160 Strategies to Conquer College Expenses

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We all know that college costs have skyrocketed over the last two decades. Student loans are crippling graduates. Parents and students are both looking for ways to curb the crazy cost of getting a college education. It is a real commitment takes some thought. A price tag of $100,000 is pretty realistic. That’s more expensive than my first house and to accomplish paying that sum over four years takes some real planning. If we as high-income parents don’t plan ahead and minimize the costs while maximizing the value of a college education for our children, we can delay both our children and our own wealth accumulation and retirement goals.

Even with the costs, getting a college degree is still one of the best investments students can make in their future. College graduates make an extra million bucks on average over a career compared to those with only high school diplomas.

As if the pressures of parenting aren’t enough, parents are picking up the payment for their kids’ student loans at an ever increasing rate. This has two effects. This exposes the parents to a higher debt burden risk and delays their retirement plans in many instances. The students are deprived the learning opportunity to take care of their own educations and enjoy the satisfaction of earning a college degree contributing their own blood, sweat, and tears.

I know that many children of high-income earners appreciate the fact that their parents can afford to fund their educations. That is great, but if students have a stake in contributing to their education, they can learn valuable skills to manage their finances and gain other talents by working during college. We can work with our kids by educating ourselves about the options of reducing college related cost.

High earners have less access to need-based financial aid but that doesn’t mean we can’t save some cash when trying to fund a college education.

Some of these ways in this article to save money on a college education are specific to high-income earners. Others apply to everyone, but high-income earners are eligible.

Get to work

The more I look into the topic, the more I see that getting the best deal for college can be a part-time job, at least for the few years before your oldest child enters post high school education. The quest to get the most value for college expenses is becoming more and more complicated.

If you’ve done any research into paying for college, you’ve seen the sites that give you tips and tricks. Some are helpful but telling us to eat Raman noodles and cancel cable are things anyone can do. I tried to find the topics that actually pertain to paying for college or housing situations that are directly related to college.

There are different programs that are poorly publicized. College websites bury the information about fees and actual costs deep within their websites or don’t provide it at all. College counselors are busy and you need to have your questions lined up before you get a chance to visit with one. When exploring the various methods for saving money on college, it is a true case of you don’t know what you don’t know. What you don’t know CAN hurt you. There are hundreds of different techniques and programs that could be molded together in a tapestry of a college saving strategies.

Pick and choose what is right for you

Not every one of these will be applicable to everyone. You need to search through each strategy looking for the potential to group several of them together to get the best overall deal for a quality university education. The best advice is to start early, form a game plan and execute that plan with seal team 6 like precision.

There isn’t a holy grail that is going to get every student a free ride to the college of her choice. It is going to take some effort. When we are talking about a potential six-figure expenditure on the costs of college, if you can save even 10-20% off the cost, that is a significant saving. Although the hourly rate of a high-income earner is high, the hourly rate of their kids is usually a lot less. When you get your kids involved in the process, they can make the equivalent of a pretty good hourly wage with the work it takes to get scholarships and investigate cost reductions in tuition and other college costs. It really adds up when you have multiple kids in the family.

This is a meaty article. I’ve included a table of contents so that you can navigate each section and refer back to the topic. Unless you are a glutton for punishment I recommend coming back as time allows and making a list of the strategies that might help you and your student when the time comes to apply for college.


Finish Faster 1-3

One sure fire way to cut costs is to spend lest time in college. These are three ways to reduce the time and money involved but it takes some planning. You either have to take more classes per semester or at alternative times.

  • Finish in 3 years

  • Go to summer school

    • Taking an extra class or two in summer school can get your student graduating a semester or two earlier.
  • Take extension classes at night

    • These classes allow the student access to more classes that might have needed to be delayed because of scheduling or availability. Don’t forget this option, especially for the general classes that are needed just to fill out a degree plan.


