The following article is written by our partner in personal finance, Adam Carroll.

Five Ways to Save Money Before You Head to College

You’ve no doubt heard the statistics of how much your college experience can end up costing. What you may not know is the myriad of ways that you can save money on college before even arriving on campus. In the run-up to college orientation and the first day of class, your goal should be to save as much as possible through some seriously ninja tactics.

Having a plan and being prepared now will pay off in the long run when you land on campus. The following suggestions will help you save some cash before beginning your college career:

  1. By taking career aptitude tests prior to graduation, you’ll have a better idea of majors that you’re well suited for. And in the process, you’ll save a boatload. Here’s why: According to a study by Penn State, 75% of students will change their major at least once - adding to a prolonged college experience (and therefore tuition expense). These career aptitude tests will give you a sense of the jobs and industries in which you may find a high level of success or achievement. Pursuing that one path and finishing your degree in four years (or less) could save you thousands of dollars. Simply google ‘career aptitude tests’ and take a few to see what options routinely show up.
  2. While in high school, take Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO), Advanced Placement (AP), and/or College In the Schools (CIS) classes. Many high schools across the country have partnered with local colleges and Universities. They are allowing enrollment in college level classes that translate to college credits when the student successfully completes the course. Many are offered to the student for free or a significantly discounted cost. Advanced Placement courses are typically offered through the high school and allow a student to take an AP test at the end of the semester generating college credit. These programs are extremely valuable when you compare the nominal cost of the credits to the average cost per credit hour, which according to Student Loan Hero is $594. Assuming a three credit hour class, your savings could be as high as nearly $1,800 per class. 
  3. Keep your grade point average (GPA) high and work to get a solid American College Test/Scholastic Assessment Test (ACT/SAT) score. Your GPA and test scores matter greatly when institutional aid is factored. Institutional Aid is the pool of funds that comes directly from the University to which you’re applying. According to Sallie Mae’s ‘How America Pays For College’ study, institutional aid is one of the biggest ways families are covering college costs. Taking a pre-test study course or sample quizzes can impact your score by a couple of points or more, and some schools allow you to create a ‘superscore’ by taking the highest elements of each section and combining them for your overall score. While some students with senioritis might let up towards the end of high school, keeping your GPA and test scores high could save you a bundle.
  4. Apply for scholarships like it’s your job -- especially the local ones. It’s typical for local civic organizations to offer scholarships to juniors and seniors in high school. These awards are usually $500-1000 in size, come to you in the form of a check, and usually have a fairly easy application process (like a 300 word essay. Easy!). Also not uncommon is for these organizations to only get a handful of applicants because students think they won’t win anyway, the amount is too small, or they don’t like to write. Applying for these scholarships is the single highest paying part-time job you’ll ever have. Just google “your hometown scholarships” and see what comes up. Check Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions Club, Optimist, Soroptimist, Knights of Columbus, Casinos, and local banks and credit unions.
  5. Set a percentage of your part-time income and monetary gifts (birthdays & holidays) that will go into a savings account earmarked for college costs. The percentage you put away is up to you to define, but should be at least 30% of your take home pay. Remember that you may not be working as much (or right away) once on campus, so the cash you’re making now is for the future. If you can swing a higher amount, like 50-80% of your paychecks, your future self will appreciate it! As for birthday and holidays, consider telling your relatives (who are prone to ask you ‘what’s on your list’?) that cash would be wonderful as you’re building a college nest egg. This will feel like free money! And you’ll need a healthy savings account for unexpected expenses while in college.

Just by following a couple of the suggestions above could save you thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars throughout your college experience. A little preparation goes a very long way towards reducing the overall amount of debt you could be facing after graduation. When you consider that every dollar borrowed is two dollars paid back, you’re giving your future self a major savings!

Adam Carroll

Personal Finance Expert and Author