Save on Education Costs: Where You Go Matters

by Miranda Marquit · 12 comments

A four-year degree really isn’t necessary for success in life, but spending the money and going to college is the right decision for most people. You will do much better, though, if you plan ahead, and make an effort to lower your costs.

Some of the essentials, if you want to minimize the amount of money you borrow in student loans, include working toward scholarships, applying for grants, saving money in a 529 plan, and even getting a job. You can also find other ways to save money as a college student. As you do these things, though, you can also make plans about where you will attend college. Sometimes, where you go matters quite a bit in getting the best bang for your education buck — and keeping you from crippling student loan debt.

Attend a Community College First

My husband started out at a community college. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was cheap. He got his generals taken care of, and even took a major class or two. When he was ready to transfer to a four-year school to finish his degree, his good grades landed him a scholarship. You can start out at a community college, and save money for a couple of years before transferring.

Stay Close to Home

While you could attend a community college far away, you can save even more if you stay close to home at first. My husband (he’s a really good example of doing things right with education dollars) lived at home while attending community college. He saved money on tuition, and he didn’t have to pay housing (or food, most of the time) expenses. Even if you go to a four-year university to start, living at home can provide you with a huge cost advantage, reducing the amount of money you borrow, since you won’t have to borrow for living costs on top of your tuition.

Consider a State School

There are a number of state schools that offer a good education at a reasonable price. If you are a resident of that state, you can save even more. In many cases, especially if you plan to get an advanced degree, starting at a state school can be a good way to save money. I started out at a small state school for my undergraduate degree before finishing my M.A. at a private school. If I started out at a private school right from the beginning, I would owe much more now. And, since I do have an advanced degree, no one cares a whole lot about where I got my B.S. (Although, technically, since I’m not in the traditional workforce, probably no one cares where I earned my M.A. either!)

Bottom Line

Before you rush off to an expensive private school for your four-year degree, stop and think about what you are really doing. Is it really worth the student debt you could end up with? Your education dollars might stretch much further if you choose to go a different route, so take care in your decision.

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  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    I graduated from the University of Miami in 1965 . In 1964 , I still have the letter from the President of the university apologizing that they will have to increase the tuition $ 50.00 a semester , from $ 450.00 to $ 500.00 . The tuition back then was $ 1000.00 a year . Now in the same school , the tuition is over $ 39,000.00 a year 5 decades later . It is of course obscene . Kids starting out in life after graduating from College , before they even have a job have become indentured servants to the Banksters . In 2007 the interest rates were lowered to 3 3/4 % [ the College Cost Reduction Act ] on the government Stafford Loans . Then in 2012 Congressman John P. Kline R – Minn demanded that Congress raise the interest rates from 3.4 % to 6.8 % . He said , ” We cannot pile Billions of dollars of debt on the backs of the taxpayers , we must raise the rates. ” Very interesting , he and other Congressmen are not concerned about the Trillions of dollars in Foreign Aid that we give out to 3 rd world countries non stop year after year with no signs of improvement for the people . Of course much of this money is unaccounted for , going into Private bank accounts. We gift Israel alone over $ 3 Billion every year plus arms and ammunition and they are a wealthy country. He is not concerned about our non stop WARS . Since 1950 we the U.S.S.A. have threatened , intimidated , bombed and invaded well over 30 poor 3 rd world countries who were no threat to us. The cost of this alone must be in the hundreds of Trillions of dollars. …….not counting the hundreds of thousands of young American boys who died and lost limbs and their sanity in the prime of their life . [ also not counting the MILLIONS of innocent men , women and children who died under our Weapons of Mass Destruction , but of course they are faceless therefore of little concern to us ]
    That our government bailed out the corrupt gamblers , the Banksters and Wall Street to the tune of 7 to 10 Trillion dollars .
    It doesn’t bother him that the Fed loans this money to these people for less than 1 % . By 2008 the U.S. was over $ 8 TRILLION in debt . Now in the past 6 years the debt has more than doubled to $ 18,000,000,000,000.00 TRILLION
    Now both parties in Congress are expanding the WAR in Iraq and Syria and on the planning board is Iran and Russia . NON STOP WARS – Who benefits ?
    The Military Industrial Complex , Wall Street and the Banksters . And we the taxpayers pay and pay dearly .
    It is time for us to wake up and rock the boat . November election – clean house , both parties are bought and paid for Who_ _ s . Both the Trotskyite Neo Cons and the Democratic Socialists are quite happy playing Musical Chairs and taking turns at power. We need at least 3 additional political parties to compete. We need true Patriots who are willing to work in their countries interest not the Greedy Corporations . Viva la Revolucion

