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How to Save Big Bucks on a College Education

by Sarah Rawson

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A college education is the ticket to a better future, and no doubt most people are aware how hard it is to get ahead these days without having that degree on the wall. And while a college education is almost a prerequisite to a successful life, it can cost a pretty penny. For those who want to go after that degree while still saving big bucks on their college education, there are a few major points that can definitely help get the job done.

Apply for Loans, Scholarships and Grants

Both the federal and state governments, as well as a variety of organizations, have numerous grants, loan and scholarship programs to make it easier for a person to pay for college. This financial aid can be essential to getting the education you need without having to pay an arm and a leg.

Before even seeking financial aid, you'll need to fill out a financial aid information form known as the FAFSA form. This FAFSA form asks a series of questions related to your annual income and tax information that will gauge how much financial aid you're eligible for in any given school year. The government has a set of loans available to you that will allow you to go to school without having to dig into your wallet and that also have reasonable interest rates. The government allocates your loan payments by semester and will ensure that you get the money you need for tuition before the semester begins.

The government offers a host of grants that depend on your specific needs. The most well-known government school grant is the PELL grant, which is awarded to those who need an extra boost and have filled out their FAFSA forms. This PELL grant is awarded a certain number of times throughout your college career and is typically allocated in time for each semester to start.

Outside of loans and grants, it pays to see what types of scholarships you're eligible to receive. One of the largest scholarship websites out there is, where you can tailor your search and receive email alerts on those scholarships that apply to your particular criteria. Some scholarships are awarded based on academic performance, field of study, and a host of other categories. It's essentially free money and can help you save huge amounts of cash on college. Another option is Reserve Officer Training Corps (R.O.T.C.), where you can go to school while training for a military career.

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Do Your Research

In terms of savings, it makes the most sense to shop around in terms of school pricing. It's important for you to weigh the pros and cons of going to a certain school knowing that this is money you'll be paying back for a long time. The biggest way to cut costs is to find a school in state. Out-of-state tuition is drastically more expensive than in state, so if you've found a program that has your field of study in your state of residence, it may make sense to lean that way. The money you'll save will really add up. According to recent statistics, students from out of state attending Florida State University paid more than four times as much for tuition compared to resident students. Another example is Erie Community College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where resident students paid almost half the tuition compared to their out-of-state counterparts.

It also helps to find out how many years of study your degree requires. Some programs take a minimum of five years to complete and that extra year can be the difference of thousands of dollars. A huge way to save money is to take summer courses at a community college or online for a fraction of the price. Be certain to make sure the community college or online college can transfer your credits to your main college or university.

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Take Inventory of Your Personal Spending

When you look around, there are likely many areas of spending in your life you can trim down somewhat. Maybe you don't need that flashy cell phone that will probably be obsolete in a few years. Perhaps you don't require as many cable channels or you could stand to eat out less. Be creative about saving money: brown bag your lunch, walk instead of driving or taking the bus, and borrow video, gaming and music CDs from the library instead of buying them, for example. Look for ways to save money in your daily life. You'll be surprised at how many ways you can cut costs without having to make major sacrifices. Although these suggestions all may seem like petty decisions, this money adds up quickly and can seriously cut into the cash you have to work with that you can use toward books or tuition.

Updated November 2013

Sarah Rawson is currently tutoring online Masters in Finance programs online and writing as a freelancer. Sarah's articles mainly appear on higher education blogs.

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