 2023-2024 school year.  As promised, this month I’m going to show you a few ways you can potentially reduce the cost of sending your kids to college.

  • Save Early and Save Often!

Every dollar you can save for college is a dollar you or your children won’t have to borrow. If that dollar is invested, it may grow to more than a dollar that doesn’t have to be borrowed. This multiplier holds true for the other side of the equation as well.  Every dollar borrowed costs about two dollars to repay.  There are several ways you can save for college, and I’ll go over some of them in depth next month.

  • Use the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator.

I talked about this one last month.  The EFC calculator tells you how much of a school’s tuition the aid formula says you will have to pay each year.  For example, if a school costs $40,000 per year and your EFC is $20,000 you will be aiming for $20,000 in aid. In this case you could look for schools that offer high needs-based aid.  If your EFC is higher you may want to look at schools that offer more merit-based aid.

  • Don’t let your kids apply to any college they want.

Imagine the heart break when your daughter gets into Notre Dame only to find out you can’t afford it.  Most schools have a net price calculator that tells you what your out-of-pocket cost will be after any aid they may offer is factored in.  Some schools offer more generous needs and merit-based aid packages than others.   Boston College is a good example of a college that can cost you more out of pocket than you think.  While they meet 100% of student’s needs-based aid, only 1% of freshman receive merit-based aid. On the other hand, for the 2019-2020 school year 88% of students at Webb Institute in Glen Cove, NY received merit-based aid.

  • Dual enrollment.

Many schools allow students to take college classes while still in high school.  Your kids can knock out a good chunk of college credits at a very low cost this way.  The tradeoff is this can make high school considerably more difficult, so your kids should be prepared for the increased workload.

  • Start off at a community college.

Community college can be a considerably less expensive way for your children to knock out their general education requirements than going to a traditional four-year college. Credits earned can usually be transferred to whatever school your child goes to next.  Missouri has a program called the A+ Program that will pay up to $181 per credit hour for a student to attend a Missouri public community college, vocational, or technical school.  The state of Missouri’s website has all of the qualifications and requirements.

  • Choose the right meal plan.

This might not seem like a big deal, but it can be a HUGE expense. When I went to college, my meal plan covered a certain dollar amount of food each week.  We could eat at the buffet style cafeteria, the “fast food restaurant”, or the new cafeteria that offered “upscale dining”. It didn’t matter where we ate but each one had a different cost. When our money was gone, we couldn’t eat on campus anymore. Some of us ran out of money every week, and some of us were selling $2 chicken sandwiches to them for $5 on Saturday afternoon.


Maybe this should have been #1, but I can’t emphasize this enough.  Going to the bookstore and buying a brand-new textbook for each class may be convenient, but it can really put a dent in your bank account. This can’t always be avoided, but to help offset the cost, a lot of schools now offer book rentals instead of making you purchase all of your books.  If you return the book in the same condition as when you rented it, you can save a lot of money.  You can even get the added benefit of someone else’s hard work if they highlight important parts for you.  Another option I used when I was in college was buying previous editions.  Sometimes the only change from one edition to the next is the order of a couple chapters and I had a couple of professors, who will remain nameless, that would tell us which ones. You can go online and buy the previous edition for a couple of bucks and call it a day.

  • Graduate on time.

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it can’t be overstated.  Only 41% of students graduate a 4-year college in 4 years, and only 59% graduate in 6 years. Sweet, I’m over 50% 😊!  Most parents plan to pay for four years of school, not the Van Wilder plan.  Paying for an extra few years can really affect your finances.

You’ve learned about financing your kid’s educational dreams and a few ways you can keep it from becoming your nightmare. Now you’re asking yourself, how exactly do I save money for this beautiful dreamscape?  I’ll show you a few ways you can save for college along with their pluses and minuses in the July issue.  See you in a month!

Helping you with preparation,

Jon-Paul Brown

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