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Reducing the Costs of College

This is a guest post from MLR @ MyLifeROI. This is a 3 post series and each post is going live this morning on three different blogs: Bargaineering, Green Panda Treehouse, & Poorer Than You. I will be posting a wrap-up post to tie it all together and summarize each article.

You are 22 years old. You have just spent the past four years paying tuition, room and board, books, food, utilities, transportation, etc. The worst part is that it is all getting more and more expensive beyond peoples’ expectations. Where does that leave you? In a mountain of debt upon graduation. For some of us that means letting our debt dictate a less than optimal career.

However, what are some ways that we could better prepare for our college education? And if it is too late for you, how can we better plan for our children’s education?

I will outline three ways: Savings Vehicles, Financial Aid, and Reducing Costs. Each section contains a sub-list of “to-do’s” that I advise you to look into!

Post #1: Savings Vehicles, Bargaineering
Post #2: Financial Aid, Green Panda Treehouse
Post #3: Reducing Costs, Poorer Than You
Post #4: Wrap up, My Life ROI

So far we have already discussed how to save money in the most effective way for a child, or beneficiary, that will be going to college. That post is more geared towards parents saving for their children’s education as it requires a sufficient time horizon. Then I discussed what different need-based options exist through financial aid. This is something that does not require planning (as long as you have considered the first article and did not create custodial accounts!) and can be done with the parent and the child right before they head off to college. The child should definitely take an active role in filling out the form months before in order to get a feel for it. This will allow them to fill it out for the next three years.

However, what is one area that the prospective student directly controls? Reducing the costs. Here are a bunch of ways which are tried and true methods to slash the price tag of a college education.

Military Service

There are two Montgomery GI Bills. The one for active duty military offers a recruit the option of participating. If the recruit chooses to participate then their pay is reduced by $100 per month for the first year. What do you get for this $1,200? If you are a 4 year enlistee you are entitled to education benefits of $37,224. If you are a 2 year enlistee that number drops down to $30,240. Where else could you turn $1,200 into over $30,000? The Montgomery GI Bill for reservists and guards does not reduce your pay. However, you do forfeit a lot of the monetary benefits… you are only entitled to a total of $10,692. You also must be enlisted for a total of 6 years in order to qualify.

Another way to use the military to reduce your college costs is by going to a Military academy. They are tuition-free four-year colleges that offer a commission in the military as an office after graduation.  What do I mean by Military academy? West Point, the Air Force Academy, etc. The ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) also provides scholarships for participation. These are merit based. If you look at the site you will see they also offer additional living expenses on top of tuition. A great deal if service to your country is something you want to do. If you have any questions you should contact your local military recruiter.

Part-time Work

This is the option I chose to reduce my costs throughout college. I worked every semester except for one. My typical work load per week was about 20-30 hours. Then on top of that I usually did 15-18 credits per semester and was an officer in an academic society. The first issue most people raise is that they do not want to affect their grades. However, the only semester in which I did not work was the semester in which I got the worst grades! Why? Because I was not utilizing proper time management practices that I needed in order to weigh work, school, academic clubs, and a social life. Once I was forced to budget my time I found that all aspects in my life improved. And this is a life skill. Postponing learning this skill just makes it harder for yourself down the road.

What kind of jobs did I hold? I worked for College Works Painting, which is an entrepreneurial job. It requires you to run your own branch and sell paint jobs. You do marketing, sales, and production. It was great and I made a lot of money! After 2.5 years of doing that I decided to move on from sales so that I could get more experience for my resume with different companies. I worked for a small 3rd Party Logistics Company doing operational sales work. After that I decided to get more involved in the logistics/shipping aspect and went to FedEx Ground. Shortly thereafter I went to UPS in order to get a Part-Time Supervisor position. These positions are very frequently given to college students. You get $1,600/month (25 hours/week), full medical and dental benefits, and tuition reimbursement! Not only do you make money to help pay for school, but they will also give you money to help! If you are a union employee they give you $3,000/year. If you are a PT Supervisor they will give you $4,000/year.  The benefits are really hard to come by. What did I get by doing all of this? When I graduated, on top of my scholarships, grants, and income from working… I was debt free. Worth it?


Co-ops are offered by some college programs. Drexel is a well-known business school that has a 5 year program in order to incorporate between six and eighteen months of co-ops. What is a co-op and why do some schools incorporate them? A co-op allows a student to work within a major corporation. The corporations typically are very willing to entrust vital projects to the students. If you want responsibility, a co-op is right for you. There are usually a lot of options so that you can choose a co-op that suits your interests and your expected field.

The benefit is that a co-op allows students to apply their knowledge in the field. Upon graduation practical experience may set you apart from your peers. A lot of companies offer the students who have co-op’d with them a higher starting salary. At Drexel University, the average six month co-op salary is $13,760. Other co-op programs offer similar compensation. If you were to do my UPS suggestion you would earn $9,600 over the six months plus $4,000 in tuition reimbursement. So the amounts are right in line but the co-op offers the advantage of a better resume boost and a potential job offer!

