As parents, we often focus college planning on how to save money to pay for college, but what about ways to pay less for college? The traditional idea of starting college as a freshman, living on campus with a meal plan, and taking in-person classes to achieve a Bachelor degree has evolved because of COVID-19. The pandemic highlighted college experience alternatives, challenged cultural norms, and spotlighted essential jobs. Some of these jobs require advanced degrees while others require education from a trade school or apprenticeship. Consider the following alternatives to make education more affordable. Below I will outline the financial pros and cons of each option.

Dual Enrollment:

Dual enrollment means that a high school student is taking a class that counts towards high school graduation and college credit at the same time.

Pros: The cost of dual enrollment classes are less expensive than regular college classes. Also, a shortened college experience leads to earning money in the workforce sooner. In some states, classes have no cost to the student. Families who must pay for dual enrollment classes can use a 529 account.

Cons: Not all dual enrollment classes are accepted by colleges so it is important to research credit transferability. The grades earned by these classes count as college classes. This means if the class is not passed, it will need to be taken again.

College Level Examination Program (CLEP):

College Level Examination Programs allow a person to take a test proving proficiency in a subject. The exam takes the place of taking the actual college class and provides college credit. 

Pros: The exam cost is about $85, which is a fraction of what a traditional class costs. CLEP also cuts down on college time to allow for faster entry into the workforce. 

Cons: Not all colleges accept College Level Examination Programs (CLEP). The college class it was meant to replace will need to be taken to complete the degree. A student may be considered a transfer student and not a freshman depending on the number of CLEP credits. This could result in loss of scholarships.

Community College: 

Community colleges are colleges that provide two-year programs or associate’s degrees. 

Pros: The 2019-2020 price for “tuition and fees averaged $3,730 for a public two-year institution compared to $41,411 at private college, $11,171 for state residents at public colleges and $26,809 for out of state students at state schools” according to U.S. News and World Report. If a community college is close to your home, room and board fees can be eliminated. Community colleges often cater to individuals who work by offering more evening and weekend classes. Some high paying jobs only require an Associate’s degree. 

Cons: Not all credits transfer to every four year university and classes may need to be retaken. This could increase the cost and time required to complete a degree. Attending a community college first may affect the ability to get scholarships at four year universities that are reserved for freshmen and not transfer students.  It is important to review any articulation agreements that govern how community college credits will transfer to the desired four-year institution.

On-line College Classes: 

On-line college classes are classes taken over the internet. 

Pros: On-line classes offer a flexible learning schedule. This benefit allows a student to complete classes without disrupting the student’s work schedule. A student can live wherever it’s most financially advantageous. 

Cons: On-line college classes are not available for all subjects. This can increase living expenses if in-person classes are not local. 

Pay Per Semester Instead of Per Credit:

Some colleges charge per semester instead of per credit. A student can take 9 credits or 21 credits and it costs the same amount.

Pros: If large credit loads are taken, a lot of money can be saved and degrees can be accomplished faster in order to join the workforce quicker. 

Cons: Not all students can take large credit loads and the program may actually cost more over all. 

Living at Home: 

A student can live at home instead of living in a dormitory or campus apartment.

Pros: Living at home with parents eliminates the college room and board fees.

Cons: Not living on campus may require a vehicle or other commute expenses.   

Trade Schools: 

Trade schools teach practical skills through hands-on training that relates directly to the job. The average tuition fees range from about $3,600 to $14,500 per year according to

Pros: Trade schools can cost as little as $1,000. They can also lead to well-paying essential jobs in less time than four year universities. 

Cons: Trade schools can cost over $30,000. Federal assistance is not always available at trade schools. Programs are very specific which lead to limited job opportunities. 


According to Career Addict, “Apprenticeships are defined as government-funded work-based training programs for people 16 and over. They combine full-time paid employment with part-time study for relevant and nationally-recognized qualification.”

Pros: Instead of paying to learn, an individual is paid while learning. This leads to no debt to pay back.

Cons: Apprenticeships can limit your career paths and salaries can be lower.

Gap Year: 

A gap year means taking a year after high school to travel or work before going into a higher education program. 

Pros: A gap year can provide time to pick a higher education program that works best for the student. This can help save money in the long run.

Cons: A gap year can be very costly if travel or other expensive hobbies are the main focus.



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