Family Finances

How to Pay for College

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    • FNBO

      Jul 08 2020

How to Pay for College

Seven tips for making it more affordable

We’ve all heard the news about the continuous rise in the costs of attending college. Unless you are one of the lucky few to receive a full-ride scholarship, having to pay for all or a portion of these costs is unavoidable if you wish to pursue higher education. However, there are things you can do to control how much you end up spending in order to earn your degree. Whether you already have a college savings fund set aside or are paying as you go, these seven tips will help you maximize your money and make paying for college more affordable.

  1. Attend a Local Community College
    One of the biggest ways to reduce the cost of a college education is by attending a local community college as opposed to a four-year college. According to, students can expect to save as much as $30,000 per year by attending a community college instead of a private four-year college and about $8,000 per year compared to a public four-year in-state college. Many students opt to attend community colleges to complete their prerequisite classes before transferring to a four-year college that is best suited for the degree they are pursuing. Regardless, attending a community college for all or part of your college education can amount to huge savings.

  2. Skip the Dorm - Live Off-Campus or at Home
    Nothing is more conducive to experiencing all that college has to offer than living on campus. But that experience comes with a hefty price tag. According to, students can expect to pay an average of $8,887 per year to live in a dorm at a public school and $10,089 per year at a private school. When you divide those numbers by a typical eight-month academic year, the average monthly costs are $1,110 and $1,261 respectively per month. Keep in mind, these costs are in addition to tuition and fees. The average total cost of renting a two-bedroom, off-campus apartment is approximately $1,350 per month (including the cost for rent, electricity and internet). By living with a roommate, you can cut your portion of the cost down to $675 per month. This is more than $400 per month cheaper than living on campus. Of course you still need to consider the costs for food and transportation to determine if the savings is worth it for you. Also, apartments tend to come with a 12-month commitment. If you don’t plan to take summer courses and intend to go home for the summer, renting an apartment may not be the best choice.

    Better yet, if you attend college in your hometown and your parents will allow it, try living at home for free during your college career. If free isn’t an option, offer to complete chores around the house or pay a small amount for rent to earn your keep. It’s likely to be a win-win situation for you and your parents.

  3. Do Your Meal Plan Math
    When it comes to meal plans, it seems that no two colleges are the same. But school meal plans can be pricey and many colleges require incoming freshman and sophomores to purchase them. If a meal plan isn’t mandatory for you, be sure to do your meal plan math to see if it is worth it. According to Edmit, the average cost of an eight-month meal plan is $4,500. If you break that down by three meals a day, the cost per day is about $18.75. According to Forbes, the average cost to prepare a meal at home is $4.31 or about $12.93 per day, which is 31 percent cheaper than a college meal plan. The amount you’ll save is likely even more if your favorite meals consist of the stereotypical college cuisine of ramen noodles, pizza bites and Pop-Tarts.

  4. Consider Cheaper Textbook Options
    In this digital age, it’s hard to believe that hard textbooks are still widely used. For many, reading and studying a physical textbook is still preferred. But the cost for college textbooks can really add up. US News reports that college students spend about $1,240 on books and supplies during an academic year. This cost could be significantly reduced by opting for digital versions of the same textbook – as much as 60 percent, according to Study Breaks. Plus, many digital textbooks come with added features such as search functions and the ability to add notes.

    Another option is renting your text books. Retailers such as Amazon and CampusBooks, have textbook renting services that can save you up to 90 percent.

  5. Work Part Time in Your Field of Study
    Another way to make college more affordable is simply to work part time to help cover the costs associated with pursing your degree. An added bonus would be to find a job with a company related to your field of study. Not only will it give you extra spending cash, you will be less likely to need student loans, and you will have valuable experience on your resume before you even graduate. In addition, consider seeking an employer who offers tuition reimbursement to help pay for your college expenses. In any event, having an income while you are in school means extra cash in your pocket.

  6. Take Advantage of Tax Credits
    The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is available for eligible college students which is worth up to $2,500 per year. This could be extremely beneficial to helping cover the costs of college education. Be sure to visit the IRS website for full details and to determine your eligibility.

  7. Apply for Student Loans
    Applying for student loans is another way to help cover all or some of your college expenses, as long as you do so responsibly. When taking out student loans, a good rule of thumb it to keep the total loan balance less than the anticipated salary you expect to earn in the first year after you graduate. Also, be sure you have a plan in place for quickly paying off your student loans once you graduate.

While obtaining a college education is expensive, there are things you can do to make it more affordable for you. Aside from the tips listed here, you can start today by setting aside money to help you or a loved one cover upcoming college expenses. A Personal Banker from FNBO can help you set up a savings account that meets your needs. Call or stop by a branch today.


The articles in this blog are for informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations. When making decisions about your financial situation, consult a financial professional for advice. Articles are not regularly updated, and information may become outdated.