If you shudder when thinking about financing your child’s education, you are not alone. With rising tuitions, and more students competing for limited financial aid, the cost of a 4-year education has risen dramatically over the past decade.

And while parents are usually the ones staying awake at night fretting over tuition bills, students can also play a valuable role in making college more affordable.

Here are my top 5 ways a student can help reduce the costs of attending college:

Earn the best grades and test scores possible
Most colleges have a certain amount of money to award in the form of merit scholarships, and they use it strategically to attract students who will raise their academic profile. As a result, students with higher GPA and higher SAT/ACT scores often receive the best scholarships from colleges. So keep those grades up!

Cast a wide net when building your college list
Typically, the most “in-demand” schools give the least amount of merit-based financial aid, and many of the most selective/popular colleges DON’T GIVE MERIT AID. At all. To anyone.  The rule of thumb: the higher a college is in the rankings, the less merit aid they probably give. Schools located in major cities on the East and West coasts are also less likely to award merit aid. The reason is simple – most of these colleges get more applicants than they have space for, and don’t have to offer much financial aid because plenty of families are willing to pay full price. Students applying to these schools should plan on paying full price, unless they qualify for need-based aid.

Lesser-known schools, especially those located outside of major cities and away from the coasts, have to offer more financial aid in order to attract students. So a high-performing student will likely get a much better financial aid offer from less well-known schools in the mid-West than they will from a big name school in Boston or Los Angeles.

To maximize your financial aid offers, stay open-minded and apply to the less selective colleges, especially those away from the major cities.

Consider community college
Completing the first two years at a community college, then transferring to a 4-year college will save a ton of money. Not only is tuition far lower, but the student can also live at home for an two additional years. This is also a great option for students who aren’t sure of their goals or aren’t quite ready to be on their own. In the end, your degree will still be from a 4-year school, and this is what counts most.

Have a part time job
Most colleges, and the communities surrounding them, have plenty of jobs available for students. Not only does working bring in extra cash, it offers valuable experience to put on a resume. College jobs can include anything from being a tour guide, to checking IDs at the gym, to researching with a professor. Some jobs are so low-key that students can study while they work, while others may offer valuable experience in an academic field. Just be sure to keep the workload reasonable (5-10 hours a week is ideal) in order not to detract from studies. Students who qualify should check out the Federal Work Study program, which often offers higher hourly wages.

Strive to graduate in 4 years (or less!)
Many students, especially at crowded public universities, now take 5 years to graduate, which means additional years of paying tuition. To stay on track and meet graduation requirements, students should see an academic advisor regularly. It’s equally important to be aware of requirements for registering for classes on time – at large schools, general education classes often fill up quickly, and registering late may leave you out of luck until the following semester. Students can also take summer classes to work towards graduation requirements. And finally, if you are in danger of failing a class, seek help immediately! Failed classes may lead to addition time needed before you are eligible to graduate.

Want more tips for reducing the costs of college? We guide and advise families on all matters related to cost and financial aid. Contact us for more details.