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Marc A. Hebert's Money Sense: Ways to lower college costs

September 01. 2017 8:07PM

Maybe you have been saving for your or your children's college costs for years. You've done your homework on financial aid, researched schools, and still find yourself short on funds. Don't give up because here are a few ideas that might make college possible for you or your children.

Consider taking advanced placement courses or special academic exams in high school. This could earn you college credits and reduce the number of classes you need to take to complete your program.

Ask if a college offers any tuition discounts or flexible repayment programs. Is there a discount for paying the entire semester's bill up front? Can you spread your payments over 12 months? If the program is through your alma mater, are there discounts for children of alumni? Check to see if some charges or fees are optional.

Seek tuition waivers. These allow you to forgo paying all or some of the college tuition. The most common categories of waivers include those for veterans, Peace Corps workers, teachers, or students whose parents work in civil service.

If you or your child can handle a heavier course load, consider trying to graduate in three years instead of four. This could save you a year of college expenses. Another option is to take summer courses. The tuition may be discounted in the summer versus taking the course in the fall or spring.

Explore cooperative education. This is a type of education in which semesters of coursework alternate with semesters of paid internships. It might take five years to complete a degree, but you will earn money and acquire job experience.

You also could attend a community college for a couple of years and then transfer to a four-year institution. If you are considering this option, make certain that your community college credits will transfer.

The last option that a child might want to pursue is to live at home during the college years - even if only for a year or two. Note that though this path may generate substantial savings through reduced room and board expenses, it will incur commuting costs.

Work part time during the college years. This can be difficult since academic work is the priority, but it is an option to help defray some expenses.

Joining the military is also an option. Under the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship program, your child can receive a free college education in exchange for a period of active duty. Your child also can attend a service academy like West Point, for example. Another alternative is for your child to serve in the military and then attend college under the GI Bill.

Ask your employer about educational assistance. Sometimes employers will offer education benefits for children of its employees as well. The company also might sponsor scholarships.

It might also be possible to attend college online. Taking courses online is a trend that is here to stay, and there are numerous opportunities across a wide array of fields. You might be able to take some classes online and complete your degree in person at the same school.

Go on the hunt for scholarships. Scholarships are based on a variety of things. Check for ones available in your community and, as they pop up continually, keep checking.

Finally, consider taking a year off. This can give both parent and child some breathing room. This could create a full year of earnings you or your child could put toward education. Make sure a college will offer deferred enrollment before applying. If this is an option for you, consider applying to the school of your choice and then ask for the one-year deferment once you are accepted.

Marc A. Hebert, M.S., CFP, is a senior member and president of the wealth management and financial planning firm The Harbor Group of Bedford. Email questions to Marc at Your question and his response might appear in a future column.

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