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Are there any ways to lower the cost of college?

You can lower the cost of college in a number of ways. The deciding factors in achieving your cost goals may be limited only by your flexibility.

The primary way to lower the cost of college is to choose a less expensive school. You may find that excluding prestigious colleges significantly lowers the bill with little or no impact on the quality of your child's education. Less expensive private schools and state universities often have stronger offerings in certain programs than their more prestigious private counterparts, and may offer smaller class sizes. Local colleges also offer the opportunity to live at home, which can minimize room-and-board expenses. Be aware, however, that this choice might require the purchase of a car in addition to commuting costs.

As a creative alternative, your child could enroll in a less expensive institution (e.g., a state or community college) and then transfer to the college of his or her choice after two years. Your child's degree would be from the preferred college, but the total cost would be reduced by the two years you spent paying lower tuition and fees.

You can also check to see if the schools your child wishes to attend offer accelerated programs or special academic exams. Accelerated programs offer the chance to graduate in three years, allowing you to save a year's worth of college expenses. Special academic exams offer the opportunity to earn college credits even before your child enters college. This can also cut down on the required course load and consequent expenses.

You can also investigate government military programs. Your child's options include attending a service academy, enlisting in the military first and then attending college under the GI Bill, and training for the military while in school under the ROTC program. Although such programs all offer benefits, each has specific service requirements that you should understand thoroughly.

Finally, you should investigate all possible sources of financial aid. Your child might obtain a student loan or enroll in a work-study program. None of these options actually lowers the cost of attendance, but they will diminish the bite college expenses take out of the family budget.