10 Ways to Pay Less for College

Sarah Reese
Apr 26, 2021

There are a lot of ways you can pay for college...Here's the order of where to start to save the most money.

It’s no surprise that college is expensive; but there are ways to be savvy about tuition costs and SAVE money.   You may be thinking “this is impossible”; however, we have 10 ideas you may not have thought of to pay less for college.

By following these tips, you may find yourself in a better financial situation when it comes to paying for your education. Now, let's answer the burning question...   How can you pay less for college?  

1. Research financial aid options ASAP

By planning ahead and beginning to research financial aid options as soon as possible, you are more likely to do well in the aid process over those who miss deadlines and procrastinate.

Additionally, competition for financial aid increases when the economy is weak (Princeton Review), so get ahead of the competition by starting early!  

2. Apply for scholarships and grants

Seek out money that you don’t have to pay back. The best way to do this is via scholarships and grants!   Scholarships are offered by schools, states, and private institutions. Grants may also be offered based on your career, program, state-based grants, and school offerings. Therefore, it is important to research and discover which scholarships and grants you are eligible for.

If you’re worried about applying to scholarships correctly, we've created a College Scholarship Application Checklist If you're not sure how to start researching scholarships, we have a post outlining everything you need to know about scholarships before you start applying.

3. Apply for financial aid (even if it seems unnecessary)

Finances can take a turn for the worst. You don’t want to be caught in a situation where you require financial aid -- due to some unforeseen circumstance -- only to realize that you have missed the deadline.   Apply for those priority deadlines, even if you think you don’t qualify.

For more information, we outlined everything you need to know about financial aid, including when to apply and frequently asked questions about the financial aid process.  

4. Pursue federal loans first

If you have to borrow money for college, pursue federal student loans before private loans.  Federal student loans offer protection for the borrower and the lender, along with potentially lower interest rates.

Additionally, you may be eligible for student loan forgiveness, which is not available to private loan borrowers. In order to apply for federal student loans, you must fill out the FAFSA form.

5. Don’t rule out “expensive schools”

Seemingly expensive colleges have increased their aid budgets in order to attract applicants who are more price-resistant. Of course, you should have a financial aid back-up plan in place. For example, applying to a school in your home state so you can live at home will save you money on room and board. 

Apply to colleges strategically. Remember, you are likely to receive a better aid package if you exceed the school’s admission criteria. Make your application even more competitive by earning high SAT and ACT scores.   

6. AP courses

Take all of the AP courses you can and prepare for those exams!  High scores on AP exams can land you course credits, which can ultimately reduce the amount you need to pay for college.  

7. Prepare for claimable tax benefits

You can reduce taxes up to $2,500 a year per child (IRS)!   

8. Be realistic about debt

Research starting salary information from graduates at your chosen school.   This will offer insight into how much money you will make on your planned career path when you have to begin repaying student loans.


9. Do NOT put tuition on a credit card

Between interest rates and other fees, credit card debt is incredibly expensive. You may need a credit card for an unexpected emergency, so you’ll want to avoid maxing out on that borrowing limit (Princeton Review).  

10. Request additional aid, if needed

If your circumstances change, some colleges may be inclined to help. However, the college will require supporting documentation well beforehand. 

If you didn't receive the financial aid you'd hoped for, you can look into requesting more.

10 ways to pay less for college