Volunteer Programs

Have you heard of AmericCorps? AmeriCorps is an organization that links people with non-profit groups in order to make a difference in someone’s life. What kind of work would you find yourself doing?

  • Tutor and mentor disadvantaged youth
  • Fight illiteracy
  • Improve health services
  • Build affordable housing
  • Teach computer skills
  • Clean parks and streams
  • Manage or operate after-school programs
  • Help communities respond to disasters
  • Build organizational capacity
  • Benefits of Service

What reward do you get? Helping people! Oh… and a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award which totals $4,725. You can use it to pay for college, graduate school, or just to pay back qualified student loans. If you only serve the AmeriCorps part-time you will still receive a partial award! Another way that the AmeriCorps helps to reimburse college loans is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and a new Income-Based Repayment plan (IBR) which stemmed from  The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007. The IBR allows you to pay less money on your loans since you will be a low-income AmeriCorps member. Service is also viewed as an equivalent to a public service job which qualifies you for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program! Oh, and while you are working for the AmeriCops to get these education benefits, you are also receiving a living allowance and health benefits.


Scholarships are a great way to save money. My academic society had a pretty large endowment to draw from to give out scholarships. We had so few applicants that every applicant would receive something, with the minimum scholarship being $500. And it was just a 1 page form that took five minutes to fill out! That is $100 per minute… or $6,000 per hour! You would be surprised how many scholarships get left on the table. There are a bunch of websites dedicated to helping you find scholarships, such as FastWeb and You should try to take advantage of every possible scholarship. On top of asking academic societies if they offer scholarships and searching those sites, you should ask your high school guidance counselor or college advisor if they know of any scholarships that are available.

Community College

This is one option that I did not take advantage of, and I wish I would have at least considered it. Community colleges are cheaper by an extraordinary amount. You may wind up paying $5,000 for the year rather than what would be $20,000 at your state school or a private institution. You can take your first two years of classes which normally consist of basic requirements, or core classes, anyway. By doing this you may wind up saving a fortune. If I had done this when I was in college, I could have saved an extra $30,000 over the first two years of school – when accounting for tuition and room and board, since I would have lived home. I still would have graduated on time… just with a huge chunk of cash in my pocket! I certainly have a few things on my mind that I could have used that for!

Lifetime Learning Credit

When it comes time to do your taxes, The Lifetime Learning Credit provides an annual tax credit of up to $2,000 for qualified tuition and fees. This limit is on a per family basis. If you are a single filer the credit starts getting phased out at an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $50,000. For a married filing jointly filer the credit gets phased out starting at an AGI of $100,000.


There should be no reason you graduate in mountains of debt if you have the foresight to make a plan and stick to it. There are plenty of ways to chip away at the costs of college as I have outlined above. There are more but I thought these were some of the most sizable and substantial ways. Feel free to offer any suggestions that have a large impact, too!

25 responses to “Reducing the Costs of College”

  1. College Life: Managing Your Financial Aid

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  2. Baker @ ManVsDebt

    Fantastic idea posting a series like this across four different blogs.

    This is such an important topic. My wife put her self through college, worked part-time all 4 years, and still ended with 50k in student loans.

    We could have planned a lot better had we been aware of things like this!

  3. Blake

    “Because I was not utilizing proper time management practices that I needed in order to weigh work, school, academic clubs, and a social life. Once I was forced to budget my time I found that all aspects in my life improved.”

    I’ve heard of this before- a forced-productivity schedule. I definitely believe it.

  4. Bill

    Might be a losing battle.. Six colleges now have annual tuition and fees of over $50,000 per year, which happens to be the average ANNUAL household income in the US.

  5. My Life ROI

    @Baker —
    Thanks! I thought it would be a good way to get a lot of ideas on the topic of college costs from each blogs respective commenters.

    And in re: to your wife, just imagine how much worse it would have been had she not done those things!

    @ Blake —
    As far as I am concerned it is tried and tested! I developed impeccable time management skills. I could not believe that I was performing better at work and school while juggling a more hectic life.

    @ Bill —
    The important thing to do is know your options.

    If you make $50,000 per year… don’t go to one of those 6 schools that charges $50,000 per year in tuition and fees.

    Also, have you looked at their endowment? In post #2 I quoted a good article… :

    ” Not applying to schools with high sticker prices that offer significant financial aid could actually lead families to pay more for their children’s education, not less. With Harvard’s new pricing structure, a family making $100,000 will pay about $10,000 for total charges (tuition, room and board, and fees). This compares to the average charges at public four-year colleges and universities in 2008-09 of $14,333…”

    1. Stephanie

      @My Life ROI: First of all, thank you for your fabulous guest post, on my site and the series in general. It’s a great series!