Housing 4-7

  • Buy a duplex

    • If the parents or even the student buy a duplex and rent out the other side, often the mortgage can be supported just from the other tenant’s rent.  It could also be a decent investment depending on the location. It’s something to think about as a housing option, especially if you have more that one student going to the same school. It could even develop into a longer term investment.
  • Live at home

    • Living at home will save some money if your student goes to the local college. There is some evidence that students staying at home are not as dedicated to the process of college and have a lower four-year graduation rate. Use caution when employing this strategy.
  • Get a lot of roommates

    • Usually, you can get a larger home with multiple roommates to cut cost. Some college housing options specialize in this like this college housing supplier Agshacks.com in College Station, Texas.
  • Screen your roommates well

    • With more roommates, comes more risk for bad roommates. Before jumping into a higher roommate situation, make sure you aren’t just adding someone to save money. It can end up costing you if one is a deadbeat on rent payments or damages the house and leaves you paying for the repairs.


Books 8-23

Books and supplies cost about $1300 a year on average. There are several ways to reduce the costs of books. Some students have been known to look in their closet at the end of the semester and see a  brand new $100+ book with the wrapping never taken off because it was optional or used very little during the semester. Having a game plan and going into your book purchases ahead of time can save some money.

  • Don’t buy books

    • Be sure you really need the book in the first place. Some professors rarely use a particular book and you only need it for a short time. Other professors will give duplicate information that can be used instead of the book.
  • Use school library books

    • Check out your school library. Don’t forget to check the online option of your school libraries.
  • Use open source textbooks

    • Check out these references before buying a book, it might just be free.
  • Use the interlibrary loan system

    • If your public library doesn’t have a book you need, you can ask the librarian to borrow from the network of libraries. Planning ahead for the next semester could have your book ready when you need it once your home library receives the book. Check with your local library or online to see if they participate in the interlibrary loan system.
  • Buy books off craigslist

  • Use a textbook swap with classmates

  • Share books with classmates

  • Use professor’s books

    • Some professors place books in their office or the library for check out so that multiple students can use the book.
  • Buy used books

    • These can be bought from the bookstore and should be better quality on average but will be more expensive than being directly bought from another student on sites like Craigslist.
  • Buy international versions

    • Commonly international versions will have less color and bonus materials, but the underlying content will still be there. Sometimes these can be a quarter of the U.S. published book cost.
  • Use older editions

    • Many professors barely change the content from one edition to the next. Check the difference and see if it is worth shelling out the extra cost for the newest edition.
  • Rent books

  • Buy from publishers website directly

    • Occasionally the publisher can sell the book cheaper than the bookstore. It’s another option.
  • Use the online library

    • Some libraries have access to a large number of books that can’t be shelved in their physical locations. If the book isn’t on the shelves, it might be online.
  • Use corporate library at the student’s work or parent’s job

    • If your student has access to a corporate library through a parent or a job, there can be resources that would not be available to the general public. This is especially true if the corporation is in the same industry as your degree plan.
  • Use the public library

    • This should be one of your first stops when looking for a text. Some libraries only require you to be a state resident to get a card. This could give you access to many libraries that are far away from your university city but are easily checked out through an app like Kindle for PC [Download] or a web browser.


Financial Aid 24-29

Financial aid is not as abundant for high-income earners because so much of it is need based. I recommend you still do everything you can as far and looking into financial aid packages because sometimes it is surprising how high your overall income can be and still receive financial aid.  There are so many factors that contribute to financial aid availability, it is important to give every part of your financial situation to the aid office before you automatically assume your student isn’t going to get any assistance.

  • Fill out FAFSA every year

    • This form is the Free Application for Student Aid. Most schools and states require this to be eligible for any financial aid or grants. Depending on your income level and the cost of your desired school, this form helps establish your EFC or expected family contribution. You would be surprised how high your income can be and still qualify for student aid. I’ve heard of a family that decided not to fill out the FAFSA because they were advised from a co-worker that their daughter wouldn’t qualify. For her particular school, she was eligible for $17,000 a year in grants. It could pay to at least find out.
  • Fill out CSS every year

