Strategies for Minimizing College Expenses

A man counting bills while writing down his budget

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When it comes to attending college, the huge list of expenses often makes you wonder – is it even worth investing in a four-year degree program? Well, the answer is yes. Despite the expenses, your college degree sets you up for your future endeavors. 

However, you don’t have to go broke trying to build a future. We have put together strategies for minimizing college expenses to help you afford college.

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Top 10 Strategies for Minimizing College Expenses 

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college in the US is $36,436 per student per year. While there’s no denying that college may often break the bank, you can take steps to manage the costs. 

Here’s a list of strategies you can implement to avoid paying the full price and even minimizing your debt in college

A college student reading a textbook

Get a College Scholarship When in High School 

Financial aid money in the form of scholarships and grants goes a long way for college students. In fact, according to research, around 1.58 million scholarships are available to undergraduate and graduate students each year. 

Nonetheless, many students wait until their senior years to apply for aid. With a myriad of scholarship options open to them, waiting will do more harm than good. It’s advisable to start applying for college scholarships as early as possible to secure more free funding for college.

If you’re stuck on where to find more about scholarships and grants, check out the College Board’s free Scholarship Search. You can also leverage free sites like Value Colleges to get insights about colleges that give the best returns on investment. 

Consider a Work-Study Program 

The next best option to offset the cost of higher education is to go for work-study programs. According to Forbes, approximately 34,000 colleges in the US offer federal work-study programs. Under a FWS, both the school or employer and the federal government share the responsibility for half of each student’s pay. 

While it’s a great option to afford your college expenses, your eligibility doesn’t guarantee a job. So, students must find their own positions. Your best bet is to contact the financial aid offices of colleges you’re aiming to get into and inquire about their work-study programs beforehand. 

Start at a Community College

Compared to others, community colleges are exceptionally affordable. If paying for a four-year degree program sounds like a lot, consider attending community college – especially those aligned with state universities – for the initial two years of your degree. 

However, it’s important to make sure the four-year college you’ll attend later accepts credits from community colleges. To play safe, consult a counselor to check if the selected classes align with the transfer requirements for your dream school.

A man counting bills while writing down his budget

Look for Alternative Accommodation and Transportation 

Let’s be honest, tuition costs just mark the beginning of college expenses. Once admitted, you need to bear additional costs such as room and board, course materials, parking, and transportation significantly increasing the total. In some cases, the cumulative costs may double or triple the initial amount. 

One of the best ways to control the above-mentioned expenses is to look for cost-effective alternatives. For instance, you may consider becoming a resident advisor to reduce living costs or opt for shared off-campus housing closer to your college. 

Additionally, try switching to public transportation to further cut fuel expenses and costly parking permits. 

Use Second-Hand Books and Supplies 

We connected with Jerome L. Rekart, Ph.D., who has over 15 years of experience in educational research, and he shared that a simple yet effective strategy to minimize college expenses is to use second-hand books:

“Utilizing second-hand books and supplies is a savvy strategy for minimizing college expenses, as it can drastically cut down the cost of materials that often contribute a significant financial burden for students. This approach not only fosters a culture of sustainability and resourcefulness but also allows students to allocate their savings towards other essential aspects of their college experience.”

One of the biggest expenses for college students is to pay for their textbooks and academic supplies, which often cost them an arm and a leg. These high costs are mainly due to monopolization by a few major market players. Goes without saying that buying brand-new books will cost way more than opting for used ones. 

Yet, the latter turns out to be a more viable option when cutting down expenses. Especially if you’ll be using them for the short term, there’s really no need to buy brand-new books or supplies. In such cases, turning to stores like Amazon for used books or asking your seniors might help you save big. 

Start Saving Early 

Here’s a pro tip: begin saving early for college so when the time comes, you don’t panic! 

To save early, you may use tax-advantaged plans like 529 and Coverdell Education Savings Plans. Although both plans offer federal tax benefits, 529 plans also provide state tax advantages and are easily accessible. Such plans allow families to set aside funds for college expenses well in advance. 

The cherry on top is assets in 529 plans may cover expenses, including tuition, room and board, textbooks, and supplies. However, if you use the earnings for expenses that don’t qualify in the plan, you’ll be charged with taxes and a federal tax penalty. 

Earn College Credits in High School 

Additionally, high school students can save time and money by taking up the chance to earn college credits early through the Advanced Placement (AP) program. Administered by the College Board itself, the AP program offers standardized courses that match the college-level material. 

