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Shrinking the College Tab

The most effective way to shrink college expenses is to think big. Aim for merit awards or fat financial aid packages. There are plenty of other opportunities, however, that you can seize to whittle down costs. Here are some to get you started:

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Graduate in Four Years

It's shocking how few college kids graduate in eight semesters. Millions of students are now taking five or six years or more to earn their diplomas.

In the hall of shame, many California state universities possess dreadful four-year graduate rates, including San Jose State University (7.1%), California State University-Long Beach (10.9%), and San Diego State University (13.9%). Dismal rates are hardly confined to the West Coast. A tiny sampling of schools with terrible four-year rates include Kennesaw State University (8.3%), University of Hawaii at Manoa (11.5%), University of Louisville (12.6%), Georgia State University (13.7%), University of Utah (15.4%), University of Oklahoma (19.3%), and Western Michigan University (20.1%).

You can't just blame the terrible graduation rate on academic dead enders. At some schools, particularly public universities, classes are overloaded, and some popular degree programs require kids to spend far longer in school than they ever imagined. If a child switches a major or decides to earn a double major, the time clock can also get pushed back. The cost of college will also delay graduation because many students must work full or part time to pay the tab.

When shopping for schools, inquire about a school's four-year graduation track record. Unfortunately, the graduation rate is frequently reported as a six-year figure. As mentioned earlier, the Education Trust provides a quick way to find four-year graduation rates through its College Results Online (www.collegeresults.org). Also ask schools for the average graduation rate for particular majors. Find out why kids experience difficulty graduating on time and how the successful ones pull it off.

The following table provides a breakdown of graduation rates from a study conducted by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. As you'll see, different types of institutions in the study enjoyed greater success at getting their graduates out the door in a timely fashion.

Institution Type 4-Year Grad Rate 6-Year Grad Rate
Public university 28% 58%
Private university 67% 80%
Public college 24% 47%
Nonsectarian college 56% 66%
Catholic college 46% 60%
Other Christian college 51% 61%
All institutions 36% 58%

After you've chosen a school, make sure you meet as soon as possible with an academic advisor. Learn what the requirements are for an intended major including the number of credits the degree program requires. Take at least 25% of those credits each year. Also enroll in the required courses as soon as possible since some of these essential classes may only be available once a year, and even worse, could be a prerequisite for other higher division classes.

If you fall behind, consider summer school at your own college or university or at a community college for general education classes. Making sure you don't linger unnecessarily will save more than college costs. Graduation delays also keep you from earning a living!

Next: Look for Bargains Across State Lines

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From The College Solution Copyright © 2008, FT Press. Used by permission of FT Press, and Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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