What to Do about the Cost of College

I was looking through my personal library the other day and found an old paperback that I had purchased when I was in high school (back around the time that the earth was still cooling from its formation). It was called How to Be Accepted by the College of Your Choice (Completely Revised 1961-1962 Edition), by Benjamin Fine. The cover blurbs proclaim “As many as nine out of ten applicants are rejected by the colleges of their first choice.” Things were tough even in 1960 for Ivy League and other selective school applicants. “The bestselling [sic] book in its field!” It may well have been one of the only books in its field back then, very unlike today. Also, “231 splendid colleges seeking applicants!” “Splendid”? ‘Gotta love those exclamation points. And let’s not forget “A Special Bonus Section showing for the first time how your application will be judged against others by nearly 1,000 accredited colleges in the U.S.A.” I’m wondering why I would want my application to be judged by nearly 1,000 accredited colleges. Time to call in Strunk and White.

The amazing thing about finding this book is looking at the costs of top colleges back in the Dark Ages. A quick tour of the table of contents reveals a book not all that different from those of the same genre today. We find chapters on high school grades, the SAT, ACT, high school curricula, extracurriculars, recommendations, college visits, applications, an in-depth college profile (Connecticut College), money matters, and an application timetable. The usual fare.

The amazing thing is that costs since the early ’60s have risen in the thousands of percents. It’s almost impossible to believe.

So, I got to thinking about this and contacted my buddies over at Money Crashers to see if they could give me any tips that I could pass along to you about-to-be and current college students (and your parents) about how to reduce the damage of today’s college costs. In a flash, I had this great article, Why Is College So Expensive and What Can You Do About It? Here it is: 

Why Is College So Expensive and What Can You Do About It?

by David Bakke, who is a financial contributor for Money Crashers Personal Finance. He discusses tips for saving money, avoiding and paying off debt, and finding ways to make extra cash.

Ask five different experts why college is so expensive and you’re likely to get five different answers. Some claim it’s the need for universities to attract – and compensate – top faculty, while others blame unlimited financial aid and student loan availability. Some even claim a university’s main motivation is not to attract students, but to serve the needs of the alumni association and build a competitive sports program.

The exact reasons why college is so expensive may not be clear, but the high cost is unlikely to change anytime soon. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your college expenses:saving on college costs,

1. Investigate All Forms of Financial Aid

Before you even think about taking out student loans, research all available free funding options to pay for and afford college. The first step is a trip to your school’s financial aid office – but don’t stop there. Put the Internet to work and look for more opportunities. There are a wide array of scholarships you may qualify for based on your gender, ethnicity, religion, location, and interests.

2. Save Money on Textbooks

There’s no need to buy shiny new textbooks from the college bookstore – you’ll only be using them for a few months, and it’s unlikely you’ll need them once class is over. Search Half.com or Amazon for used textbooks, and don’t be surprised to find “used” books in like-new condition. Once the semester is over, you can sell your college textbooks through these same channels to recoup some of your original investment.

3. Forgo the Extras

Schools offer a variety of convenience services to students, such as errand services, laundry services, and personalized care packages. Do yourself a favor and skip them. They come at significant cost, and you can perform the services for yourself for much less.

4. Save Money on Entertainment

Attending school full-time for four years is tough, and occasionally taking the time to kick back and relax is important to perform well. That said, you don’t need to kill your checking account to do it. Consider staying in and hosting a board game night with your friends. Or, pick up a movie or two from Redbox, and enjoy a night of entertainment for just a few bucks.

5. Generate Income

If you manage your study time effectively, you should have extra time with which to make money. Consider a part-time job or a paid college internship program. If you can’t make room for either, consider completing paid online surveys. You won’t make a fortune, but you will bring in some extra spending money. You can also sell unneeded items (including textbooks) online. Digital cameras, cell phones, and GPS are also great to resell online.

Final Thoughts

It’s unlikely you can do much to combat the skyrocketing costs of college. And student loans won’t magically take care of everything – you will have to pay them back with interest. In fact, graduating from school with heavy student loan debt can cripple you financially for the rest of your life. So be prudent about what you pay for, and limit expenses wherever possible. That way, you’ll have less debt to pay off once you graduate, or could even graduate debt-free.

What other ways can you think of to save money during college?

Feel free to submit your ideas below.

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Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.