    • Around 300 or so schools require this to be filled out to assess financial aid eligibility. This form is usually stricter on what is counted as assets vs the FAFSA. This could be a consideration when deciding which school you attend.
  • Keep financial aid deadlines

    • Financial aid is usually first-come-first-serve. The faster your student gets her forms in when the school starts allowing submission, the more likely she will get the aid available.
  • Notify school of financial aid changes

    • Students every year lose out on financial aid because their financial situation changes between the time they apply and entering school. They don’t notify the schools financial aid office. It is important to keep your school aid office abreast of your situation so that the financial aid office knows your situation. If a divorce, or job loss occurs this could dramatically affect the eligibility of the student.
  • Look for preferential packaging of financial aid because the school wants you

    • Sometimes the school just wants your student. This is why I think it is a good idea to apply to a lot of schools if you are willing to go where the best value occurs and you can keep application costs down. You might fit a demographic they are trying to capture or want to study a field that is a priority for them. You never know, so if you can keep application costs down, you might get a good deal because your student “fits the mold.”
  • Be aware of getting gapped in financial aid

    • This is the opposite of preferential packaging. Sometimes a school just doesn’t want you and even though you have a certain “financial need” they don’t offer what you need or offer it in the form of high interests loans. This is another reason I don’t want my kids to have their hearts set on a particular school. I’ve been stressing that value is the most important decision when it comes to finding the right university.


Testing for Credit 30-32

  • CLEP Test

    • CLEP tests examine your student on what he already knows and potentially gives him college credit. Tests cost $80, usually a fraction of the time and the cost of a college class. Make sure your college accepts these test before shelling out the cash to take the test.
  • AP Test

    • These are advanced placement tests. These tests are usually associated with a high school subject and after the subject is completed, the student can place out of the college course by taking the test. These cost $93 a piece, plus administrative costs.
  • Dual enrollment in high school

    • High school students (juniors and seniors mostly) can take these classes to get both high school and college credit. These are usually at a local junior college. The cost is usually significantly less than a four-year university course and depending on the school, a student can get almost the entire freshman year out of the way with college credit.
    • Some colleges take the actual letter grade and other allow just a general credit that doesn’t go toward your student’s GPA. Look into the details of the dual credit classes and the university your student wants to transfer into to see what classes are accepted by the university.


Tuition Reductions 33-40

  • Get legacy reduced tuition

    • Your student might get a discount depending on where you, the parents or even grandparents went to college. Inquire with the college financial aid office to see if legacy tuition grants are available.
  • Transfer your tuition breaks to your kids

    • If you are former military you might have access to the Post 911 GI bill. This can be transferred to a dependent and includes tuition and fee reimbursement as well as a housing allowance.
  • Go to instate schools

    • Most in-state universities have tuition breaks for state residents. Something else to remember is an honors program at a state school could be a better value and almost as or even more prestigious than attending a private school.
  • Georgia Perimeter College

    • Schools like this are making it as affordable as possible to get a college education. Tuition for in-state residents here is listed as $1390 a semester. Some estimates show the student can be all in for around $10,000 a year for room and board, tuition, fees, and books. Look for specific universities that make affordable education a priority.
  • Border State Waiver

    • Just because you don’t live in a particular state, doesn’t necessarily mean your student has to pay out of state tuition prices at a school there. Some states have agreements with neighboring states to reduce prices to in-state levels for their neighbors. Check out which universities and states have these agreements in place with each other.
  • Non-resident tuition waiver

    • Some students who have been awarded a certain amount of an academic scholarship can qualify for this waiver so that the student is only required to pay in-state tuition and fees. For example, Texas A&M has a minimum requirement of a $4000 scholarship per academic year to qualify for this waiver for 2017. That is like a double scholarship.
  • Flat rate tuition schools

    • Some schools such as the University of Indian at Bloomington or the University of Texas, Brownsville offer flat rate tuition for anything over a certain number of hours. If your student could add a class or two per semester for free, this enables your student to graduate on time or early, even further decreasing college costs.
  • Level Tuition

    • This is when a school charges a guaranteed fixed rate for classes over a four or longer year period. Parents and students to budget for the expected costs over the entire time a student is at school. It also ensures against unexpected price increases from year to year.


