After some lengthy discussions about where your future lies, and exactly the kinds of costs that are staring you in the face, you’ve decided you still want to attend a college or university. Congratulations. Now the hard part starts.
There is one fool proof way to slash the cost of attending school; graduate on time.
Colleges and universities are designed to take 18 year olds and turn them into 22 year old college graduates ready to take on the world, hopefully. Today, some students are taking five, six, and even seven years to graduate.
The Collegeboard looked at the graduating class of 2000-2001 and found that “only 36 percent had graduated within four years with their bachelors or the equivalent.” More sobering was the fact that only 57.5 percent had graduated at all after six years, by 2007. Somewhere along the line, 42.5 percent of the students who had started in the fall of 2001 with the intention of earning their bachelor’s degree, paid large sums of money along the way, and then didn’t graduate.
At Appalachian State University, for instance, the instate students of the class of 2015 will pay tuition of $1,576.37 and $1,297.50 in fees, for a total of $2,873.87 per semester. Tack on $1,070 for the standard option meal plan and $1900 for the lowest-cost on-campus housing options provided, and students are looking at $5843.87 per semester, or $11,687.74 per year. If that price stays constant, (which it won’t, as the average cost of tuition increases by 8 percent a year, according to finaid.org), students who graduate in four years as opposed to five are looking at financing $46,750 versus $58,438.
The math is simplified, but the principle remains the same. Graduating on time, or even ahead of time, pays huge dividends.
There are other ways to shorten a path to a degree, mainly in the first two years of school. For instance, the Collegeboard offers CLEP (College Level Examination Program) tests. Much like a computerized course final, CLEP tests are pass/fail exams that award credit in designated courses for successful completion. Exams are offered in 35 introductory subjects, though the tests, and scores, each individual college and university are willing to accept may vary.
The registrar’s office at your university should be able to quickly tell you what the CLEP policy is. Appalachian State University states that “Appalachian’s CLEP Credit Policy undergoes a continual process of evaluation and as a result, the courses and credits received for each exam may change.” That policy is available online at http://www.admissions.appstate.edu/clep-credit-policy.
Currently, the cost for each 90 minute CLEP examination is $77, and most testing locations also require an examination fee; at ASU, it’s $25. For $102, students have the opportunity to earn three to 12 credit hours. A semester’s worth of credits, five examinations, would cost $510, without the student ever having to step foot on campus. This act alone would save students $5333.87, and shorten their time to full-time employment by six months.
Perhaps the more rigorous of the two options is to take Advanced Placement tests in high school. Also offered by the Collegeboard, AP courses are offered in high schools across the country, and more than 90 percent of colleges and universities offer credit or advanced placement for scoring well on AP examinations.
Also important is the preparation that AP classes provide. Usually, AP courses are the most academically taxing courses offered in high school. The study and preparation habits learned are also invaluable at the collegiate level; students also gain an understanding of the amount of work involved with a full college course load. According to the Collegeboard, 31 percent of universities also use AP courses as admissions and scholarship criteria.
Most classes are offered in the spring; each exam is then administered in May. The cost is $87 per exam, while students who demonstrate financial need can take the test for $57.
Concurrent or dual enrollment
Many community and four year colleges also offer dual, or concurrent, enrollment options for high school students. Functionally similar to an AP course, high school students are able to enroll part time at community college for credit. Students may pay a reduced rate; some courses may be free.
Depending upon the popularity of the course offering, some classes may be offered before, or after, normal high school hours to accomodate high school students in the course. This option allows students to take courses to fit their schedule, but may also be the most difficult route to follow as it adds extra work on top of students already preparing for graduation.
Part three of this series will detail the most efficient ways to find, an apply, for scholarships.