Money Management

4 Extreme Ways to Save Money on a College Education

By  Karen Banes

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There’s no doubt that attending college can be expensive. So it’s not surprising that many potential students are looking for ways to save money on a college education. There are plenty of small moves you can make to do this, but there are also some more drastic options you could consider. Here are four of them:

1. Don’t Go

I don’t offer this advice lightly. It’s true that most people think the significant amount of money spent on college is worth it long-term and that the right degree can greatly increase your income over a lifetime. But is college 100% essential for 100% of the population? No. Not anymore. Not with 21stcentury technology.

It will depend on your career aspirations but informal education, some of which is freely available on the internet, might get you to where you want to be. This is especially true for freelancers in industries such as graphic design or content writing. Once you have a great portfolio and a few testimonials, which you can often get through doing some volunteer work, it’s highly unlikely a client will care about your credentials.

If you want the security of being an employee, college still isn’t always necessary. We’re fed the line that if we don’t go to college we’ll be flipping burgers our whole life, but there are a number of jobs that pay over $75,000, that don’t require a college education. Most of them are jobs that require practical skills so there may be a lot of on-the-job training before you’re earning the big bucks. But on-the-job training doesn’t cost you anything. In fact, you’ll earn while you learn.

2. Go Abroad

America has some of the highest college tuition costs in the world, and the typical study abroad experience (organized by your school, usually for one semester, and often undertaken in another rich, Western country) will add even more to your final bill. But there are hacks.

In her book The New Global Student, author Maya Frost describes how she and her husband left their suburban life in the USA and traveled the world, with their four teenage daughters in tow. It also describes how they got them through high school and college, in an affordable way that gave them true global experiences.

Their four daughters went to college, graduated (early), secured great jobs, learned new languages, and had experiences many traditional college students dream of. This option isn’t an easy or straightforward one. However, if you’re prepared to do a lot of research on the options, you can put together a set of college credits that earns you a degree for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the USA.

You’ll also have a resume full of experiences that will impress future employers far more than being head of your sorority or captain of the debate club. If this interests you in any way, I suggest you start your research with the book mentioned above.

3. Go Online

Studying online usually works out cheaper than studying on campus, but there’s a huge amount of variation, and a lot of variables to consider. As with an on-campus degree, your tuition costs will depend on the institution you study with, and your cost-per-credit at a top online school will potentially be more than at an on-campus college.

According to a recent US News article, the cost-per-credit at online schools can vary from $53 to over $1000, so it’s vital to check out a few options if this is something you’re planning on.

Obviously, there are a lot of expenses involved in campus living, which are eliminated when you study online. Another big advantage for most people of studying online is that they’ll generally be able to continue to work, possibly full-time, while getting their degree.

Studying online is generally seen as a good way to save money for older students with other commitments, and an affordable way to finish a degree, for those who already have some college credits. It can, however, feel like a drastic decision for a new high school graduate. For the average 18-year-old, college is about a lot more than studying, and the ‘college experience’ can seem almost as important as getting a degree.

Not everyone wants the college experience though. If you’re someone who doesn’t, an online degree could be the answer.

4. Go to Community College

This option may not sound that drastic, but for some upper middle-class students at top high schools, it really is. Community college is not even on their radar, but maybe it should be, in the current economic climate. Community college tuition, again, varies, but the National Society of High School Scholars suggests it can be as low as $3,500 a year, which is around a tenth of the cost of an out-of-state public university.

Obviously how suitable a community college education is for you will depend on your long-term objectives. It’s often assumed that community colleges don’t even offer full 4-year degrees, focusing more on two-year Associate Degrees. This is not, of course, true of all colleges and, to circle back to the first suggestion in this article, do you actually need a 4-year degree to pursue your chosen career?

There are plenty of reasonably high-paying jobs that you can do with an Associate Degree. There’s also the option of transferring to another more prestigious school with your community college credits, as long as you meet other admission requirements.

Before you commit to a course of action, take a look at all the options open to you. It will put you in a very different position from your peers if you can start your adult life debt-free or close to it, and that doesn’t always mean you’ll need to spend your life flipping burgers.

You might also enjoy:
How Long Does it Really Take to Pay Off Student Loans
Use a 529 Plan to Save for College (and Save Thousands of Dollars)

Karen Banes

About the Author

Karen Banes

I’m a freelance writer specializing in online business, personal finance, travel and lifestyle. I also work as a content creator for hire, helping brands and businesses tell their stories, grow their audiences, and reach their ideal customers. I’ve lived, worked and studied in six countries, across three continents. Stop by my blog to learn how to run your own (very) small business on your own terms. You can also connect with me at my website or follow me on

Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.

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