How to Pay for College Using Overlooked Strategies

The cost of college is a big undertaking. Based on U.S. News data, the cost of tuition and fees for 2021–2022 at rated four-year colleges varied from approximately $10,300 for in-state public schools to approximately $38,200 for private universities.

Filling out the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is one of the first things experts advise families worried about how to pay for college. By doing this, you can apply for loans, grants, and scholarships, among other forms of financial assistance.

The majority of advisers for college admissions advise applying as soon as the application is available.

“The sooner a student applies after October 1st, the more likely it is that the colleges will have more funding available,” states Jack Shinn, president of J Shinn & Associates, a financial education specialist located in New Jersey.
Experts advise students who must borrow money to pay for education to avoid taking out private loans, which typically have higher interest rates, and instead stick to federal student loans.

Here are some other possibilities to lessen the cost of attending college that you might not have thought of yet:

  • 529 plan for college funds
  • regional awards
  • requests for financial aid
  • Loan-free schools
  • Employer-sponsored education
  • Credits for dual enrollment and Advanced Placement
  • Previous evaluations of learning
  • programs for ROTC
  • Programs for regional tuition exchanges

529 Plan for College Savings

The majority of the entire cost of education was paid for by parent income and savings, totaling $11,800 on average, or almost 45%, according to Sallie Mae’s How America Pays For Education 2021.

Compared to other savings options like noncollege savings accounts and retirement accounts, college 529 savings plans were used to cover a larger portion of the cost of education. These plans allow families to grow their savings tax-free as long as the funds are used for eligible educational expenses.

According to Sallie Mae spokesperson Rick Castellano’s email, “a little more than a third of parents (37%) used a college savings account, like a 529, to help pay for college last year which is consistent with our data from 2019–20.” “Although this number is holding steady, it still means around two-thirds of families are not utilizing these tax-advantaged accounts.”

Regional Scholarships

Institutional scholarships are provided by colleges and universities, but students can further reduce their tuition expenses by applying for local scholarships, which are usually provided by businesses, nonprofits, or houses of worship.

Local scholarships are frequently far less competitive than national scholarships, even though they do not always translate into significant award amounts.

Additionally, several businesses award scholarships to their employees’ dependents.

Appeals for Financial Aid

The FAFSA calculates a family’s financial needs based on “prior-prior year” data. For instance, federal tax returns from 2020 are used in the 2022–2023 FAFSA. However, families can ask a college for a financial aid appeal, also known as a professional judgment, if they have recently experienced a change in their financial circumstances, such as a job loss, pay reduction, or excessive costs for dependent care.

“In light of extenuating circumstances and evolving economic conditions, colleges must adapt,” emailed Bob Collins, vice president of financial assistance at Western Governors University in Utah. “College financial aid departments nationwide responded to an increase in professional infections after the coronavirus pandemic upended the personal finances of countless students and families.”

Schools with No Loans

Some universities, such as Stanford University in California or Amherst College in Massachusetts, strive to provide for every student’s fully demonstrated need without the need for loans. This means that grants, scholarships, and work-study are available forms of financial assistance. There are situations when only students from lower- or moderate-income families are eligible for these financial help programs.

“A lot of students focus too much on outside scholarships when they could be applying to schools that offer competitive financial aid packages,” says Nat Smitobol, a master college admissions counselor at the education consulting firm Ivywise, located in New York.

Employer-sponsored tuition support

In addition to pursuing a degree, many students balance other obligations like parenting or employment. However, several businesses—including some fast-food chains—offer tuition assistance to help staff members finance a college education.

Credits for Dual Enrollment and Advanced Placement

A student’s or family’s ability to save money on college tuition can also be aided by strong marks on Advanced Placement tests in high school. Some universities, like Rhode Island’s Brown University, do not grant credits for courses; nevertheless, most do so following AP results. Alternatively, students can enroll in higher-level courses provided they meet the requirements.

Dual enrollment is an additional way for high school students to obtain college credit. Students can earn credits for free or at a reduced cost at participating institutions, such as nearby community colleges, through these programs, which are also referred to as “early college.”

