There are a lot of reasons why graduating high school students might choose not to pursue a college education. Common factors include:

  • Academic readiness
  • Time commitments
  • Mental preparedness
  • Health challenges

The above issues affect millions of American students from coast to coast. They’re leading reasons as to why nearly 50% of graduating high schoolers consider skipping college altogether. All that said, the number one obstacle keeping students from enrolling is still the incredible financial burden.

Let’s be Real: The Cost of College is Crazy

We all know that college is expensive. In-state tuition at a 4-year university runs between $10,000 and $20,000 per year. Out-of-state tuition can run as high as $35,000 annually for a non-ivy league school.

Exactly how expensive college ends up being for you, though, depends on several factors that could be entirely out of your control. How much money your family has and where you live, for example, influence how much you can afford to set aside for college. It may even determine whether or not long-term attendance is even possible without assistance.

There are other options, for course. Many people make a great living by pursuing a trade, and tuition at a trade or technical school is typically just a fraction of what you’d pay at a university.

All that said, college is still not exclusively the realm of the rich. Getting an education is important, and you CAN afford it with the right planning, as we’ll see below. 

Do Degrees Earn More?

In many cases, yes.

Historically, people with college degrees have earned significantly more than jobs that don’t require a degree. How much more, though? Well, let’s have a look. 

According to APLU, college-educated workers enjoy a substantial earnings premium. On an annual basis, median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders are 84% higher than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma. That’s a difference of $36,000 per year.

The earnings gap between college graduates and those with less education continues to widen. In 2021, median income for recent graduates with a professional career reached $52,000 a year for those aged 22–27. For high school graduates the same age, median earnings are $30,000 a year.

This is why I’m encouraging you to budget for school rather than be turned away by skyrocketing costs. At the end of the day, it may be worth tens of thousands of dollars per year to make that investment. 

6 Tips to Combat High Tuition

Now — finally — we cut to the point! Here are a few tips to help you combat high tuition costs (or avoid them altogether):

1. Start at a Community College

Starting off your education at a two-year community college is key.

Community colleges are smaller, more targeted, and provide ample (in some cases, free) programs for success and learning challenges. Plus, they cost a lot less than the in-state tuition of a traditional college. If your family is struggling to discover a way for you to attend college without breaking the bank, this could be your answer. 

The best part? You can still apply to and get into the 4-year school of your dreams after 2 years at a community college. Only, you’d enter as a junior, and have paid significantly less than your peers!1

2. Consider Multiple Options

Like we just discussed, starting at a community college is probably the best course of action for pursuing a traditional four-year degree. It’s not the only option, though.

If you want to enter a specialized trade to become an electrician, builder, airline mechanic, or even a hair stylist, a two-year trade school offers more value for you. However, if you aim to be an environmental engineer, graphic designer, or physician, you will need advanced degrees.

Having some idea of what you want to accomplish in life is crucial. Once you know what you want to do, you can then consider the least expensive, and most beneficial path to get you there. You can also avoid wasting a lot of time and money on something that you ultimately won’t use.

3. Make an Out-of-State Plan

What if you dream of attending an out-of state university, but your budget just doesn’t align with this goal? Well, you might consider moving to that state for a period of time before you begin attending. Typically, to gain in-state tuition status, you’d need to live in that state for a period of 6 months to a year before applying.

Obviously, it would  be far easier and more budget-friendly to do your homework about schools in your own state to find the programs you aim for. That said, if your heart is set on a particular school, maybe make the move, and start attending classes at a community college in that area. You can then apply for your dream school once in-state status is achieved.

4. Apply for Scholarships

You should be applying for every scholarship and grant that you can. Remember: every single penny that you earn is one fewer penny you have to come up with out of pocket.

Thankfully, there are literally hundreds of national scholarships and fellowships out there to choose from. That’s not even mentioning the grant money that is donated to schools every year for students in need. 

Your very first step on this path should be to fill out the FAFSA, or the federal application for student aid. You should then strategize with your parents and counselors to help you find programs that are relevant to you and your grade averages.

These programs are just sitting around waiting for students who need them. If you can demonstrate that need, you can likely reduce much of your tuition costs upfront. 

5. Work a Summer Job

Now, this one is less exciting, but it helps. Working a job to earn tuition money can also give you great material for your resume. In some cases, it may even count towards your community service credits for a 4-year university.

It may not seem like the few bucks you earn over a summer can make much difference. It adds up quickly, though. The money you earn may help pay for a year’s worth of books, or part of your housing. It may even be enough to cover your food budget for a semester. 

6. Work-Study is CLUTCH

Lastly, an often overlooked all-star in the college affordability game is your school’s work-study program. We cannot stress this enough; work study can significantly reduce your in-school costs without cutting into your financial aid and grants. 

How this works is that you would essentially be working for the school in exchange for a paycheck. However, that paycheck doesn’t count as typical earnings according to financial aid. This means you’d be able to buy yourself things you need while you’re studying, without hurting your chances of getting a need-based scholarship or grant.

Additionally, it means you’d potentially borrow much less than you would otherwise, if student loans are on the horizon.

Go Get After It!

At the end of the day, only you (and your parents) can determine what’s most important to you. All we can do is recommend clever life hacks that others have learned the hard way.

Remember, though: you can afford college. Being creative, frugal, and decisive can help get you there.