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    11 Easy Ways to Lower College Costs

    Posted June 11, 2024, 4:53 pm by Stella Tannenbaum
    Cutting College Costs

    Chances are that when you think about college costs, what comes to mind is tuition, room, and board. But once you’ve paid for these expenses, others appear on your bill. They add up and can significantly increase your college costs over time. Want to save money and lower your costs? Try these 10 tips:

    1. Rent or buy used textbooks

    While access to and increased use of eBooks has reduced overall costs — the average eBook is almost 32% less expensive than the hard copy version — textbooks still add up. College textbook prices increased 7% between 2020 and 2023 (faster than the rate of tuition) to tip the scales at over $1,215 for the year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    You do have other options, however.

    • Borrow the university library, if that's an option.
    • Buy the electronic version instead of a hard copy.
    • Check used bookstores in your area.
    • Rent a textbook from a site like Chegg or eCampus.
    • Check out one of these 8 textbook apps that help you keep more money in your wallet.

    And bonus: If you need or opt for a hardcover book, you can usually sell it back to the university (or sometimes an off-campus bookstore or another student taking the class later on) to recoup some of the cost.

    2. Get the smaller meal plan

    Colleges automatically include a three-meal plan when calculating your college costs. But most students rarely eat three meals a day. Consider opting for a two-meal-a-day plan. When my daughter attended college, we shelled out the full price for her freshman year. But she rarely ate breakfast and often skipped lunch. We readjusted for her subsequent years. Why pay for something your student likely won't use?

    And no, you don’t have to live on ramen noodles to get by (although they are delicious).

    3. Share a dorm room

    Adding room and board expenses to tuition increases the cost. If you have an option for roommates, try it. Many colleges offer four-person suites, especially to upperclassmen. Take advantage of this price break, if it's available.

    We saved quite a bit when my daughter roomed with four other students during her junior and senior years of college.

    4. Share with your roommate

    It may seem like a no-brainer, but it doesn't hurt to suggest that roommates can share resources with each other. Think textbooks, dorm furniture and accessories, mini-fridges, microwaves, and much more.

    5. Take advantage of all the free campus options

    According to Admissionsly's 2023 article on college student spending statistics and facts, college students cumulatively spend nearly $2.5 billion annually on entertainment, $5.5 billion on alcohol, and over $4,000 apiece on dining out.

    But colleges offer a huge variety of free entertainment (and free food during on-campus events). Whether it's movies and plays, intramural sports or sporting events, or events sponsored by campus organizations, there's something for everyone, including cost-conscious students.

    6. Use your student discount

    Every student receives a student ID during orientation. Those IDs aren't just good for getting into the dorms and scanning at the dining halls. Students can use these IDs to take advantage of discounts at museums, the movies, restaurants, local gyms, and more. Apps like UNiDAYS collect student discounts on your favorite brands from clothing to tech.

    These discounts also lower costs for students using public transportation. Amtrak, Trailways, and Greyhound offer student discounts, as do some airline companies.

    7. Use student health services

    Colleges have on-campus student health centers to provide students with all the basic forms of medical care. Unless it’s a medical emergency, these clinics offer many treatment and care options. In fact, not only do they treat injuries and illness, but many student health centers offer:

    • Allergy shot administration and routine vaccinations like flu shots
    • Dental referrals
    • Gynecological services
    • Nutrition counseling
    • Mental health services

    The student health center will refer students to a specialist or the emergency room if the staff are unable to diagnose or treat an illness.

    8. Leave your car at home

    Keeping a car on campus adds up quickly. The average annual parking permit at the top 100 U.S. colleges is over $500, according to MarketWatch. Before applying for a permit, students should consider their living situations. Will they need a car daily for school or work? Could a bus pass save money on parking and gas? Don't forget to factor in the cost for mechanical upkeep and tolls.

    Many colleges discourage freshmen from bringing cars to campus. They offer free transportation to stores and other off-campus locations. Perhaps it makes more financial sense to leave the car at home.

    9. Work as a Resident Advisor (RA)

    Living on campus means sharing space with others. RAs are sophomores, juniors, and seniors (and even grad students!) who live alongside students in dorms and apartments.

    These trained mentors play a vital role in fostering a safe, supportive living environment. They're often the first friendly face for new students adjusting to college life, helping to navigate everything from roommate conflicts to learning about campus resources. RAs also organize activities to encourage community building and ensure everyone follows the rules for a harmonious living space.

    Financial benefits of being an RA vary by college. Some schools offer an hourly wage or salary; many provide a stipend to completely cover room and board. Compensation can also include access to a fully-furnished, single-occupancy dorm for the entire academic year.

    According to Statista, the average full-time student attending an in-state public university could spend about $10,000 annually on room and board. Working as an RA is one of the more lucrative options for lowering college costs.

    10. Work part time

    Over 40% of full-time and 80% of part-time college students work while enrolled in school. Whether your student qualifies for a work study program or opts for an off-campus part-time job, their paycheck can help offset college costs like lab fees, laundry, and other expenses.

    11. Apply for scholarships

    Many students are dissuaded from applying for the thousands of scholarships out there because of small sums or slim chances, but a few small scholarships really do add up. Use these tips in your search to find the scholarships you have the best chance of winning.

    Sending your child to college is an exciting time but can be a financial strain. By working together, and planning ahead, you and your child can navigate college finances successfully. A little resourcefulness and creativity can go a long way in reducing college costs

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    Stella Tannenbaum

    Stella Tannenbaum

    Stella Tannenbaum is a senior at Boston University studying journalism and political science. She has previously worked as an intern at the National Literacy Trust in London and the Scranton Times-Tribune in Scranton, PA. She has also covered the Massachusetts legislature for several publications across the state through the BU Statehouse Program.