Dual enrollment courses are offered independently of the high school curriculum and may be applied toward dual credit, allowing students to receive credit for both college and high school coursework in the same subject.

Previous evaluations of learning

Prior learning assessments have a big impact on how educational techniques are developed and improved. These tests offer useful data regarding curriculum development, student involvement, and the effectiveness of teaching tactics. By analyzing prior performance and outcomes, educators can identify areas for growth and implement changes that enhance the learning experience.

Assessments of learning sometimes involve the use of formative assessments, student surveys, standardized tests, and qualitative research methods like focus groups and interviews. These resources contain data on learning attitudes, academic success, and the overall effectiveness of the educational process. By attentively studying this data, teachers can gain greater insight into what works, what needs to be changed, and what promotes student advancement.

In addition to offering direction for decision-making in the classroom, previous evaluations of learning have a wider impact on educational policy and reform. By examining trends in student performance across a range of demographics and contexts, policymakers and educational institutions can pinpoint systemic strengths and weaknesses and implement evidence-based efforts to promote equity and quality in education.

Programs for ROTC

Through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), college students have a unique chance to combine their academic aspirations with leadership development and the potential to be commissioned as officers in the US Armed Forces. An overview of the range of programs available is provided below:

1. Army ROTC:

The largest and most comprehensive program, it is offered at over 1,700 schools and universities in the US. It offers a comprehensive training program that includes military science studies, leadership development seminars, and physical fitness instruction. Students who complete the program can become commissioned officers and choose from a variety of Army branches.

2. Air Force ROTC:

This program, which is available at over 1,400 universities, develops students’ leadership skills to prepare them for careers as Air Force officers. The program emphasizes aeronautical technology, cooperation, and communication heavily. Like Army ROTC, it concludes with commissioning following graduation, but with a focus on Air Force responsibilities.

3. Navy ROTC:

This program offers a path to becoming an officer in the Navy or Marine Corps and is available at over 130 universities. The curriculum includes instruction in leadership, seamanship, and naval science. Pupils may opt to focus on engineering, intelligence, aviation, or any other field related to the Navy or Marine Corps. They will become commissioned officers in the field of their choice upon graduation.

The following are the three main branches that provide ROTC programs. Students interested in a career in the Coast Guard can also take a similar path through the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI), which combines academic courses with leadership development and summer training opportunities.

Keep in mind that each ROTC program has different entrance requirements, training requirements, and scholarship options. It takes great thought to select the school or branch that best fits your academic goals and military aspirations.

Programs for regional tuition exchanges

Regional tuition exchange programs offer significant financial advantages to students who wish to pursue higher education outside of their home state. Students can attend participating state public universities and schools for a significant discount—often for nearly as little as it would cost to go in-state—thanks to these programs.

Notable Regional Tuition Exchange Programs:

Student Exchange at the National Student Clearinghouse (NSCSE): Sixteen regional exchange agreements including over 180 public institutions and colleges nationwide are part of this extensive initiative. Each regional agreement has its own governing board, qualification conditions, and member institutions.

The New England Regional Student Program (NERSP) allows students from six New England states—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont—to enroll at participating public colleges in any of the member states at in-state tuition rates.
Students from participating states can attend public universities in other member states at a discounted tuition rate—typically 150% of in-state tuition—through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) program. It permits students to travel between the sixteen western states.
These are merely a few of the several regional programs for tuition exchange that exist in the United States. Examining the options in the field of your choice can save a significant amount of money for your chosen course of study.

Benefits and Requirements:

Participating in a regional tuition exchange program has several advantages, including:

Lower tuition: Students can attend public out-of-state universities for significantly less money, which could increase access to higher education.
several educational options, including access to additional academic programs and institutions outside of your area.
Exploration of the self and culture: The opportunity to see the world and broaden your horizons on a personal and professional level.
It’s important to keep in mind that every program has different requirements, many of which rely on your academic standing and where you live. Make sure you thoroughly research the programs in your area to find out about the eligibility requirements, participating colleges, and the application procedure.


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