Technical strategies 41-44

  • Apply Late

    • This is a risky strategy but could be useful if your student wants to try to get a better deal from a university that hasn’t meant its admission goals. If your student applies late and fits some sort of desired demographic or requirement that university is trying to promote, they may be willing to give more grants or scholarships. This is dependant on the school not fulfilling its admission goals through the normal process.
    • It could be useful to your student though as a way to get into a school and pay a reduced rate after the initial process of applying and acceptance. It might be worth a call if your student doesn’t mind switching universities because she could get a better deal elsewhere.
  • Leverage your other financial aid

    • If the scholarships and grants weren’t initially as high as you would have liked from a particular school, it might be worth a call to let them know another school gave you a better financial aid package. If that school really wants you, they might be able to come up with some more funds to entice your student to attend there instead.
  • Transfer assets out of students names (20% vs 5.64%)

    • The FAFSA bases the EFC (expected family contribution) on 20% of the student’s assets but on 5.64% of the parents. Basically, make the student as poor as possible to get more financial aid.  There is another side of this tale though.
    • See the tax strategies section below. You have to weigh the benefit of potential financial aid versus tax reduction by transferring assets to the student to qualify for tax credits and deductions. This is especially relevant to very high-income parents.
  • Reduce income 2 years before applying 

    • If you are anticipating early retirement, reducing earned income could generate a higher “need” regardless of assets. Some assets are measured on the FAFSA, other are not. Look into what assets fit this category. The parents also may be eligible for the American Opportunity credit and Lifetime Learning credit if income is below the phase-out levels. You can read about those here.


Go to a no tuition school 45-56

These are all the institutions I could find that provide either free tuition or a completely free college education. Of course, that depends on your definition of free. The military academies require a minimum amount of service after the degree is completed, but you don’t have any loans to pay back and you earn a salary during those working years. Depending on your career path the salary could be competitive with the private sector.

  • Cooper Union

  • Curtis Institute of Music

    • This is an institute that takes enough students each year to fill a symphony. You still have to cover housing cost in Philadelphia but get an excellent musical education.
  • SUNY colleges for New York residents

  • CUNY Colleges for New York residents

    • In April of 2017, the New York government reached a deal to provide free education at these two colleges to New York residents with families making under $125,000 a year. There are some drawbacks and stipulations, so be sure you qualify before applying.
  • Air force Academy

  • Merchant Marine Academy

  • Coast Guard Academy

  • Military Academy

  • Naval Academy

  • Vanderbilt University

  • Webb Institute

    • If you want an automatic shipbuilding job after college, this is the place for you. Their post-graduation job placement percentage is 100%. The drawback is their class size is only 22.
  • Study at University of the People

    • This is a supposed free online university but there are some reports of low installment payments. It is supposed to be not for profit and seems to be more of a home for U.S. immigrants to get an affordable education.  It was established in 2009 and there isn’t much of a sample size to tell whether this is a viable option for those looking for an advanced education.


Work college pays your tuition 57-65

All of these colleges have work study programs that enable the students to work at the colleges and go to class at reduced rates or tuition free.

  • Alice Lloyd college

  • Barclay College

  • Berea College

  • Ecclesia college

  • Blackburn College

  • Warren Wilson College

  • Sterling College

  • College of the Ozarks

  • Deep Springs College


Study Abroad/ Go Overseas 66-74

These countries all have incredibly cheap or free tuition in a variety of different university in these countries. Lund University in Sweden or the University of Oslo in Norway are options available. If you don’t mind traveling abroad, there could be some amazing opportunities to get a college education for free or close to it.

  • Study in:

    • Germany
    • France
    • Iceland
    • Norway
    • Finland
    • Czech Republic
    • Slovenia
    • Sweden
    • Brazil


Side Hustles 75-77

These are small jobs that apply to college and things students do anyway. It isn’t going to fund an entire education but an entrepreneurial student could buy a few books, a class or two or at least some beverage money by selling the notes or papers she is doing anyway for the classes.

