Going to college can be the experience of a lifetime, but you don’t want to go broke doing it. Some debt is almost unavoidable—most students who graduate from a 4-year institution leave with an average of $29,400 in student loans, and debt is growing, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. Additionally, college debt is the second largest source of consumer debt in America, after mortgage debt according to The Federal Reserve Bank of St.Louis.

Fortunately, there are plenty of strategies you can try to keep college costs in line. Here are six:

  1. Stay in-state. In-state tuition for public colleges and universities is almost always less than out-of-state tuition (see chart). In addition, public schools are generally more affordable than private schools—but explore financial aid packages before making a decision. Some private universities offer exceptional financial aid—including free tuition—to outstanding students with financial need. Your school guidance office can help.
  2. Explore community colleges. You may be able to cut the cost of your college degree significantly by spending the first two years at an inexpensive community college and then transferring to a four-year institution to finish your degree. Be sure to confirm that credits will transfer to the college or university of your choice.
  3. Leverage high school. If your high school offers Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs, you may be able to obtain college credit for some classes or test out of some requirements. In addition, some states offer co-enrollment options, allowing you to take college classes for credit at no cost while in high school.
  4. Burn the midnight oil. Although it may mean curtailing your social life and giving up a part-time job, you could consider piling up on college credits during regular semesters and taking classes during winter and summer breaks. Just be sure your course load is manageable so you don’t jeopardize your grades. By finishing your degree in three years instead of four, you can save an entire year of fees, room and board.
  5. Look for free money. Apply for all scholarships for which you’re eligible, even the ones that may be just enough to cover a semester’s books. Find out if your intended school offers free or reduced tuition in exchange for work on campus. If you think you’d like the job, apply for a resident assistant (RA) position; RAs often get free room and board in exchange for helping dorm life run smoothly. If you’re a servicemember, veteran or family member who may be eligible for veterans’ education benefits, check out the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
  6. Ditch dorm life. Choosing a school near home and commuting could save you thousands of dollars in room and board.

Average Undergraduate Costs for 2014-2015 School Year

  2-year community 4-year public in-state 4-year public out-of-state 4-year private nonprofit
Tuition and fees $3,347 $9,139 $22,958 $31,231
Room and board $7,705 $9,804 $9,804 $11,188
Total $11,052 $18,943 $32,762 $42,419

Source: The College Board

We’re in Your Corner

Navy Federal is committed to helping you make wise financial decisions, so we offer a number of resources, including private student loans. Learn about our various student loan options.