So today we are going to look at each component of the cost of attendance and see where we can shave off a few dollars. The goal here is to help you get by on the aid dollars you are getting with less than 20 hours of work a week. Why 20? Research shows that students who work 12-20 hours a week often do better in school, but as you increase hours above 20 hours a week, you decrease your GPA.
We already talked about taking college prep courses in high school, choosing a community college for the first two years, living at home, applying for scholarships and making a college budget. Now let’s look at each of the components of Cost of Attendance and see what we can do to save money.
Tuition and fees were discussed in the previous blog. The best way to save on this component is to attend community college first. If you are still in high school, check out whether your community college will let you take classes. In some states, you can be dually enrolled and get credit at your high school while getting a jump on your basic course requirements.
Room and Board was also addressed previously. The best way to save money here is to keep your room in your parent’s home and commute. If that isn’t an option, get a room-mate. Let’s be clear, I said a room-mate, not a playmate. Get someone who is as serious as or more serious than you about going to college and passing classes. The roommate should be someone who will put away the X-Box and crack a book.
Books are something you need to think creatively about. Is the textbook required or recommended? Check with the professor as soon as you register for class and see if you can get a syllabus or at least a list of books for the class. Check out the college bookstore. They usually know what is required and if you get there right after you register, you can often snag the best used books before they are all gone. Ask about a rental program.
Many college bookstores are offering rentals now. Ask the professor if the SPECIFIC edition is a requirement. Publishers change editions almost annually. Many professors don’t care whether you get the 10th or the 14th edition. Buy books from students who took that course last semester. If the required books are not textbooks, but novels for an English class or multicultural class, then you can often hunt down a copy online or in an urban used bookstore for much less than a new copy will cost. Sell your books back at the end of the term. Seriously, you really won’t need that Physics textbook after college. Get a little money for it now.
Supplies can be an area to save a little cash as well. Check out the back-to-school sales or the big box stores. Get your favorite pens, pencils and notebooks in quantity. Buy buying dozens, you are less likely to pick up a $7 notepad at the convenience store. Avoid the pens that light up or glow in the dark, you are in college now.
Transportation is an easy one to save money on, but a hard one to give up the independence. The best way to save is mass transit. Even small college towns have buses and if you are in an urban setting you can get passes for rapid transit or subways. You save on depreciation on a car, as well as insurance, parking, and the occasional fender-bender. Besides, you can actually become adept at studying on the bus or subway. When the federal government included transportation in the Cost of Attendance, they did not intend you to interpret that as a late model car. Remember, the money you save in any of these categories is money you don’t have to borrow. Money you don’t borrow is money you don’t have to pay back. So shortly after graduating and going to work, you can buy a late model car, and pay for the insurance and parking!
Miscellaneous personal expenses are included in the budget because every college student should bathe and brush their teeth. Just like supplies, buy large quantities of your favorite shampoo and toothpaste when it’s on sale or at a big box store.
Dependent-care expenses and Disability-related expenses are two components where I will not suggest savings. The allowances for these vary markedly depending on the area of the country, the type of dependent care or disability. Check with your college financial aid office for more details.
Employment expenses related to cooperative education and study abroad expenses are allowed if the college meets certain institutional requirements. I mention them only because if you are enrolled in a coop-ed class or plan to do a study abroad, you may qualify for additional aid.
Student loan fees are allowed in the Cost of Attendance for either the actual or average Direct Loan fees. Check with your school about how they calculate the fees. The best way to save here is to follow the other saving tips, work part-time and DON’T borrow unless you absolutely need the money to succeed in school.
I hope some of these ideas help you think of ways to tighten your belt. I don’t mean students should forego a pizza or a movie. I think it starts with the budget. What are you spending money on? What can you cut out? Keep your eye on the prize which is to graduate with as little debt as possible.