Economy Class

Cody Berman

ARE YOU NERVOUS about college costs? You should be. According to the College Board, the average cost to attend a public four-year university as an in-state student in 2017-18 was $20,770. Private four-year universities averaged a whopping $46,950. Ouch.

Lucky for you, the system can be beat. Here are four great ways to cut college costs:

1. Scholarships and Grants. Thousands of dollars in scholarships and grants are available—but you have to apply. The application process may seem daunting at first, but by using a strategy I call “templifying,” the task is simple.

During my high-school and college years, I applied for more than 100 scholarships. If you think I typed out over 100 individual scholarship essays, you’re wrong. From my experience, 80% of scholarship prompts can be answered by a pre-built arsenal of five or six “template” essays.

These prompts include questions like: Why did you select your major? What are your future goals? What is your biggest failure and what did you learn from that experience? Why do you deserve this scholarship? What is your greatest accomplishment?

After building several essay response templates, an aspiring college student can apply for hundreds of scholarships in a fraction of the time. What scholarships should you apply for? Check out sites such as, and

Meanwhile, the first step in qualifying for grants is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Even if you don’t think you qualify for needs-based aid, fill out the application anyway. According to a NerdWallet study, an estimated $3 billion in federal Pell grants go unclaimed simply because college entrants failed to fill out the FAFSA.

2. AP and CLEP Exams. Advanced Placement (AP) and College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams are the best nonmonetary ways to cut college costs. Qualifying scores on these exams count as college credits. With the average college course costing around $1,800, these exams can potentially save tens of thousands of dollars.

Most high schools offer AP courses as part of their curriculum, while CLEP courses typically aren’t offered. What’s driving this? The AP program is heavily promoted in schools because of its alignment with the Common Core curriculum.

Both AP and CLEP exams can be attempted without taking an accompanying course. Sure, this is slightly more difficult and requires more motivation. Still, there are hundreds of free and paid resources online to help prep for these exams.

3. Dual Enrollment. This is when a high school student takes college courses at a nearby university, on top of their regular course load. An ambitious student can enter college with dozens of credit hours completed by enrolling in these types of programs.

The best part is that most participating universities allow high school students to take the courses for free or close to it. To receive college credit for a course, a student must typically achieve a grade of C- or better.

Similar to the AP and CLEP exams, this strategy can eliminate costly semesters from a student’s college career. One advantage of dual enrollment is that the student actually gets to participate in a college-level course, instead of just taking an exam on the subject. Check with your local high school to see what dual enrollment options are available.

4. Community Colleges. These are often shunned because of their lack of prestige. But there are four sound arguments for attending a two-year community college.

First, community college courses cost a fraction of those offered at public or private four-year universities. Second, students can commute from home, thereby saving on housing and food costs. Third, at many institutions, the first two years of coursework are typically “general education” requirements—meaning the courses don’t necessarily pertain to a student’s all-important major. Finally, if a student studies for two years at a community college and then transfers to a more prestigious university to complete his or her degree, it’s the university that bestows the degree. Employers care about the final destination, not the beginning of the journey.

There’s a fifth potential reason to attend community college first: Some state universities have scholarship programs for community college attendees. These programs are typically based on achieving a minimum grade point average—and they may cover the full cost of attending the state university.

Cody Berman blogs at For more on holding down college costs, check out his Ultimate College Guide. Follow Cody on Twitter @FlytoFi.

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