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7 alternative ways to pay for college

The news on college costs is mighty grim, but there are plenty of creative ways to keep your college dream on track.

Dwindling state and federal aid, lower endowments and drops in fund raising have forced many colleges and universities to raise tuition prices and cut back on financial aid programs.

What's a cash-strapped student to do?

Never Give Up on Scholarships

You don't have to be a stellar student to land a big scholarship. Unless it's strictly an academic scholarship, your grades don't really matter. As long as your grades make the cutoff, often a 2.5 GPA or higher, you have as good a chance as any applicant of bagging a scholarship.

And there's no reason your scholarship search can't continue through four years of college.

"It's really just beating the bushes," says Barbara O'Brien, director of college bound marketing for Sallie Mae's planning-for-college destination, CollegeAnswer.com.

The Web is a great way to get started. Check out individual college Web sites, and search for scholarship sources on sites such as FastWeb, College Board, Wiredscholar.com and ScholarshipCoach.com. Avoid sites that charge you to search for scholarships.

Don't overlook local sources of scholarships. Community-based awards may be smaller, but they're also easier to win.

"College Answer has the largest online scholarship database containing more than 2.4 million scholarships worth more than $15 billion in
funds," O'Brien says. "Students should look to organizations such as the Kiwanis Club, YMCA, parents' employers and area businesses."

You can learn about local competitions at the public library and at the guidance office at your local high school.

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It's time to pull out all the stops. Be flexible. Be determined. Be willing to give the unusual a try.

Here's a roundup of some offbeat and overlooked strategies for pursuing and paying for a college degree.

1. Accelerate your degree
Accelerated classes cram a semester's worth of material into six- or eight-week sessions. The classes, while intense, can really help to move up your graduation date. You land the degree you want at a much lower price.

Tuition in an accelerated degree program at Albert Magnus College in New Haven, Conn., is about half the cost of its traditional degree program. And many schools offer bachelor's degree programs in three years instead of four.

For students on the physician track, George Washington University in Washington, D.C., offers a seven-year program integrating a bachelor's degree with a medical degree, saving a full year's costs.

At Seton Hill College in Greensburg, Pa., a student can earn a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in elementary art education for the price of a bachelor's degree.

An accelerated degree program is a great option for a student with a clear career goal. If you're ready to work hard, why not put your college education on the fast track?

2. Be a transfer student
Consider the power of credit transfer.

In many cases, credits earned at a less-expensive college or university can be transferred and applied toward a degree from a pricey, elite school. You could earn a prestigious diploma at a fraction of the price.

-- Updated: March 6, 2006




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