Going to college gets more expensive every year. And it’s not just the cost of tuition that keeps going up, but also books, lab fees, supplies, and room and board expenses for students living on campus. Reducing the time spent earning a degree can equal huge savings, and many students can do this by getting a jump start on their college degree while still in high school. The great thing about getting an early start is that these credits can be earned at a fraction of the price that they would cost at a major university. Some high school seniors will be able to skip a year or more of college with the credits they earn in high school, which will save them not only on tuition costs, but on everything from books to housing, as well. Here’s how to do it:

Dual enrollment

Dual enrollment programs allow high school students to take courses at local colleges that count toward both their postsecondary career and their high school requirements. The best part is that the school district usually picks up a large portion of the bill for qualifying students. Eligibility can vary by district, but most schools will require students to meet a certain standard on their ACTs or SATs, have a good grade point average, and be in either 11th or 12th grade. Schools typically only offer this option to students who wish to take courses that the school does not offer or will not fit into their schedule. For example, my high school would have allowed me to take advanced Russian classes at a local university because they weren’t able to offer the advanced classes. Had I been interested, they would have covered 12 credits to allow me to continue studying. If you and your child have questions about dual enrollment, have her contact her guidance counselor and start making plans as soon as she enters high school.

AP classes

Advanced Placement courses are classes offered by local high schools that meet the standards laid out by the College Board. The College Board offers 34 courses in everything from Art History to Chinese, but the specific classes offered by your child’s high school will likely not include all of these choices. AP classes are extremely rigorous, and by taking these classes in high school, students can prepare themselves for the College Board exams that are held at the end of the school year where they may be able to earn college credit for their hard work.

Exams cost $89 each, but there are fee waivers available for students who have income-based need. Many universities will grant between 3–4 credits if you earn a passing grade on the AP test, but some will give more. Michigan State University gave me eight credits for just one AP class because it corresponded with two classes required for my major, which saved me almost $4,000.

AP tests

If your child’s high school does not offer many AP classes, you can still take the College Board exam in May for a chance to earn college credit. Studying on their own can be a difficult prospect for many, since these tests are very rigorous, but if your child has a special talent for a subject, this may be the way to go. Have your child discuss this option with his counselor and teachers to find out how to best prepare. A wide selection of study materials can also be found on Amazon for around $15, and although the College Board does not officially approve these books, they are usually very helpful.

Attend community college in the summer

Many students start out at a community college and then transfer the credits to a larger university. You may already know that this can be a great way to save on costs since the same class costs much less at a community college than at a university—about one-third the price in my area. However, students going directly to a four-year school can also use community colleges to save some money. By attending classes in the summer after high school, several required classes can be completed at a fraction of the cost of waiting to take them after starting at a four-year school. This can be a great option for students to get a head start if they did not feel ready for AP while they were in high school. Community college classes can also often be taken by high school students who do not qualify for dual enrollment, and while tuition will not be paid for, it will still save money compared to enrolling in a four-year university.

Make a plan to finish in four or less

Many students who do fine in college simply may not have been prepared for AP classes or dual enrollment while they were in high school. These students can still save a bundle by making sure they finish college in four years or less. The five-year plan has become all too common for many students (including myself), but the costs of an extra year are substantial when you figure in room and board. Taking classes in the summer can be a great way to ensure that you stay on track and graduate on time—and if you can transfer these from a community college you can save even more!

This is a guest post by April From Grand Blanc, MI
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