How To Make College More Affordable

Written by College Cliffs Team At, our team, comprising seasoned educators and counselors, is committed to supporting students on their journey through graduate studies. Our advisors, holding advanced degrees in diverse fields, provide tailored guidance, current program details, and pragmatic tips on navigating application procedures.

Reviewed by Linda Weems I got started researching colleges and universities about 10 years ago while exploring a second career. While my second career ended up being exactly what I’m doing now, and I didn’t end up going to college, I try to put myself in your shoes every step of the way as I build out College Cliffs as a user-friendly resource for prospective students.

Updated: May 21, 2024, Reading time: 12 minutes

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Students and families would obviously want to pay less for college, considering inflation and how everything else is just so expensive these days. However, there is no definite answer to making college affordable.

Schools, governments, and other resources would provide you with some tips to make this possible, but it’s all up to you to apply them and acquire savings for your college expenses.

Ways To Make College More Affordable - fact

There is no definite one-size-fits-all approach, so you need to understand your situation and assess which ways would work for you!

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Making College Affordable For You: 11 Helpful Suggestions

Many governments aim to make education accessible to everyone. After all, education is seen as a way to reduce poverty and decrease social inequities. Higher education is now more accessible and affordable than ever before, thanks to the following solutions:

1. Pursue your degree in your home state.

Attending an In-state school is the cheaper option over an out-of-state college. Should you need to pursue your degree outside your home state, consider cheap out-of-state tuition.

2. Scholarships and Grants

It’s expensive to attend college, but you can make better financial decisions by knowing where to find grants, scholarships, and financial aid. Begin by filling out the FAFSA form in your preferred university or college, and they will let you know which scholarships or grants you can qualify for and apply for. 

3. Opt for Online Programs

Nowadays, you can acquire education from anywhere. Technology has made education cheaper and more accessible. By taking online programs, you can reduce your college expenses significantly as you will only need to pay less tuition and access your courses via the Internet. Online education is definitely an effective way to make college more affordable. 

4. Community College

Another effective way is to attend a community college over a prestigious four-year university. Community colleges are often substantially cheaper. The typical tuition is halved compared to public universities. A portion of this can be attributed to the fact that community schools are more basic and avoid things like extensive campus infrastructure and extracurricular activities that raise costs at bigger institutions.

5. Tuition-free or Low-cost Programs

Tuition-free college is crucial to our economy. Free tuition policies, according to research, encourage more students to enroll in college and enhance graduation rates, resulting in a more educated labor force and consumers with higher incomes who can support the economy.

6. Work-Study Programs

There are a lot of perks of working while studying. In fact, this setup will help you improve your current talents and learn some new ones that will be crucial to your professional path. Dealing with various individuals and time management are a couple of these. At the same time, you can finance your studies without having to worry about student debt after graduation. 

7. Internships

Another way to sustain your college expenses is by participating in internships. An internship is a professional learning opportunity through which students gain hands-on experience relevant to their area of study or career pathway.

Students can explore and become better at their profession while learning new skills through an internship. Some internships pay students with an honorarium or an allowance, enough to help finance college. 

8. American Opportunity Tax Credit

Each qualifying student may get up to $2,500 under the American Opportunity credit, which is determined by combining their income and outgoings. Since it is a credit, your responsibility is reduced by the same amount.

What’s even better is that you can lower your tax burden and receive a $1,000 refund. It only applies to undergraduate students enrolled at least half-time for the first four years of their program.

9. Repayment Plans

While this doesn’t technically reduce your college expenses, it will give you ample time to save and pay up your tuition fees over time. Your college may offer a tuition payment plan that is cheaper than student loans if you need money for a year or less.

10. Financial Literacy Education

Financial literacy is crucial because it equips you with the information you need to handle your money sensibly. Without financial literacy, you could be choosing poorly when it comes to saving or investing money. Prioritize earnings and reduce college expenses when you’re financially literate.

11. Community Partnerships

The ability to grow your network and make new connections is one of the most evident advantages of community collaborations. Any professional should network since it may lead to opportunities, recommendations, referrals, and assistance. Whether you’re looking for a job or simply building connections, joining community partnerships can help with that. 

What is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA?

What’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA - Image

Every college or university allows you to fill out the FAFSA form. The official application for federal financial help to cover college costs is the Free Application for Federal Student Help or FAFSA. Many governments, certain institutions, and universities also utilize it when deciding who gets financial help.

According to the data gathered from the application, the FAFSA specifically decides who will get help in the form of loans, scholarships, and grants. It can be your first solid step in seeking financial assistance for college. 

Using the FAFSA, the federal government determines if a family qualifies for scholarships, work-study programs, and loans. State governments, schools and institutions, and private scholarship programs also use the FAFSA information to determine financial aid eligibility.

FAFSA applications are available beginning in October of the year before enrollment and are due by June of the following academic year. First-come, first-served funding is frequently the rule, with students applying in June generally only being eligible for loans.

How to Pick an Affordable College or University

When comparing the costs of two or more universities, it’s important to take into account the cost of attendance as well as financial assistance options, graduation and job placement rates, student debt, and other factors.

There is no easy method to get an answer, as anyone who has attempted to add all of this up to arrive at an actual number will attest.

But here are some easy tips to pick or choose an affordable college:

Go for schools that offer many merit-based scholarships.