  • Sell class notes

  • Sell research papers

  • Start a lecture transcript service


University based Jobs 78-84

  • Become an RA

    • Resident assistants typically receive free room and/or board for being a leader to a group of students in student housing. Duties include advising students, counseling and general maintenance things like letting students back into their dorm rooms when they forget their keys.  Freshmen usually aren’t allowed to hold these jobs but once your student gets some experience, he could apply.
  • Work in the college library

  • Work in the college computer lab

  • Referee Intramurals
    • I did this for basketball. It was a fun extra job and I got free gym access when I worked. It isn’t going to make anyone rich, but it helps pay the bills.
  • Work at the college recreation center

  • Play in the school marching and scholarship

  • Play on a school sports team scholarship

    • If your student has the talent to make a team or band, scholarships usually come with that. It is basically either a part-time or a full-time job on the side of classes and some students have to reduce course loads to meet team/band related requirements during the busy season.


Education based jobs 85-87

  • Do an apprenticeship that pays or leads to college credit and a degree

    • There are programs like Bates Technical College that offer apprenticeships and eventual degrees in supervisory or inspector roles.
  • Work someplace with tuition reimbursement

    • Wells Fargo, Starbucks, and Verizon all offer tuition reimbursement at various levels. There are hundreds more. Chances are your student could find a job related to her career field that would pay tuition and other costs while she earns money to pay for other important things like food and clothing.
  • Serve in the Peace Corp

    • The Peace Corp offers volunteers the opportunity to serve in underserved areas. They promote agriculture, health, education and community economic development in impoverished areas. Upon returning home loan assistance and tuition reduction are available through partnering loan programs and universities. Check out their site to learn more.


Sequence Strategies 88-90

This is referring to the student starting at a cheaper college and transferring to a more expensive and hopefully more prestigious one for graduation.  This could consist of transferring from a community college to four-year university. The student could start at a state school and transfer to a private university. Taking online classes initially and then transferring to a brick and mortar institution could also get your student the degree he wants from the college he desires without having to pay the full four-year cost.

  • Do the college two-step

    • Start at a community college, transfer to a 4-year university
    • Start at state school, then transfer to a private university
    • Take online classes (often cheaper) and then transfer to a physical institution


Scholarships 91-102


  • Apply for the Melissa Read Memorial Scholarship sponsored by this site.
  • Establish a scholarship resume

    • Beginning your student’s freshman year, or even before, begin taking an inventory of leadership involvement, scholastic achievement, and other extracurricular activities every couple of months. Place the certificates, rewards or a reminder in a folder and curate all the information so that it is available for applications in the future. Some scholarships are available to students as early as six or seven years old so really, it is never too early to start this process.
  • Focus on local scholarships

    • There is often less competition for local scholarships compared to the national ones.
  • Study past winners and what they did

    • If your student can access past winners essays or see the characteristics that made a past winner standout, highlighting those qualities within herself could increase the chances of winning.
  • Join local service organizations that have scholarships

    • Joining certain organizations like 4-H could make your student eligible for more financial assistance.
  • Follow the rules of the scholarship

    • This is common sense but if your student doesn’t follow the rules, that is usually an automatic disqualification.
  • Follow up with the committee to see what could be improved in the future

    • This is an opportunity to shine one more time. Even if your student doesn’t win this year, when applying next year the committee could have a lasting impression of the student if he showed an interest in improving his application.
  • Apply multiple years

    • Some scholarships require an application every year. Don’t forget and just assume that your student is getting the funds for every year of school.
  • Treat scholarship application as a full-time job for 3-4 months

    • If your student is going to apply for scholarships, she needs to do it right. It can take up 15-20 hours a week to write essays, fill out applications and follow up with the coordinators of each scholarship. Try to hone in on those scholarships that are the best fit for your student and apply for those.
    • Most experts recommend applying for as many as possible. Some essays can be used for multiple scholarships and just edited to fit the topic.  If your student works for 3-4 months in the prime application time period and earns several thousand dollars, that ends up being a pretty good hourly wage for a high school student.
  • Apply early to scholarships