      I definitely agree with you about the “sticker” price of colleges. You can’t compare them based on that alone, you have to apply and get your personal financial aid award from each one, so that you can compare your actual price. Also, once you have multiple award letters, you can play them off one another. Some schools won’t budge on their financial aid, but others are hurting for students right now, and you have more wiggle room to negotiate.

  6. Sam

    Along with AmeriCorp is Teach for America (which is a part of AmeriCorp). The idea is, you go to an underprivileged grade school and teach for two years. Currently, Teach for America offers their teachers $4,725 at the end of every year from AmeriCorp education awards (although, this money is currently on unsteady ground for the future), will give $1,000 to $6,000 in relocation costs (need-based), plus you can qualify for student loan deferment (so you won’t have to pay off your loans while teaching or have your interest capitalize).

    Finally, if you end up teaching for five years (two is the minimum, more is encouraged), you can qualify for $17,500 student loan forgiveness (for math, science, and special ed. teachers) or $5,000 student loan forgiveness (for all other teachers). This is assuming the school you teach at is on a special list of “these schools need help,” but I think it’s fairly unlikely that Teach for America would be at an unqualified school.

    All this is in addition to your teacher’s salary, of course.

  7. My Life ROI

    @Stephanie —

    No problem! I enjoyed writing them. Your advice on negotiating financial aid is a GREAT one… most people don’t realize that the package can change.

    @Sam —

    Yep, Teach for America is a great sect of AmeriCorp. Teachers are in high demand so if you have any interest you have a decent chance of being accepted!

  8. Bryce

    Community College is a GREAT way to start out your education and save THOUSANDS of dollars.

    I decided to go to Dixie State College of Southern Utah located in Saint George, Utah, for 4 reasons: The Weather there is GREAT, they have an awesome college (even for being a community), They have BS degrees for certain majors, and its the 3rd college in all the NATION to have the lowest tuition rates (around 1,400 per semester).

    What this means for me is that I’m able to start my education in this hard economic period we have (parents are affected by it, cant support me at all thru college), and that I wont have t be in debt as much!

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  13. richardhall

    Thanks for the excellent suggestions; these definitely go a long way in reducing education costs. Scholarships and grants are very helpful and working part time, while studying also helps. One great option is going for an online or flexible program, or opting for institutes that allow completing your program in lesser time. You can check out CollegeAmerica. They offer programs that are a combination of online and on-campus study which can be completed in much lesser time than other college course. You can complete Bachelors Degree Program in 36 months or less and Associate’s program in 20 months or less. CollegeAmerica also helps its students with grants and loans. They also provide placement help. There are also special financial aid programs for veterans.

  14. MLR


    Glad you liked the post(s).

    The only problem I have with online programs is that a lot of people look at them as if they are on a different tier.


  15. James @ CollegeTreasure

    I enjoyed the post. You may be interested to know that under the economic stimulus package the lifetime learning grant was replaced with a temporary (2 years) $2,500 tax credit, $1,000 of which is a refundable credit. Also, the Edward Kennedy Serve America Act created some other opportunities for earning college money. The summer of service, which unfortunately won’t help current college students, and silver scholars. The silver scholars program allows people over 55 to earn scholarships for their children and grandchildren through community service.

  16. Pat

    Great post! College is definitely expensive nowadays, but as you have explained, there are means out there to cutting down the costs. Don’t forget about internships either, as those can pay up to $10,000+ over the course of one summer (if you find a good one)!

  17. Jennifer

    One thing a college student can do to drastically cut down the cost of college is no drinking and don’t go to the bars. But this is easier said than done. College Stories

  18. Anon @ healthcare logistics

    The statements about time management are definitely true. I had the best grades when I had the least free time.

    Another way to cut costs if you have really good grades is to apply to be a teaching assistant. A friend of mine was a TA as an undergrad and got full tuition plus a stipend. That comes out to be around $20,000 for 9 months of part time work.

  19. Mike @ Toronto Painters

    I’m pretty certain my cousin must have implemented a lot of these suggestions.

    She was 5 figures in the black after getting her diploma (a lot of that was from scholarships mind you)

  20. Jason @ Toronto Painters

    “Once I was forced to budget my time I found that all aspects in my life improved.”

    Sometimes all it takes is the need to manage your time that allows you to create fantastic results.

    Great read here.

  21. Adam @ Toronto Paint Store

    Community college is a great thing to look into. Save some money and get training that works at the sametime.

  22. Dan

    Very valuable information for students and potential students. I personally hope that everyone gets this advice about paying for college and they all go to college. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Greg @ Toronto Plumbers

    Nail on the head. I wish I had considered this years ago, time management has always been one of my biggest flaws.

  24. angie @ fruition

    over the years, the cost of education has certainly increased significantly. There are signs of decrease in cost of education!

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