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How I saved $100G in college tuition

Seven steps to help you get to your dream school without breaking the bank.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / AndreyPopov

While many people think of college as the best four years of a student’s life, the process is tricky. Higher education is becoming more selective, the applicant pool is growing, and tuition is rising with each year. But here’s the silver lining: there’s an easier, cheaper way to get into your top universities that’s often overlooked: community college.

As a 20-year-old senior at New York University, I saved more than $100,000 in tuition, set myself up to graduate a full year early, and transferred into my dream school all by attending Skyline College in San Mateo, California, for just one year.

Here are seven factors students need to consider.

1. Application. A lot of factors go into your application, like grades, extracurriculars and personal statements. With the admission process for top schools becoming increasingly more competitive, you can never be too sure of your chances. So submit applications to the universities you want to attend, even that reach school you’re not sure you can get into.

2. You got in. Now what? Along with that long-awaited acceptance letter likely comes a hefty tuition with a less-than ideal financial aid award. Even with outside scholarships and grants, the average cost can be overwhelming. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up on that dream school. Typically overlooked, transferring is the perfect opportunity to still attend that university, and for half the price. You’re not alone. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, about 37 percent of students transfer at least once in six years.

3. Smaller can be smarter. There’s often a stigma associated with these less-known schools — that it’s for students that weren’t “good” or “smart” enough to attend a four-year university right out of high school. In fact, it can be one of the smartest decisions students can make. These smaller colleges allow students to take courses transferable to four-year universities for significantly cheaper. According to Community College Review, the average in-state tuition for a full-time student in 2017-18 was $4,871 a year, compared with an average yearly cost of $15,450 for students at a four-year university. The total tuition for my year at Skyline College amounted to $1,924 for 40 units, less than the cost of one class at NYU. You’ll be set to leave your two-year school with a fuller wallet, transferable credits, and an associate degree. Furthermore, these less-expensive schools still provide students the pleasure of a traditional university social life. During my year at Skyline, I became friends with incredible people I never would’ve known otherwise. In one biology class, I met a witty war veteran in his late 20s and a sweet 75-year-old journalist-in-the-making.

4. Plan, plan, plan. While a previous acceptance doesn’t guarantee readmission, don’t plan your year around attending a university you’re not sure you can get into in the first place. The key to a seamless transfer experience is to contact the admissions officer at the university you want to transfer to. I worked with an NYU admissions officer to design my class schedule at Skyline around NYU’s GED curriculum, taking courses that closely resembled its graduation requirements. There’s no guarantee credits will transfer, yet in my experience all but one class did. Even then, it was awarded as an elective.

One of the best things about these less expensive schools in my experience is their transfer resources. My school hosted frequent events, featuring tours to nearby universities or transfer application workshops. I also joined our chapter of Phi Theta Kappa — an honors society for students working toward an associate degree. PTK awarded me $100 as a new member and continued to support me post-transfer, providing me with an annual $2,500 scholarship at NYU.

5. Your counselor is your new BFF. It’s important to work closely with your transfer advisers to ensure you’re on the right path. Know your options. Be sure to ask your counselor about transfer guarantee programs, as some schools have agreements with four-year universities that make the transfer process significantly less hectic. My local college participated in a Transfer Admission Guarantee program in which six schools in the University of California system guaranteed acceptance to students that met specific requirements. If you can’t find a transfer path that’s the right fit, work with an adviser to make your own. I did, and while it was a little extra work, it set me up for an early graduation.

6. Reapply. The common application portal once again becomes your most-visited site. Though it calls for twice as much paperwork this time around, it’s nothing you haven’t done before. Academic advisers will usually answer questions or proofread personal statements. It’s still nerve-wracking, but this is where that first acceptance letter comes in to ease your nerves a bit.

7. Think ahead. You’re almost ready to transfer. Enjoy your new school, but don’t forget to stay organized. That’s important to stay on track. Keep a spreadsheet of your credits — completed, needed, and in progress — making sure they total to the number required to graduate. Map out future class schedules, ensuring you don’t miss any GED or major requirements. Share your plan with your academic adviser to avoid any errors. And most important, keep track of your transfer credits.

All of this may sound overwhelming, but for me all this work was worth it. My bank account is seriously thanking me, and I’m a happy NYU Bobcat!

Angelica Martinez is a politics major at New York University.

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