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Pay for College: How to Save 20 Percent

To study abroad and complete a dual major at Pennsylvania State University, it should have taken me close to five years to graduate. But after a couple summer courses and taking more than the recommended (read: sane) amount of credits I managed to cut loose from campus in four years. My parents and I also managed to save approximately $16,000, the in-state tuition at the time.
Seems like graduating "on time" hasn't gotten any easier these days. The University of Cincinnati's independent student newspaper published an article earlier this week called "After Four, They Need More: Most Take Six Years for College Degree." The writer cites federal data showing that the majority of students are taking at least six years to earn a bachelor's degree. Colleges may sell you on a four-year deal, but only about 36 percent of students finish by that time.

If your goal is to have as little debt as possible after graduation, know this: Time is money. Yes, it can be very difficult to narrow down a major and universities are ramping up the requirements, but to contain the cost of college you should aim to graduate in four years (or even less).
Parents, talk to your college-bound children about their career goals and what they may want to major in. Start that conversation early. The sooner students establish a major and sign up for courses, the more likely they can finish in four years (and the more money you'll have for retirement). Make sure they're taking enough credits (and passing) to satisfy their degree and that they're working with a school counselor to address that four year deadline.

Next, students who plan to study abroad should make sure their college approves of the program and will accept the credits. You don't want to find out a month before graduation that (oops) Junior is two classes short of getting a diploma. It's back to school in the summer or fall, which can end up being a pricey delay.

If students realize they're behind with credit requirements, they may want to take those courses at a community college during the summer or online and transfer the credits over to save money. If he or she is still in high school, know that scores of 3, 4, or 5 out of 5 on Advance Placement (AP) exams can usually earn your child automatic course credits in college. According to the CollegeBoard, which administers the AP exams: "AP students are more likely to graduate from college in four years - students who take longer to graduate at public colleges and universities can spend up to $19,000 for each additional year."

Photo Courtesy: Steakpinball's photostream on flickr

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