  • Persepone says:

    My advice is to spend the money to apply to “reach” schools “match” schools and your state university or community college or whatever is your “safety” school. If you have a chance of getting into Harvard, for example (you have the grades, the test scores, the resume, etc. to match current attendees), then you should at least apply to Harvard and see what the financial aid would be. In many cases, the expensive private schools have financial aid that exceeds that of the state schools for really attractive candidates with demonstrable financial need. Once you have acceptances and financial aid offers in hand, then you can evaluate them financially (how much of aid is scholarship/grant vs. loans; what are additional costs, what is cost of living in the town school is located in, etc. etc.). Lots of times two financial aid offers may be different because of the scholarship/grant vs. loan mix. Some schools have lower tuition, but significantly higher “total cost of attendance” and so forth. If you are not guaranteed dorm space for all 4 years, the local cost of living does matter.

    Community college is a money-saver if–and only if–the other students in your class are on a par intellectually with you. Otherwise, the classes will not be challenging, you will not learn much. If you are a good/excellent student, the money you save will probably not be worth it. The truth is that you learn more when you are taking classes with others who are on a par intellectually. If you were a mediocre student, then yes, community college and your state university may be appropriate. Community college is also an excellent answer for an “older” student–someone who took off time between high school and college because you are likely to have the self-motivation, etc. to do well even in spite of classes where other students are not a “match.”

    While you can “save money” by living at home and commuting to school, for most students who go to college out of high school this is not the real right answer since there is as much to be learned from the “dorm” experience and the “away from home” experience as there is in the classroom. Unless there are really good reasons to “stay at home” it may be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

    In the end, I think there is a lot to be gained by going to the “best” school that you can. If nothing else, I think you end up with “no regrets” that way. “Best” is probably not the most expensive but it should be on par with the student’s intellectual capabilities.

  • Val says:

    I went to a state school and even though my education was comparable to the private schools, the network and resources were not even close. Since we get 80% of jobs from connections, it is impossible to underestimate the value of that. Also, since I lived at home, I was very socially awkward, and made a lot of the first social missteps at a more crucial time (in my early professional days) and that derailed me for a time as well. The social value of college is just as valuable as the monetary expenses, and you see it in the importance of professional networks that are established at elite schools much more so than other places.

  • Herbert says:

    This blog is right on, re. local community colleges. I know a teacher here who works in both the big U and JC, teaching freshman math. It’s the same book and plan, yet tuition is about half at the JC. Get it?

  • Watch Fight says:

    There are lots of ways to save for your education what really matters is how you will get the best output for it.

  • Robert says:

    I think attend a community college for your first two years and then transferring is a great strategy to save money on education. Anyhow thanks so much for the ideas Miranda.

  • Patrick R. Carlson says:

    Being frugal with your education dollars is extremely intelligent. I attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law, which was much more affordable than several private colleges. Although OU isn’t as prestigious as some of the other institutions, the education I received seems to be on par with other law schools, based on my experience with other attorneys.

    Picking a state school where you can get in-state rates and perhaps even live at home is a great way to have a good quality education at a more affordable price.

  • MoneyPerk says:

    I absolutely agree that it all matters where you go, especially with these rising tuition costs. And I think the degrees that offer much less pay upon graduation (i.e. teachers) really need to find the right college(s) to go to in order to save as much as possible.

  • Rob says:

    For many years the cost of college has been exceeding the rate of inflation. And in difficult economic times, the challenge for parents to adequately fund 529 accounts has become exponentially more challenging. At, users can learn how their peers have saved for college as a way to benchmark their own diligence in funding college accounts.

  • Eliza says:

    My experience with private vs. public schools was a little bit different than what you might expect. I applied to both private and state universities, and it turned out that the private schools had a lot more money available in scholarships and other financial aid, so for me it actually cost less (or about the same) to attend the private school.

    That said, this kind of thing is likely to be very different for every person, based on their situation. But I would recommend applying to both private and public schools (assuming they’re ones you’d actually want to attend) so you can compare the offers, cause it’s not always going to turn out the way one would expect!

  • Jean says:

    Choosing a school close to home is defintiely advantageous. In fact, my school used to be at walking distance from my home and all of my friends would go together walking. Also, during lunch hour, I would frequently come home to eat rather than at the cafeteria.


  • Steve says:

    Most state schools are very good, and much less expensive. College is an experience in itself, and living at home makes it seem like an extension of high school. If you can afford it, maybe by getting a part time job, it is well worth going to a college for four years and enjoying the life experience. It can be one of the best times of your life. Friends, sporting events, socializing, and making contacts for the future. Most employers do not care where you got your degree. They just want to know you got one.

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