college

25 can't-miss funding tips

Are you set to shuffle off to school soon but don't know what to do about the gap in costs versus cash, or are you hesitant to enroll because you don't know how you'll ever fund it without signing your life away to loans?

College expenses don't end with tuition and run the gamut from computers to late-night pizza. Follow the cost-cutting strategies below to make your college dreams a reality and keep you out of line at the plasma donation center.

1. Start at a junior college.

Completing your first two years of college at a two-year instead of a four-year institution could save you thousands of dollars. Tuition and fees cost, on average, $2,272 per year at a two-year public institution instead of the average $5,836 charged at four-year public colleges in 2006-2007, according to the College Board's Trends in College Pricing.

On top of that, full-time students enrolled in public two-year colleges receive about $2,200 in grants and tax benefits on average from the federal government, state governments, institutions and private sources. This aid reduces the average tuition and fees paid to a net price of less than $100!

2. Take advantage of student exchange.

Staying in-state or participating in a regional student exchange, in which some states offer reduced tuition rates for students from nearby states, will score you big savings. Out-of-state students attending public colleges and universities pay an average total cost of $26,304 instead of the $16,357 average cost for in-state students, according to the College Board.

3. Work for housing.

Room and board costs can add a whopping $6,000 or more to the cost of your college education -- per year. According to the College Board, room and board fees at public four-year universities averaged $6,960 per year in 2006, rising to $8,149 at private four-year schools. Colleges offer Resident Assistants discounted room and board. Looking for other work-for-room opportunities near campus could really pay off. If possible, stay with mom and dad or another relative -- it's not unreasonable to expect commuting from home to cut your total college expenses in half if you're at a public university.

4. Buy used textbooks.

Not only are you helping save a tree, you could save 50 percent buying used books as opposed to new, according to Mark Kantrowitz, a college funding expert and publisher of FinAid.org. Try finding out what books are needed for your classes as early as possible and before you search the bookstore, look for campus postings and online exchanges. Selling your books when you're finished is another way to defray the cost.

5. Lock in tuition rates.

Opportunities to lock in rates vary widely, with some schools letting you lock in rates for the coming four years at enrollment and others allowing parents to pay years in advance -- some 529 plans are set up to prepay college tuition. According to the College Board, 20 percent of full-time in-state students enrolled in public four-year colleges and universities faced increases in tuition and fees of 9 percent or more in 2006-2007.

Tip: For biggest prepaid savings, start out early, says Nancy Ziering, CCPS (Certified College Planning Specialist) and president of College and Retirement Solutions in Chatham, N.J., an organization that provides families with specialty financial solutions to take the sting out of paying for college.

6. Get forgiven.

There are a number of loan-forgiveness programs available where, in exchange for a period of working for the public good, all or a portion of your educational loans can be canceled.

Look for loan-forgiveness programs in either your home state or the state you want to live in, Ziering suggests. "Research the field of study you want to get a degree in, within the state you reside or want to reside. If you live in New Jersey and want to work in Pennsylvania, New Jersey isn't going to want to forgive that loan. Have a big-picture thought process about where you want to live and what field of study you want to pursue."

7. Let the Army pay.

ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) generally pays all tuition, fees and textbook costs for participants, as well as a monthly living stipend. Because military service is required upon graduation, make sure this is really what you want.

8. Graduate in four.

Taking those extra classes in tennis or underwater basket weaving, while fun, might delay your graduation. Consider whether you could learn these things from other sources or later in life if they're not critical to your success in your chosen field. While technically "free" if you're paying for full-time studies already, extra semesters will cost you thousands. According to the College Board, students take an average of 6.2 years to earn a bachelor's degree in public colleges and 5.3 years to earn a bachelor's degree in private colleges.

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