4 Ways to Get Your Bachelor’s on the Cheap!
May 6, 2013

College costs continue to rise as do student loan balances, default and delinquency rates and post-grad underemployment! We’ve written before that one of the best tools to combat rising student loan debt is financial education prior to borrowing. But another great tactic to handle student loan debt is to not take it on (or take on the very minimum) to begin with. Sounds great, right? And no, we’re not endorsing that you skip college altogether or delay going – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. We recommend you go earlier and often as a strategy to get your Bachelor’s more affordably!

Consider these four ways to get your Bachelor’s on the cheap:

#1 Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment – if you don’t know – is simultaneous enrollment in high school and college (also called concurrent enrollment). High school juniors and seniors can enroll in college and take freshman level courses to knock out college courses early. In some states, the local school system will pay for the college courses that are taken in lieu of high school courses. I did this back in the day before it even had a name. I was lucky enough to live near a great community college in Miami and took three courses between my junior and senior years.

Not many students are willing to sacrifice their summer, but in this day and age, you can take courses during the school year and will be excused from school to attend classes on campus. This can help you amass a number of college credits for minimal out of pocket costs (books fees mainly) before you graduate high school. And before you think your student is too busy to tackle college now, a Chronicle of Higher Education writer recommends dual enrollment as a stronger program than AP courses!

#2 Community College

When it comes to your first two years of college, there are standard classes that you’ll take no matter where you go. English 101, World History, Geography and Intro to everything are much the same at a community college or a state university. Granted Harvard’s freshman English may be more challenging, but for the rest of us, the coursework is very similar.

Knocking out core courses at a community college can save you from having any out of pocket costs for your first two years of school. Pell Grants, scholarships, part time work and a little parental scratch can cover the cost and get you to your junior year at bargain basement prices!

One caveat – you should check with your planned-on four year university to ensure that the community college credits will transfer and align to fulfill all requirements. If both schools are in the same state, alignment may be mandated by state law!

#3 Zoom on Through

If you can get out of school in three years instead of four, even if you do have to borrow to finance your education, this can save you a lot of financial heartache later. One great way is to take one extra course per semester. This should shave one semester off of your total time in school without mentally exhausting yourself. And if a 2011 study is true and college students are spending 40 hours per week socializing and just 13 hours studying, seems like there’s plenty of time to take another course!

And as a boon, there is usually a range of hours where the cost is identical, so the additional course is free (except for your time and the cost of a textbook). For instance at Columbia College in Chicago, between 12-16 hours costs $10,600 so tacking on that extra four hour course is gratis!

Low-cost online college course provider Straighter Line recommends you take your extra class on a pass/fail basis if possible and says “Also take online classes over the summer, over winter breaks and other ‘free’ periods.” We agree! The sacrifice in time you make while in school will translate to a more prosperous financial future when you graduate.

#4 Online Courses

And speaking of Straighter Line’s recommendations – we also recommend you consider supplemental online courses. Your college may offer online courses that you can enroll in to get that extra class without extra time sitting in a classroom. Or during the summer, you can take a low-cost online course to fulfill some elective credits to get you out of school faster. Courses in your major may be better taken in class, but there are plenty of required courses that need not be taken face to face.

As with community college and dual enrollment courses, check with the university you intend to graduate from to ensure the credits will be accepted before signing on. And to get the cheapest price – opt for a non-profit online school rather than a for-profit university where prices can equal (or far exceed) the costs at your university. The Frugal Dad has compiled a list of the most affordable online schools. Remember, the goal is to save, save, save!

If you’re just getting started with college and looking for a way to better manage your student loan debt, try Tuition.io’s free tool to track your student loan debt, optimize payments and contact your lender. And also check out our other blogs on getting a degree more affordably:

Get a College Reality Check – Chronicle of Higher Education Launches Insightful New Tool

Stop Student Loan Problems Before They Start – Financial Education Is Key

Pay As You Go – A More Affordable Student Loan Model

Catastrophic Costs: Who’s to Blame for Public College Rate Hikes?

5 Easy Was to Cut College Costs