So, you can seize this opportunity by completing AP coursework and exams. This will help you fast-track the college admission process and credit acquisition. The best part? The AP coursework charges only a fraction of the cost compared to your college expenses. Yet, you’ll have to pay an additional fee for exams. 

A textbook of a student on a table

Choose Your Desired College Wisely 

Admit it or not, choosing which college to attend greatly impacts your college expenses. For instance, a student in California might attend a low-cost community college such as Los Angeles City College. Alternatively, he might go for a pricier state university, such as the University of California, straining his budget big time! 

When choosing a college, your best bet is to weigh the costs and benefits of each institution carefully. This way, you can make a financially sound decision that aligns with your academic and financial goals. 

Graduate on Time 

Before heading off to college, it’s wise to have a clear idea of your career path and desired major. Once you have a solid plan in place, you avoid spending time and money on classes that aren’t relevant to your degree. Also, it saves on workshop costs and paid programs for unimportant certifications. 

On top of that, sticking to your plan helps you graduate on time. This means you will no longer be stuck in your college paying rent and bearing commutation costs for exceeding your four-year time frame. 

Utilize Military College and Veteran Benefits 

Lastly, military veterans with at least 36 months of active duty qualify for financial assistance covering tuition, housing, and books. These benefits are for both officers and enlistees, helping them pursue their dream of getting higher education – at costs lower than you think! 

For those considering both college and military service as post-graduation options, a military academy can be a great option. For instance, institutions like the US Military Academy at West Point, the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, and the US Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs offer pretty strict training and top-tier university education, often at little or no cost to students.

Tips to Save for Your College Tuition

Despite the budget-busting expenses, there are still ways to pursue higher education. Here’s a list of tips and tricks to help you save for your college tuition: 

  • Establish a budget beforehand and stick to it 
  • Utilize your student ID card to access discounts and benefits
  • Surround yourself with financially sound people 
  • Participate in school-sponsored activities that offer cost-saving opportunities
  • Join hands with others to minimize living and transportation costs
  • Exchange textbooks before and after course completion 
  • Use college libraries for academic material 
  • Plan your meals in accordance with your predetermined budget. 
An adult student holding a pen with money in front of him

Related Questions 

How Can I Find Scholarships and Grants to Help Cover College Costs?

To find scholarships and grants, use online databases, seek information from your desired college’s financial aid office, and check out local organizations for opportunities. Then, craft compelling applications to meet specific criteria to get access to various scholarships and grants. 

On Average, What Are the Main Expenses Associated With Attending College?

According to EDI, the average in-state student at a public 4-year institution spends $26,027 for one academic year. The primary expenses that account for this figure include tuition, textbooks, housing, food, transportation, and miscellaneous fees. 

How Can Students Save on Transportation Expenses?

When cutting down expenses, it’s a great idea to save on transportation. Students do so by utilizing public transit, biking, carpooling, or walking whenever possible. They can also use student discounts for public transportation passes or when sharing rides. Plus, consider living close to the campus to minimize commuting expenses. 


Building a successful career often requires a college degree as the key credential that paves the way for financial success. Although the expenses associated with the four-year degree program compared to community colleges expenses, might scare you away, they no longer have to. Just follow the measures we’ve outlined and you’re golden! 

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Aya Andrews


Aya Andrews is a passionate educator and mother of two, with a diverse background that has shaped her approach to teaching and learning. Born in Metro Manila, she now calls San Diego home and is proud to be a Filipino-American. Aya earned her Masters degree in Education from San Diego State University, where she focused on developing innovative teaching methods to engage and inspire students.

Prior to her work in education, Aya spent several years as a continuing education consultant for KPMG, where she honed her skills in project management and client relations. She brings this same level of professionalism and expertise to her work as an educator, where she is committed to helping each of her students achieve their full potential.

In addition to her work as an educator, Aya is a devoted mother who is passionate about creating a nurturing and supportive home environment for her children. She is an active member of her community, volunteering her time and resources to support local schools and organizations. Aya is also an avid traveler, and loves to explore new cultures and cuisines with her family.

With a deep commitment to education and a passion for helping others succeed, Aya is a true inspiration to those around her. Her dedication to her craft, her community, and her family is a testament to her unwavering commitment to excellence in all aspects of her life.

Find your perfect value college is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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