    • Again, scholarship money gets handed out early. Don’t wait.
  • Don’t just apply during freshman year

    • For some reason, a lot of people stop applying after their freshman year. Often times, scholarships for sophomores through seniors have much less competition and give the student a higher chance of winning.
  • Institutional scholarships to convert to in-state tuition

    • If your student earns an institutional scholarship, this can help convert the overall tuition to the in-state levels. In-state tuition is typically a fraction of the out of state tuition prices. Be sure to inquire about this if this applies to your student.

Scholarship Databases 103-115

Search these databases to find scholarships that apply to your student. Typically they require a lot of demographic information. You might want to establish a new email address just for scholarship applications because chances are, your student will be getting a lot of solicitations for other opportunities once her name is on these database email lists.


Regional Student Exchanges 116-121

These are tuition discount programs based on the state you live in and are organized regionally. These collections of states have worked out deals with each other to provide in-state tuition prices to the students coming from the states within the exchange. Check out NASFAA to learn more about these programs.

  • New England Region

  • Western Region

  • Professional Student Exchange Program (West)

  • Southern Region

  • South Region Contract Program

  • Western Regional Graduate Program



Special Programs 122-126

  • Pipeline Programs

    • These are programs that get a student into the college mindset. These programs often provide dual credit classes that get the student on a jumpstart towards a degree plan. This decreases cost, gets the student involved in a pipeline, and publicizes the student to the colleges participating in that program.
  • American Honors Program

    • This is a dedicated community college Honors program that gives students a fast track to transferring to a four-year university once the American Honors two-year degree is completed. They offer advisors that help the student implement a plan for transferring from the beginning. Since it originates in a community college, the expenses are usually much lower than a four-year school.
  • Lumerit Education

    • This is an amazing program that helps students start a degree plan with digital/online educational resources and transfer to an educational institution for final degree completion. They boast that 96% of their graduates are debt free at graduation.
  • Pathway Programs

    • These typically offer English education that translates into college credit and prepares the student for entry into a four-year degree. Various universities maintain these programs. Inquire with your specific university if this is applicable to your student.
  • Study in a needed career field and some schools pay your way

    • Some schools will offer extra scholarships and grants depending on the degree your student is pursuing. This has been available in the nursing field and for several graduate level programs. Ask the financial aid office if this is offered at your preferred institution since each instance is going to be school specific.


529 Plans 127-129

  • Private college 529 (prepaid tuition)

    • This is a specific program that is applicable to about 300 private universities nationwide. The earlier you pay into the program the more potential savings you are locking in. The downside is you are limiting the number of universities that accept this payment options. There are plenty of great options though, including MIT, Rice University and the University of Southern California. 
  • Prepay tuition programs

    • Prepaid tuition programs are sponsored by several states where your student gets today’s tuition rates locked in for future enrollment. Different states have different programs and each program is specific to that state.
    • You have to be very careful with these plans and see what you are actually paying per credit hour.
    • Inflation is usually priced in and you need to calculate the inflation rate compared to tuition costs today. For example, in my home state of Texas, the per unit cost is about $135. The universities require 100 units to pay for 30 hours. That gives us a cost of about $13,500 a year. It is the same for all ages in Texas so for a newborn that could be a decent deal.
    • Other states have a progressive unit cost depending on the age of your child. Again, these plans limit your student’s options to the state’s public universities. 
  • 529 Savings plan

    • This is the classic 529 plan that is usually an intelligent choice for high-income parents. You can read more about it here


Parent Strategies/Black Hat 130-140

I’m going to say right from the start that most of these will be useless to 99% of readers but they could still work for a specific family. Most of these are more for your amusement but knowledge is power so maybe they will help you.

