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Four Secret Tuition Savers
By Christina Couch

For you juniors starting to think about your next step, you’re realizing that your college search might boil down to one thing: money. But if the sticker price on your dream school isn’t realistic, don’t worry. The advertised tuition figure isn’t always the bottom line. So, you have to read a lot and also study hard to get the chance to get loyalty from the programs and for that use and all other possibilities. Hidden programs could wind up saving you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Here are four sneaky ways to save.

1. Work colleges
For Rachel Davis, a senior at the College of the Ozarks (Point Lookout, Mo.), balancing classes and a part-time job isn’t always easy, but it does pay the bills.

College of the Ozarks is one of six work colleges in the United States. And Davis, like every other student, is required to work a minimum of 15 hours per week during the school year and one 40-hour week during school breaks.

“I am at class or work nonstop,” Davis says. “But you learn to juggle things that you have to do in the real world.”

In exchange for students’ labor, College of the Ozark’s work program pays students $2,884 toward the college’s $14,900 price tag. With the work program, grants and scholarships, Davis will graduate debt-free and with a résumé packed with work experience.

Not all work colleges guarantee full rides. However, they all do knock a significant chunk off your overall tuition bill. “[In traditional schools], financial aid only goes to 50 to 60 percent of all students because you have to qualify, and many students don’t,” says Erik Hansen, dean of work at Sterling College, a work college in Craftsbury Common, Vt., that offers its students $1,800 to $4,000 per year for their labor. “We offer financial aid to all of our students…100 percent participate, 100 percent receive aid.”

Cash in: For more information on work colleges around the country, check out the Work Colleges Consortium at

2. Graduation guaranteed
“In nearly every college in the country, it’s hard to get the classes you need because they fill up,” says K. Wade Oliver, assistant director of university advising and transfer services at Utah State University. “And it’s usually the freshmen or sophomores that don’t get the classes they need.”

Every year, students get stuck paying for an extra semester or even year of college because they couldn’t get the classes they needed to graduate on time.

Schools like Utah State University (Salt Lake City), Western Illinois University (Macomb, Ill.) and the University of Colorado, Boulder are set on changing that. These schools, as well as several others across the U.S., have adopted graduation-guarantee programs that ensure that you’ll get registered for the classes you need.

Though programs differ from campus to campus, the concept is that first-year students work with academic advisers to plan out their four years of classes. If you maintain your end of the bargain (by taking a normal courseload every semester and passing all classes), then the school will guarantee that you will graduate within four years—or the extra tuition expenses are on the house.

Oliver warns that this program “is not for every student.” Graduation guarantee programs in most schools only apply to incoming freshmen with declared majors and may not accommodate students who study abroad or do an internship during the school year.

Cash in: Call your prospective school’s financial aid or admissions office to find out if there’s a graduation-guarantee option available.

3. Fifth year free
“Buy four, get one free” is the mantra at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. Clark University rewards undergrads who maintain a 3.25 GPA with one full year of graduate school at no cost.

Nick Malizia, a fifth-year student in the geographic information science program, wouldn’t even be in graduate school if it weren’t for the fifth year financial aid program.

“The financial burden of [graduate school] is something that I wouldn’t want to take on,” Malizia says.

Malizia is grateful not only for the $30,000 he saved on tuition, but also for entering the business world armed with a higher degree and a little more preparation to face a vicious job market. “I feel more qualified because I have this degree,” he says. “It’s definitely going to help me get a job when I get out.”

Cash in: To get the inside scoop on the fifth year free programs search your college’s Web site or ask admissions.

4. Tuition locks
According to, college tuition increases an average of eight percent every year. That means a school that charges $10,000 for your freshman year will probably wind up charging more than $12,500 when you’re a senior.

To combat the inflation monster, schools such as Huntingdon College (Montgomery, Ala.), Hiram College (Hiram, Ohio) and Central Michigan University (Mount Pleasant, Mich.) offer plans that lock in your tuition rate during your freshman year so you’ll never pay a penny in inflation.

“The benefits to levelized tuition include increased affordability, the ability to plan a college budget and an incentive to graduate on time, as many of these plans only guarantee the flat tuition rate for four years,” says Brandon Rogers, author of the book Ten Things You Gotta Know About Paying for College. “If you know which major you wish to pursue and you have no intention of being a fifth or sixth year undergrad, these plans are an ideal way of leveling the paying field.”

If you do opt for a tuition lock program, make sure to read the fine print. Levelized programs may only apply to certain majors or may require you to maintain a minimum GPA, declare your major early or enroll in a degree program no later than your freshman year.

Cash in: To find out if your prospective college offers a tuition lock program, contact the school’s financial aid office.

This article is provided by The Next Step Magazine (, a publication that helps students prepare for life after high school.