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How to Get a College Degree for Less

Posted on 8/16/2012 12:09 EST

You all know the refrain: To get ahead these days, a college degree is the minimum requirement. But the cost of college -- tuition, room and board, books -- is enough to make you rethink your prospects. Don't. We found many ways to cut the costs of college.

Photo by sxc.hu/1060

Save Money on College Before You Start.

One way to save money is by earning college credits while you're still in high school. Ambitious students can take Advanced Placement classes, which are taught at a college level. Many universities award college credit based on AP test scores. Enrolling at the local community college while attending high school is another path to cheap college credits. In either case, you save on tuition and the costs associated with living away from home.

Save Money on College Tuition.

In the first two years, many degree programs require a set of introductory courses that cover similar ground regardless where you're enrolled. So spend that time studying at a community or state college and transfer to a private college or four-year university for the last two years.

You can also save money on college by attending an in-state public university for the duration of your undergraduate years. Employers and graduate programs consider numerous factors when choosing among applicants, and an undergraduate degree from a private institution might not be worth the expense.

Before deciding where to apply, check out the departments and course list to discern whether the college or university is a good fit. Although college is a time for intellectual experimentation, don't get carried away. Save money by choosing a major as early as possible. Stay on track and don't waste funds on indecisiveness.

Many schools let students work toward combined degrees. A joint bachelor's and MBA or law degree, for example, can shave a year or so from the usual number of semesters required to complete both degrees. Taking required classes that overlap leverages both time and money.

Students interested in foreign cultures might consider spending a semester or a full year abroad. Truly committed (and adventurous) students can even study overseas for their entire undergraduate career. Tuition and living expenses are often less costly outside the United States.

Photo by sxc.hu/lusi

In the almost-too-good-to-be-true category, these 12 schools let students who meet the admissions requirements attend tuition-free.

Save Money on College Living Expenses.

Apart from the obvious living-at-home option, there are many ways to save on room and board. For starters, an off-campus apartment might be cheaper than a dorm room and a pricey meal plan. If you're interested in Greek culture, a sorority or fraternity house could mean cheap room and board. About those meal plans: If you have to choose one, start at the low end of the options and gauge whether the meals please your palate.

Save Money on College with Tax Breaks.

There are a bevy of tax breaks available to college-bound students and Smart Money lists several. For example, some students might be better off independently filing a tax return come April 15 than remaining a dependent on their parents' return. Students can also take advantage of a tax-advantaged college savings plan known as a 529 plan.

Some companies, including Starbucks and FedEx, sponsor tuition reimbursement programs for employees. Not only does this reduce out-of-pocket expenses, the funds (up to $5,250) are tax-free. Many employers also offer financial assistance toward the attainment of a graduate degree.

Save Money on College Payments.

Fin Aid reports that certain colleges freeze the four-year annual cost of tuition at the rate for incoming freshmen. Other colleges have actually cut tuition in recent years. Check out the list before the offers disappear.

by Teal Malia (Google+ Profile)

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