  • Retire early and get income down

    • If you can decrease your income, it is more likely that your student will qualify for financial aid. Remember that the FAFSA looks at income data from two years previous to the year of enrollment, so you have to retire a couple years early if you want to use this strategy.
  • Start a farm

    • Some colleges that only use the FAFSA don’t recognize a family farm as an asset. If you always dreamed of growing some crops or having a herd of cattle, this could be an option for you. Sink all your assets into a farm and your student will likely qualify for more financial aid.
  • Sink all your net worth into the family business

    • This is possibly a little more realistic. The family business worth is not reportable on the FAFSA. Of course, you have to figure out a way to not show an income as well and still put food on the table, but reinvesting into your business and showing a lower income is a possible option to qualify for more financial aid.
  • Start a wine collection

    • If you want to sink all your money into wine, it’s not reportable on the FAFSA. Selling a bottle or 20 every month to pay for necessities could artificially reduce your income. Of course, then you are operating as a business and would need to claim any income, but this is another option.
  • Invest in diamonds

    • This is pretty much the same scenario as the wine.
  • MIT Challenge

    • Scott Young took a year to complete all the classes for a degree in computer science from MIT. You can listen to his TED talk but he says he was offered several jobs after the challenge and received the equivalent of a college education for free. Of course, he had no degree so if that is important to your student, then I can’t help him there, but you have to admit the accomplishment is pretty impressive.
  • Don’t go to college

    • Some people aren’t cut out for college. Maybe your student already invented an amazing product and has made a million dollars and doesn’t need to go. Guys like Michael Dell did alright without a degree.
  • Move to a state with lower tuition

    • If your family isn’t opposed to new experiences and wants to save a lot on college expenses, just move to the ideal city with the best cost of living, lowest college expenses and highest salaries for your particular career.
  • Parents work in civil services discount

    • Some scholarships, grants and discounted loans are only available to civil service employees. If you, the parent, have a nice enough nest egg, you could retire from your high salary job and get into civil service. This lowers your salary and potentially gives your student access to funds that weren’t available before.
  • Work for the college

    • Some colleges give free or discounted tuition to the children of employees. Maybe it’s time to become a professor or administrator at the university of your choice.
  • Get fired (dislocated worker)

    • I don’t recommend this, although getting fired would lower your income. There are opportunities to negotiate a severance package. That is considered income, so you would need to be fired two years before your first child starts college to submit lower FAFSA income.
    • Something to look at is if a parent qualifies as a dislocated worker. If so, this would qualify the student for an automatic zero EFC.


Fee Reduction 141-158

Fees run rampant at college campuses. There are fees for almost everything and they are hard to know ahead of time. Scrutinize your bill and make sure that the college hasn’t “mistakenly” placed some optional fees that you and your student don’t need to pay in order to get a college education.

  • Remove optional fees

  • Avoid penalty fees, be on time

  • Join the fee committee and determine the fees students pay

    • Some colleges have a committee and there are student representatives. If your student is interested in leadership and getting a fair deal for everyone, she could try to join the committee to be the voice of reason when college administrators come up with the next great fee idea.
  • Watch out for prior credit fees

    • Sometimes colleges charge you to transfer credits in from other schools or dual credit courses.
  • Watch out for extra expenses fees

    • This includes sports packages for school sporting events, concert packages, and other entertainment options
  • Graduation fees

    • Want a cap, gown and a fancy diploma? Prepared to pay.
  • Parking fees

    • Most colleges have a very little room dedicated to parking and charge a great deal to park a car there. Make sure your student really need a care before committing to pay this fee each month or semester.
  • Printing fees

    • Often a retail printing store will be cheaper than the campus facility. Just price them out.
  • One time fees 

    • Often there are fees for dorm keys, identification cards, enrollment, or computer access. Ask the admissions office or financial aid office about any fees if they are not clearly spelled out for you.
  • Field work costs 

    • Some classes require field work at a college facility or lab. Make sure you know if there are fees before agreeing to these classes. Sometimes you are stuck and need the class for the degree plan, but other options sometimes exist.
  • Fraternity and Sorority fees

    • This will cost your student but may be a networking opportunity. Weigh the costs and benefits before joining.
  • Internship fees

