Saving up for college is important, but saving while you're in college is key, too. Here are some tips to consider to help you and your child save money on the ever-increasing costs of tuition.

By Hiranmayi Srinivasan
June 15, 2021
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College is a big step forward for any kid's education-and can comprise some of the best years of their life, too. But with tuition costs ranging anywhere from $26K to $55K a year, it's never too early to know how to start saving for college-and what students can do once they get there to save on tuition.

While ending up paying off student loans is sometimes unavoidable, there are things your child can do while they're still in college to save money and plan better, so they don't end up with a (quite as huge) mountain of student debt after graduation. Here are some of the options to consider that will help your family save money on college tuition.

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1 Apply to scholarships.

There's a reason why you always see this tip on anything college-savings-related-scholarships are great money-savers and often get overlooked. While many of the bigger scholarships have more competition, applying to multiple local, lesser-known scholarships will increase your child's chances. Finding the right scholarships and getting a few hundred or a thousand dollars can still make a difference when it comes to saving on tuition costs.

Brian Galvin, chief academic officer for online tutoring platform Varsity Tutors suggests treating the scholarship search like a job. "Most students who get all or most of college covered do so not with one full scholarship straight from the university, but with several smaller scholarships from corporations, nonprofit organizations, local civic groups, and other sources," says Galvin.

Talking to professors and counselors can help your college student find different scholarships that they might be a good fit for. Encourage them to continue applying for scholarships while they are attending college to help with tuition costs. 

2 Consider living at home.

Room and board fees alone can range from $10,000 to $20,000-so if possible, talk to your child about having them commute to offset tuition costs. A similar option would be to attend community college for two years to take their general education classes. "Taking your general education classes at a community college is a massively impactful way to cut costs," says Nadia Ibrahim-Taney, university career coach and owner of Beyond Discovery Coaching.

Other than the cost of room and board, this will save you money on shopping for dorm essentials, campus parking fees, and expensive meal plans. If your child is set on going to a four-year college, going to school from home can save thousands of dollars while still allowing them to get the college experience through on-campus activities like joining clubs and organizations. Community colleges also offer student organizations and activities to help students build community.

3 Rent your books.

College textbooks are expensive-and chances are you'll probably never use the book again after that semester. Instead, look for sites where you can rent the book for the semester, or buy it used-or better yet, see if you can borrow the textbook from someone who has already taken the class. If you have to buy it new, see if you can sell it to an incoming student to make some of the money back.

4 Take the CLEP Exam.

The College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, is a set of standardized tests given by the College Board. Former university admissions advisor Kimberly Morse  suggests taking the CLEP exam to decrease tuition costs. The tests are similar to high school AP exams, and allow students to earn college credit if they pass the test. Have your child talk to the dean for their specific major and see which CLEP exams they can take to test out of any general education or elective credits that will allow you to save money on these courses. 

As a tip before your child attends college: See if they can take any AP classes and tests in high school to skip some of those general ed classes when they start college-this way, they'll save time and money. 

5 Hold off on buying a car.

Having a car in college can be exciting, but it can really add to your bottom line. Many colleges offer student shuttles and discounted public transit, so have your child take advantage of that instead of getting a car right away. Campus parking can also be really expensive-so is a car payment, car insurance, gas, and maintenance. Put the money towards tuition and other college costs instead.

6 Get a campus job.

See if your college student can get a campus job. Colleges have tons of jobs open for students-at the campus library, any of the administrative offices, a campus tour guide, or even a research assistant. Another option is to have your child enroll in a work-study program, which allows them to pay for tuition though a campus job. Getting a job on campus can give your child work experience, help them network, and teach them how to save.