Here's How to Save Money on College in 2021

If you're currently enrolled in college and not graduating this spring, or if you're a high school senior who's attending college for the first time in the fall, you could be missing out on a massive amount of money. The best ways to save money on college this year and decrease the amount of money you repay in student loans are through scholarships, attending the cheapest college, and getting a high paying job while in school. If I were a high school senior right now, here's exactly how I'd do it.

The first thing I would do is reach out to the high school guidance counselor. Most high schools have stacks of local scholarships that only apply to students who are graduating that year from that high school. I would fill out every application I qualify for through the high school. If you're lucky, it should at least take several hours to get through all of the scholarships that fit your profile. 

If you already know where you’ll be attending college this fall, then the second step to save money on college would be to reach out to the financial aid office there. They will be able to provide you any information on additional scholarships that you can apply for. Many academic scholarships are based on GPA and/or ACT or SAT score. Some students have even studied for and taken the ACT after being accepted into college to bump themselves into the next scholarship bracket. The difference between scholarship brackets directly from the school can be thousands of dollars.

The next step I would take is to apply to every other scholarship I can. Literally every scholarship I qualify for. Years ago, many scholarships would have so few applicants that anyone who applied had a legitimate chance of being awarded it. It isn’t as much the case now, but it's still worth the effort. Another tip is to create an new email that you'll later delete. Many of the scholarship sites will send you large amounts of spam emails after you sign up, so using an email address that you'll delete after graduation is a good idea.

One important caveat to remember is that the vast majority of these scholarships can be applied to room and board as well. If the scholarship amount covers more than the tuition and fees, the financial aid office will provide a check for the amount that’s left over. This is one of the best feelings in the world and got me well past my freshman year in college.

The last thing I would look into when trying to save money on college is a high paying summer job, and college credit from a local community college. I’ve seen students who were able to find high enough paying jobs (~$15/hour or higher), usually working manual labor overnight or as certified nursing assistants (CNA), who've earned enough each summer to pay for all of their rent and food throughout the year. Of course this also included limiting the cost of rent and food, but it’s not less than the average college student. It can be demanding, and extremely difficult, but if you're serious about paying for school without large amounts of loan debt, it can be one of your most valuable assets.

Paying for college classes can sound counter-intuitive to saving money, but some community college classes will directly transfer to certain universities, and they can be significantly cheaper. The most important thing here is to confirm with your four year university that the community college class will transfer as the equivalent class and credits. You don't want to pay for a 100 level math class, to have it only transfer as elective credits and still have to pay for the same math class again at your university. With a little digging though, and help from the university's registrar's office (not the community college office), there should be a few classes that you can take over the summer for a few hundred dollars cheaper.

None of these tasks are easy, but they are simple. They will require a lot of time and dedication, and probably some networking, but they are the most reliable ways to increase your financial award package, and decrease your student loan debt after graduation. A little hard work now and throughout the summer can make the next 9 months at your university vastly more comfortable while you're not constantly worrying about how you're going to pay for school, or your student loan debt. Take it from someone with massive amounts of debt. The best thing to do might be to avoid it in the first place.