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How To Cut College Costs by 13%-25%

Posted By Jim On 05/19/2008 @ 6:49 am In Frugal Living,Personal Finance | 11 Comments

Want to know how I was able to shave nearly 13% off my college costs?

Advanced Placement classes.

I was able to graduate college a semester early in part because I loaded up on Advanced Placement (AP) classes while I was in high school. Someone got it into my head that I could take these AP classes for free (not counting the nominal fee for the exam) and get college credit for getting high marks on the AP tests. At the time, my brain wasn’t thinking “oh, I can save money on college,” but rather “I can spend time now and have it count twice – once in high school and once in college,” so it was in part the bit of hustle inside of me that spurred me to action.

I took your standard science and math ones (Chemistry, Physics, Calculus, Computer Science) as well as a few “useless” (from a college credit perspective, not from a learning perspective) classes like Comparative Government, English, Art History, US and World History. The net result was approximately one semester’s worth of electives (and most notably skipping out on an calculus class offered at 8:30am only, you have no idea how happy I was to hear that).

For those of you looking to do this, my advice is that you do your research about colleges ahead of time to ensure that your time is spent most effectively. Also, consider taking classes that you may never get credit for but would ultimately enjoy (I was never getting any credit for Art History, but I learned a lot in that class).

Here are some tips:

  • Check to see if your potential colleges give credit for high scores and in which subjects, then see what those scores are. I didn’t know this but I was never getting credit for Comparative Government or Art History.
  • If they do not but you are still interested, take the class but skip the exam. You only need the exam if you want credit, if you can’t get credit even with a score of 5, just skip the exam.
  • The SAT/ACT and SAT II exams are more important. Given a choice, focus on the standardized tests over the AP exams (that’s not to say you can’t focus on both) because those tests get you into college, AP scores just get you farther along once you get admitted.
  • To take full advantage, you may need to load up on non-elective classes to finish early. My credits were about 50% optional electives and 50% required electives but none applied to my core or foundation-type classes (CMU accepted my AP CS marks but the class was taught in Pascal and I didn’t know C/C++, which was the language CMU used at the time, so I had to take 15-127) so I had to load up on those in the vacuum left by fulfilled electives.
  • Don’t burn yourself out. If you take too many AP’s, you might overload yourself and perform poorly on the exams. Most colleges will only award credit for 4′s and 5′s, so keep that in mind.
  • Enjoy yourself. The point of these AP classes is to expand your mind beyond the typical topics covered in high school. Art History isn’t something most high school students have the opportunity to take, so enjoy the classes and broaden your horizons. Without that one art history class, I would know absolutely nothing about art, I’ve never regretted taking that class (even if I got no credit!).

There you have it, AP classes are your way of shaving 13%-25% (you can get, at most, a year of credit according to the College Board [3]) your college costs.

(photo by steven n maher [4])


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[3] College Board: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/exgrd_get.html

[4] steven n maher: http://www.flickr.com/photos/steven_maher/539888773/sizes/s/

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