    • Some colleges have the audacity to charge students to be an intern during the summer at a partnering company. I would recommend your student never pay to work for someone unless it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Most of the time your student can find an excellent option that earns some income and is a valuable resume builder.
  • Study abroad fee

    • Some colleges automatically include this fee for its students even if the students don’t plan to study out of the country. Be aware of this fee.
  • Buy memorabilia someplace besides campus bookstore

    • Everyone wants a school T-shirt and ball cap but the campus bookstore tends to be one of the most expensive places to buy your college memorabilia. Check out online stores or discount stores instead.
  • Keep track of school property (key cards, lab equipment, electronics, etc)

    • Keep track of school property or prepare to pay up.
  • Don’t be late (late fees)

    • Colleges are notoriously unforgiving when it comes to being late. Being on time for classes, registration and deadlines should be a common practice for any college student or the fees can mount up in a hurry.
  • Transcript fees

    • Often these fees can add up, especially when the student needs dozens of transcripts mailed out (or emailed) to graduate schools or companies. Sometimes, these fees are negotiable.
  • Reconnect or leave of absence fee

    • If your student takes a leave of absence, some school charge a fee just to mark the student inactive. Be aware of this in case your student needs to take a break or gets an opportunity to work or travel during school and needs to put classes on hold.

Tax Strategies 159

  • If you are a very high-income earner and don’t think you qualify for any need-based assistance, there is a beneficial tax strategy.  (You could fill out the FAFSA now and check based on the potential cost of your students desired college) The strategy is to take advantage of your child’s “tax capacity”.
  • For this strategy, the child will need to fulfill a few qualifications.
    • The child cannot be a dependent. That means he needs to provide over half of his own support. If the child requires $20,000 to live in a year, he needs to have an income of at least $10,000 that year. Otherwise, he would still be a dependent.
    • If he meets the criteria and does supply half his support, the parent cannot claim the child, but the child is eligible to claim the American Opportunity credit and/or the Lifetime learning credit.
    • The parent’s income is likely higher than the phase-out limit for these credits and would not be able to claim a credit anyway.
    • The parents could give money to their child a few years before college and he could use that for support during the college years. As long as he can maintain 50% support or less, he is not a dependent. Be aware of gift tax laws though and “kiddie tax” laws if the child is earning dividend income on investments.
    • You can read more about this strategy here. As talked about in the Technical Strategies section, you have to choose between income reduction techniques and maximizing your child’s tax capacity.


Don’t eliminate school just on perceived price 160

  • This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you. Don’t assume the college is going to be out of your league just because the school website quotes a specific price. Everyone’s situation is different and you might be surprised. If you can keep application cost within reason, apply to a school even if you think the price is unaffordable. The worst they can say is no or its out of your price range.


Wrap Up

If you read through this whole thing, congratulations.  You are well informed about the various costs associated with college. Take some notes. Make a plan to implement some of these strategies and get to work.  A little knowledge and hard work could reduce the costs for college and give your student a head start toward a fulfilling career and financial independence.


Let me know what you think and if you have any other tips to add to the list.


Tom is a doctor, husband and father of five with a passion for parenting and finance. When he isn't skateboarding, riding BMX, or jumping on the trampoline with his kids, he is reading and writing about personal finance. He helps high income parents educate and mentor their kids to become financially, emotionally, and intellectually self sufficient.

4 Responses to “160 Strategies to Conquer College Expenses

  • This is one amazing list. I’m about 14 years from having to help pay for college tuition but I still read through it all. I’ll have to bookmark this post, don’t ever take the site down, ha!

    • Ha. Thanks PIMD. I hope some of it is still relevant then. I’ll have to update this from time to time.
      By then it will probably be nationally funded and every student gets a “free” education and a “free” BMW to drive from class to class 🙂

      Tom @ HIP

  • Wow what a list! I’m going to share this with my friends for sure!

    • Thanks Eric. I hope it helps a lot of people save some cash on college.

      Tom @ HIP

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