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A Few Tips to Attend College in an Affordable Way

Going to college is one of the biggest financial investments you'll make in your lifetime. According to U.S. News, the average student debt is nearly $30,000. For many students, the number climbs much higher than that. Since college is one of the first adult decisions individuals make, it can be difficult to know where to turn for wisdom. Below, you'll find a series of ideas that can lead you in a more affordable direction.

Tip #1: Start with Community College

  1. Attend community college for the first two years: Completing all of your basic math, science, and English requirements at a community college will save you thousands of dollars your first two years. A secret bonus: many teachers at the fancy private schools work part-time at community colleges, teaching the same courses!

  2. Attend online whenever possible: Save money on commuting costs.

  3. Focus on grades and community involvement: Once you go to community college, your performance and involvements in high school matter less. Make sure that you do your very best and earn an incredible GPA. This will open up scholarship opportunities once you transfer to a four-year school. Additionally, involve yourself in your school community through clubs and volunteering. It's good for your resume and great for your heart.

  4. Earn a certificate along the way: Did you know that you could earn additional certificates as you get your degree? Look at your course catalogue. Some certificate programs only require you to take a few courses--courses which you can easily fit into your degree program at no extra cost. Certifications will give you access to additional streams of income or other job opportunities in your future.

Tip #2: Transfer to a Four-Year School

1. Pick a state school (within your state): This is ultimately the best way to save money once you're ready to transfer to a four-year school. The cost difference between state and private is huge. Take a look at the information below:

Comparison of state vs private college tuition
Credit: The Financial School

2. Research scholarships: Whether you choose state or private, there are often extra scholarships available that you have to apply to. Check out your school's scholarship webpage or call the financial aid office.

3. Ask for more money: Call the financial aid office and introduce yourself. Explain that you need more money to attend the school. It helps to talk about your GPA and community involvement, to show that you would be an asset to the student body. The worst that can happen is they will say no.

Tip #3: Work, Work, Work

  1. Sign up for work-study: Working on campus is a great way to make friends and money. Check out any RA opportunities as well.

  2. Start an internship: Internships related to your career field will make finding a job after graduation so much easier.

  3. Create a side business:

    1. Consider tutoring, dog-sitting, housecleaning, child-care, writing, etc.

    2. Advertise yourself online or place flyers around campus.

    3. Call local businesses and see if they are hiring for a part-time gig.

Tip #4: Handle Your Finances Like an Adult

Even though being in college can feel like a more fun and free extension of high school, college students are legally adults. As soon as you take out a student loan, you are given the adult obligation of paying bills. Often times, students like to save the financial discipline for after graduation. Ultimately, this can lead to more expenses and even regret. Act in a way that your future self will thank you for.

  1. Learn how to budget: Surprisingly, money is actually less stressful when you know what the mess looks like. Make sure you know how much you have in savings, your monthly income, monthly expenses, and student loan balance. This will help you to plan and make the best choices for yourself, while still enjoying life. Click here for more details on how to budget.

  2. Educate yourself: When you graduate, all the changes of "real life" can feel overwhelming. If you aren't sure how to handle your finances at that point, things can get serious. Consider checking out free online resources that will teach you the basics. Youtube channels like The Financial Diet or The Ramsey Show can get you started. Additionally, your school might offer seminars or courses on financial literacy. Take advantage of them!

  3. Start paying off loans early if possible: This step will probably save you at least $1,000, if not many thousands, on interest payments. And while your student loan repayment might feel like a far and distant reality, it isn't. In just a few years, that $1,000 you could have saved on interest will really be sitting in your bank account, and you will really have to give it all away, back to your Alma Mater. Click here to find out more about student loans.

The Bottom Line:

College is expensive, but the cost doesn't have to haunt you for years afterward. Making small adjustments to your plan can pay off big time. Do your future self a favor, and put your best care and effort into each financial choice you make during this important time.


Need help walking yourself or your child through the college process? Financial coaching is a resource that will give you confidence and security every step of the way. Sign up for a free and remote consultation today.

Written by: Norah Kearney


  1. U.S. News & World Report. "10 Years of Average Total Student Debt." Accessed Jan. 9, 2022.

  2. SUNY. "Tuitions & Fees." Accessed Jan. 9, 2022.

  3. Fordham. "Tuitions and Fees." Accessed Jan 9, 2022.

  4. University of Massachusetts Boston. "Cost of Attendance (COA)." Accessed Jan. 9, 2022.

  5. Boston University Admissions. "What is the Cost of Attendance?" Accessed Jan. 9, 2022.

  6. Texas State. "Tuition and Fees." Accessed Jan. 9, 2022.

  7. Rice University. "Cost of Attendance." Accessed Jan. 9, 2022.

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