Ways to reduce your college tuition bill, as a high school student

Did you know you can save on your college tuition bill by transferring AP credits, taking the CLEP exam, and even negotiating? Yep, and here we explain how. Read on to learn how you can spend less on your college tuition bill.

Saving money for college tuition

1. Take AP classes, and transfer them as college credits.

First, some definitions. 

Advanced Placement classes, or “AP classes,” are college-level courses that students can take while still in high school. These classes are like honor classes, times one hundred! Not only are these classes more advanced, but they also give you a leg up in preparing for college.

“College credits” are units of credits towards college graduation. Classes each earn you a certain number of credits (usually associated with the number of hours per week of class, or with the overall difficulty of the class). Every college or university has a set number of credits you need to earn before you can graduate. If you earn those credits faster than the ordinary 4 years (or 8 semesters), then you can graduate early, and pay less tuition. Or alternatively, if you can’t quite graduate a full semester early but don’t have only a couple credits left, you might be able to pay tuition per credit (as a part-time student), rather than pay the full-time rate.

Okay, so how do you transfer those AP classes to college credits? 

At the end of the semester, students take an AP exam to complete the class and demonstrate knowledge of the material. AP exams are scored on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score a student can receive. Most colleges will give you “college credit” if you score a 4 or a 5 on the AP exam. That said, colleges have different requirements for scores. For example, 58% of public colleges will provide college credit for a score of 3. However, just 33% of private colleges accept a score of 3 for college credit. So check with your college counselor, or on the schools’ own websites, to see what score you should aim for.

2. Take a CLEP exam.

You might have heard the term “CLEP out” or taking the CLEP exam. Like AP tests, CLEP exams help you gain college credit for subjects you’re already an expert in. For example, you might be able to CLEP out of Language classes Spanish 1 and 2 if you took advanced classes in high school. You may pay to take the CLEP exam to count as credit toward your college-level Spanish classes. Once you enter college, CLEP can either help you jump ahead to Spanish 3 (yay, no more learning how to conjugate “ir”!), or can completely fulfill a requirement–leaving you closer to an early graduation and a lower overall tuition bill.

CLEP exams on average take about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete and are offered year-round. These exams can help students save time and money by getting them ahead in their college classes so they can focus on the major / department classes that matter the most.

Over 2900 colleges accept CLEP credits – check to see if your college or university accepts them here!

3. Apply to schools in your state

A quick and easy way to save money on your college tuition bill is to request in-state rates. If you’re a resident of the state where you’re attending college, chances are tuition costs will be significantly lower for you than students who are from out of state. 

If you’re still developing your target college list and worried about the cost of tuition, consider mostly or solely applying to schools in your home state.

Student researching college tuition in her state

4. Request Tuition Waivers

If you’re not a resident of the state where you’re going to college, request information on residency requirements. Some colleges may cut you a break if you plan to live in the state for tuition purposes. These colleges may have their own requirements to consider you a resident.

Tuition waivers are also tax-free. You may apply for a waiver to be exempt from paying expensive out-of-state tuition fees if you qualify, and instead pay in-state rates.

5. Take advantage of your state’s Education Opportunity Fund

Some states have passed legislation to create opportunity funds or opportunity grants for resident students attending a college in the state. Each state has its own eligibility requirements, but most programs are only open to undergraduates. Some examples include:

  • The Texas Educational Opportunity Grant (TEOG) program offers up to $5,876 to students attending public two-year colleges in Texas, to help them earn an Associated degree. Students need to classified as Texas residents, never have been convicted of a felony, be enrolled at least half-time, maintain a 2.5+ GPA, and complete at least 75% of the attempted classes. 
  • The Colorado College Opportunity Fund provides $94 per college credit (so a 30-credit load would generate $2820 in savings). The money goes directly to colleges and universities, on behalf of eligible undergraduates, to help defray some of the cost of tuition. Students who are residents of Colorado for tuition classification purposes and are enrolled in eligible undergrad studies at Colorado State University may participate.
  • The New Jersey Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) provides $200 to $2,650 per year, for students attending any of the 42 participating colleges or universities in the state. The program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students, but applicants must demonstrate financial need, and must be from an “educationally and economically disadvantaged background.”

Some of these programs require separate applications, so make sure you research what’s available in your state–and how to apply.

6. Negotiate your offer!

Gulp. Just the thought of the WORD “negotiating” might make your skin crawl. Are we right? Well, we’re here to assure you that it’s not as bad as it sounds. If you were expecting more financial aid than you received, don’t give up. Do the research, and reach out to your college.

One of the most important numbers to remember is the college’s percentage of need met. Remember that ole EFC? Well, we’re revisiting it because the difference between your EFC and the cost of attendance (COA) is known as your “demonstrated need.” Colleges promise to provide a certain percentage of your demonstrated financial aid needs.

According to Han Hanson, founder of College Logic, if a student’s financial award is less than $15,000, then he or she can appeal the amount based on the award being less than the college’s stated percent of need-met.

If you received a higher financial aid package at another university or college, you can also mention that too. 

Note that to appeal the award offer, you’ll need to approach the admissions office, rather than the financial aid office. Financial aid offices can only go so far to help students, since they only take care of need-based aid. The admissions office is home to larger merit scholarships. They want to win you over as a student to add to their numbers, students accepted-converted rate, and freshman class total. Once you speak with the admissions office – with all of your stats and numbers prepared! – follow up until you receive an answer.

Go into the application processing knowing your numbers so you can confidently negotiate your college tuition bill.

Student graduates high school to go on to college

7. Earn independent scholarship money, while in high school.

There are many scholarships out there with broad eligibility requirements. While many are designed for high school seniors, there are still scholarships open to high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. 

So the best time to earn scholarship money is now. Sign up for Going Merry for free. You can find scholarships matched to your profile (whatever your class year!), and then apply right from our website. We even help you keep track of your scholarship applications – and essays – all in one place.

Kelly Lamano

Though always a creative, Kelly's momentum into the world of writing and publishing arrived when she attended college. She quickly learned the financial value - and cost - of honing her craft, and sought scholarships that would be crucial to not only funding, but fueling her education. She wants to help new students thrive with Going Merry's easy scholarship finder. Kelly holds a bachelor's degree in Broadcast, Print and Online Media, and a minor in Spanish from Florida Southern College.

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