If you're sending a daughter or son off to college in the next few weeks, consider this novel way of reducing the sticker price of a higher education.
"You have to take the long view and look at college costs holistically," says Mitchell Weiss, the author of College Happens: A Practical Handbook for Parents and Students. If you really want to cut the price, Weiss advises families to consider completing college in three years. That way, your college savings are really big. "When I suggest this at a lecture or workshop, the parents always say, 'Well, then my kid won't have the four year experience I did.' I tell them they aren't sending their kid to camp. If you want to pay for four years, fine. But I lived home, worked my way through college. It's what you get out of school that counts."
Weiss goes on to list the ways you can shave a year off college. A popular one is to test out of core courses with AP or College Level Examination Program tests. "CLEP tests have been around forty years, but a lot of people don't know about them. I took them and tested out of 12 credits - almost a full semester and the max my university would accept. CLEP tests covers 33 subjects, and are accepted by 2,900 colleges and universities around the country." SAT subject exams are also accepted by many colleges to place out of certain requirements.
Another strategy is to take college classes instead of AP courses. "A friend's daughter took introductory calculus at a state college instead of the AP, passed and got high-school credit for the course. Because it was a university course she automatically got credit at college too," Weiss says, pointing out that online college courses might also earn you credits that count. Make use of your summers by taking intercession courses at a college near your home with credits you can transfer.
You can also cut time and costs by taking a close look at your tuition. Many colleges tuitions buy a range of classes. For example, a semester that costs $25,000 may cover anywhere from 12 to 18 credits. If you only take 12, you're paying 50% more per credit than if you take 18. Weiss's advice: "Take 18 credits one semester and kill yourself - less skateboarding, less beer and bong time - then take 15 the other semester."
"You can take four years of college in three, but realize that you'll have to fight for your rights. College will claim they want to maintain educational integrity, but actually revenue drives a lot of these decisions. You'll have to advocate for yourself. My son did this for graduate school and qualified out of a lot of courses. It's a fight worth having."
Mitchell D. Weiss sells his books and offers more advice on college savings on the website that bears his name.