For students who achieve specific grade point averages, SAT scores, or other academic requirements, you’ll have better chances of saving for college if the school you attend offers a lot of merit-based scholarships.

However, some colleges offer merit aid more generously than others. Be sure to check out their scholarships page to learn about their offerings. 

Look beyond the school’s image and prestige.

Examine the school atmosphere, typical class size, extracurricular activities, closeness to your family, and career-related resources available. Even while the reputation of the college might be significant, your family’s ability to pay for it should also be a priority.

Calculate even the hidden fees and additional costs.

Know that the tuition fees don’t cover everything about your college life. There may be costs for participating in academic or other extracurricular activities, and these prices vary in every college.

The same is true for Greek life, which, depending on the institution, can cost anything from a few hundred to several thousand dollars annually. It’s best to compute all of your expenses, including the hidden fees. Parking fees, gas, books, insurance, room and board, and other expenses will need to be considered.

How to Apply for Scholarships

How to Apply for Scholarships - Image

There are countless scholarship options available. Always look into scholarship options before contemplating federal or private student loans while paying for education. Scholarships for college are gifts that you don’t have to pay back. Scholarship applications are unlimited; there is no limit on how many you can submit.

To get you started on your scholarship application, you can follow these tips:

Start early.

When applying for scholarships, it’s always a good idea to start early. While most students wait until their senior year to apply for scholarships, starting early will allow them more time to investigate numerous scholarships and select the one that’s best for them. Most scholarships have deadlines in the fall and spring.


Your best choice for locating scholarships that come directly from institutions is to get in touch with the financial aid departments at each college you apply to or to browse the websites of the colleges to discover information about scholarships. The majority of colleges provide merit- and need-based scholarships and will provide all the information you want.

Explore scholarships related to your interests.

If you’re certain that engineering is what you want to study in college, take some time to look into the scholarships that NASA, the American Society of Naval Engineers, or any other relevant organization may be able to provide. If you’re thinking of taking up medicine, then check out organizations that offer scholarships in this area. 

Check eligibility criteria and requirements.

Check all of the requirements for a scholarship before applying to be sure you’re eligible. Your chances of actually receiving a scholarship are greater the more qualified you are. There are several scholarships available with no conditions.

There is often a brief form to fill out for these scholarships, which resemble sweepstakes. Only a name and contact details are needed to apply for the scholarship. It could also be necessary for you to register for emails from the scholarship sponsor.

Remind yourself about scholarship deadlines.

It’s crucial to keep track of the deadlines for scholarship submissions and results. By being organized like this, you can take advantage of these scholarships and decrease your college expenses. Some scholarships come with early deadlines, so keep them in check and meet them to increase your chances. 

Although the scholarship application process might take some time, it can pay off in the form of important financial aid for your education. To improve your chances of success, stay organized, apply for as many scholarships as you qualify for, and concentrate on developing strong application materials.

When is the Best Time to Apply for Scholarships?

It’s best to focus on developing your resume throughout your first and second years if you are still in high school. The years between junior and senior years are the ideal times to apply for scholarships. This will enable you to stand out from other applicants by preparing you with useful experiences you may offer in your scholarship applications.

Make it a habit to start looking for the best scholarship that you can qualify for as early as possible. Make sure to invest the effort; a few hours of application work every week might net you thousands of dollars. Remember that you can continue submitting applications as long as the deadlines are not over yet. 

Starting at a Community College

If you’re thinking of reducing expenses for college, it’s a great idea to start at a community college early on in your college studies. Community college can be your first or last step, or it can be a lifesaving means to save a dream college plan that has fallen through. It’s not uncommon for a junior college to preserve a student’s academic career, but there are plenty of practical benefits to starting at a community college as well.

With a community college, you can either start your career or map a path to a bachelor’s degree through an associate program. You can use up your transfer credits later when you’re finally ready to proceed to a bachelor’s degree. 

How to Apply for a Student Loan

How to Apply for a Student Loan - Image

Aside from scholarships, one effective way to make college affordable is through student loans. Students and parents must complete the FAFSA to qualify for federal loans for college. Subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans are the two main categories available. Learn the difference below:

Direct Subsidized Loans

Grants and direct subsidized loans are intended for students with extraordinary financial need. Subsidized student loans have the benefit that the U.S. When you are enrolled in school at least half-time and for the first six months after you graduate, the Department of Education will pay the interest.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

No matter what your financial situation is, direct unsubsidized loans are available to you, and interest will begin accruing immediately.

What are the Regional Tuition Exchange Programs?

By enrolling in a neighboring college or university through tuition swaps and reciprocity agreements, students are able to pay less compared to what they would otherwise pay as a non-resident student. Statistics show that out-of-state tuition can easily exceed 300% more than in-state tuition, so these programs offer substantial savings.

Tuition exchanges and reciprocity agreements benefit both the participating institutions and the students they may attract by allowing students to choose from a larger range of more inexpensive colleges.

Students must meet different requirements to participate in reciprocity programs. In order to qualify for the lower tuition rate, out-of-state students, for example, must enroll in a qualifying program and attend a participating institution. Schools that are eligible to sign the agreement vary as well.


The most difficult purchase virtually anyone can make is a higher education. If you don’t factor in cost, you could have a few inexpensive alternatives and end up with greater costs than you can afford.

Making a choice that won’t break the wallet and will position you for a successful future, however, may be much simpler with the correct strategy.

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