The Frugal Approach to a College Education

by Mike

You can find at least one article a week in a national publication reworking the infinitely complex question of whether a college degree is worth the investment.  There are lots of statistics to wrestle with – so many, in fact, that the entire exercise loses its value when you personally try to focus on what you personally want to do after you graduate.  Averages mean nothing if you can’t find a job in the field you’ve trained for and conversely, there are jobs where employers value experience over training.  But nevertheless a college degree is a good bet.  It’s an even better bet if you can complete your degree without taking on a mountain of debt, so the closer you can get to a pay-as-you-go degree the better off you’ll be.

One of the biggest cost-cutting steps that you can take when embarking on a college career is spending the first two years at a community college.  The tuition costs are a fraction of the charges you’ll encounter at any private university and most public universities.  If you can do this and manage to live at home for your first two years of college, so much the better.  You’ll also find that many community colleges today have established online teaching programs that offer a multitude of courses and in many cases, entire degrees.  With an online option it’s much easier to hold a job and accordingly, easier to set some money aside for your next step.

The key to launching your higher education at the community college level is planning for your bachelor’s degree.  Ideally you should know what university you’re headed for so that you can be sure all of your community college credits will transfer.  Many community colleges have working partnerships with public universities in the same state, designed to make that junior year transfer seamless. That sort of option is also a good step to minimizing college costs.

On the average a public university will cost you about half of what a private school charges in tuition.  The right public university is still your best economic option, and this may be the point at which you have to incur some debt.  But you’ll be borrowing for two years instead of four and you’ll be paying the tuition rate for in-state residents at a public university, which is usually about 40% less than the fee charged out-of-state applicants.  If you’re a local, your tuition will be somewhere between $7,000 and $9,000 per year according to College Board.  Living expenses are on top of that, which you may or may not be able to offset with a part time job.

There’s also a lot of debate about the value of a bachelor’s degree today.  If your ambitions include a master’s degree you may find that there’s an “extra year” option available for your major that allows for completion of the bachelor’s and master’s in five years by blending some of the graduate courses into upper division undergraduate study.  You’ll also find that a master’s degree program more readily provides financial assistance to the students who are accepted and you’ll also discover that a master’s degree online is an excellent option if you want to enter the work force at the entry level with your bachelor’s degree while you complete your studies.

Bob Hartzell writes on education for several websites, covering the development of distance learning in higher education and the explosion of professional Masters Degree programs.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Invest It Wisely

My own approach was to do paid internships + work part-time during the semesters + full-time during the summers. This helped me cover a significant amount of my overall expenses.
Invest It Wisely´s last [type] ..Challenging Your Thoughts and Beliefs


Everyday Tips

I know I didn’t even consider a private school college education because I knew I was going to struggle paying for a public university. I have told my kids that I will cover a public 4 year degree and anything above that will come out of their pocket. My son is a junior in high school, so we will see what happens.
Everyday Tips´s last [type] ..I Am Mastering Time Management!


Roshawn @ Watson Inc

I agree that going to a community college for the first 2 years can significantly decrease the costs of education overall. It seems very pragmatic, especially during a time when college costs are rising so dramatically.


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