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10 Strategies Middle-Income Families Often Forget That Can Save Them Thousands

There are dozens of ways to reduce college costs over a four-year period. Here are our favorite ten strategies.


Take Advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit

Over a million families forget to take advantage of this tax credit. Though a partial credit is available for families making less than $180,000 per year, a full $2,500 tax credit is available to families earning up to $160,000 per year. This credit alone will save you up to $10,000 per child over a four-year period.

Rent Textbooks Instead of Buying Them

Rent textbooks through Amazon, instead of purchasing. This can save you as much as $750 per year. That’s another $3,000 savings over a four-year period.


Research How Your Top Choice in College Treat Private Scholarships

In some cases, private or outside scholarships may reduce the amount of other financial aid a student qualifies for. Some colleges use these scholarships to replace a portion of the institutional financial aid they would have otherwise awarded to the student. When this is the case, earning private or outside scholarships is practically pointless. However, some schools use these scholarships to reduce student loans or unmet need. At schools where this is the case, private or outside scholarships are absolutely worthwhile.

Here’s the question to ask the admissions or financial aid office: Can I use private or outside scholarships to fill unmet need?

Make Sure That Both Scholarships and Grants Offered by Your College Are Renewed Every Year

Some colleges front load the grants they provide you. This means you have more in your first year than you will in following years. Make sure they renew automatically (assuming that your income and assets reported on your FAFSA are about the same) into your second, third, and fourth year of college.

Always Ask for More Financial Aid

Though there are many circumstances changes (like a pandemic!) that allow families to receive additional financial aid by using the appeals process, you can ask for additional financial aid no matter what. You have more leverage, of course, if your student is in the top 20% of their entering freshman class. In our experience asking for a modest amount of $3,000 per year is the best strategy. Chalk up another $12,000 in savings over a four-year period!


Look for Colleges That Offer Three-Year Degrees or Guarantee a Four-Year Degree

Be sure to explore colleges that offer three-year degree options or colleges that will guarantee that your student will graduate in four years. The average student will take over five years to get their four-year degree. Graduating on time can save the average middle-income household an additional $25,000.

Apply to Colleges That Are Part of a Regional Students Exchange Program to Get a Large Discount on Tuition

These programs do appear to save you more money than they will actually will. That’s because if you qualify for a tuition discount of $10,000 per year, the college may also reduce your scholarship offer. However, participating in one of these programs can still save you at least $2,500 per year. If that’s the case, chalk-up another $10,000 in total savings over a four-year period.

Explore Out-of-State Colleges That Need More Students—Especially Students from the State in Which You Reside

Only applying to colleges in your state can be a big mistake if you are trying to maximize your financial aid eligibility. Apply to college where very few students from your state are applying and you are likely to get more money. You will be filling their geographical diversity needs.  Again, the more leverage you have, the better.


 If Your Circumstances Are Right, You Can Leverage the Benefits of the Parent Plus Loan Program to Save More Money Than with All of the Above

Though it may seem counterintuitive that you can borrow money to save money (especially when the interest rate is higher than you would receive in the private loan market) this may indeed be the case. If you take the time to learn the loan forgiveness benefits available to you under this federal loan program, there is money to be saved long-term. Depending on your situation, you can save thousands of dollars by implementing this strategy.

If you want to explore the possibilities, be sure to contact our office for the smartest borrowing strategies based on your unique circumstances.


Don’t forget to consider taking AP, Duel Enrollment and Duel Credit classes.

If you need help, only work with an advisor who understand the financial aid system.

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