4 Ways High School Students Can Cut Future College Tuition Costs in Half

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If you are like many high school students today, you may be dreading the thought of paying for college. We don’t blame you. It can be a scary proposition. From navigating financial aid to the student loans that can follow you long after graduation, student debt is daunting. Fortunately, we have some good news for high school students. There are several ways to beat the system and reduce your future tuition costs while you are still in high school (possibly even cut tuition costs in half)!

How? Let’s break it down…


Bachelor degree programs require you to take a minimum of 120+ credit-hours. In-state tuition prices vary across the U.S., but the average cost per credit-hour taken at a public 4-year college is $325. At $325 per credit for 120+ credits, you are looking at about $31,200 in tuition costs, if you take only 8 semesters to complete your degree. Unfortunately, that number does not even include student fees, textbooks or living expenses and paying for out-of-state student tuition. Attending a private 4-year college will usually cost you even more.

If you’re a high school student, here are 4 things you can do now to reduce your tuition costs in the future:


Scholarships and Financial Aid

We’ll start with the one you’ve probably heard of. Apply for scholarships and financial aid. Even as a sophomore or junior in high school, you can start seeking out scholarship opportunities. We know what you’re thinking, “applying to scholarships takes forever!” Well, think about it this way. Various private scholarships set their deadlines throughout the year, so consider scholarship searching your pre-college part-time job. Let’s say it takes you 10 hours to apply for 10 different scholarships and you are selected to receive only 1 scholarship worth $1,000. That means, you just got paid at a rate of $100 per hour and you have another honor to add to your resume. It’s hard to beat that, even as a high school student working a low wage job.

Financial aid can feel like a pain to apply for, but it’s an important step. To be considered for federal financial aid, you must file your FASFA before the priority deadline.

AP Exams

Yep, AP exams are more than just a way to boost your GPA! They are also one path to reducing your future tuition costs. How does it work? Anyone can test out of introductory college classes by taking AP exams while in high school. Each AP exam will cost a minimum of $94 in the U.S. (and $123 outside of the U.S.), though your school may charge a higher fee to cover their proctoring and administration costs.

Things to know about AP exams:

The AP program was designed to prepare students to be successful in college. That is why taking AP courses looks good on transcripts for college applications.

You do not have to take AP classes to take the AP exams. You can find exam preparation study guides, books, and other resources available for purchase online.

AP credit transfer policies are different at each university and can even differ among program departments. Some schools, such as Brown University and Dartmouth College, will allow you to skip introductory courses in exchange for AP credit, but will not count your AP credits towards your 120+ credits required for graduation. According to a 2013 survey by the College Board, 68% of transfer policies give AP course credit for an exam score of 3 or better. Be sure to check whether your AP credits will count towards your degree before you consider AP exams as a way to save on college tuition.

Important to note: transferring into a 4-year college with AP credits does not guarantee that you will save money by graduating sooner. Research has shown that students who take AP exams are more likely to finish college on time (in four years instead of taking longer) than their peers who did not take the exams. If you graduate in four years (instead of 4+ years), you will save money by avoiding additional semesters of tuition.

Whereas AP exams might not save you time in college, they can help you skip some of the large lecture introductory courses. They may also create the room in your schedule to switch to a different major or to participate in a study abroad program.

Dual Enrollment Courses

Another option is to take dual enrollment credits that count towards your high school diploma and your bachelor’s degree. Dual enrollment credits are often available through your local community college, which will charge you a set amount per credit-hour taken. Community college prices vary from state to state and range from $52 per credit-hour (CA) to $291 per credit-hour (NH).

Now, let’s say you’re a high school student who plans on attending a public 4-year college after graduation. If you take 30 dual enrollment credits at $86 per credit-hour, you could potentially save $278 per dual enrollment credit hour that you transfer to a 4-year public college (a total of $8,340 saved).

A few things to keep in mind:

Dual enrollment classes are often held at the community college campus, but in some cases, they may be taught at your high school.

Dual enrollment programs can sometimes over promise, saying that students can get a jump-start on college by transferring up to two years’ worth of credits. However, not all 4-year colleges accept all community college dual enrollment credits. Some 4-year college programs will allow you to transfer the credits, but will not count them toward your required 120+ for graduation. Check the transfer policies of your desired 4-year college before you decide if dual enrollment is right for you.

Dual enrollment programs will save you more or less depending on the state you live in. For example, two years of dual enrollment credits transferred to an AZ public university will save a student approximately $16,680 in college tuition.  For states such as Nevada, Florida, and Kansas, two years of dual enrollment courses will save between $2,000 to $4,000.

If you plan on including your dual enrollment classes in your college application, it is important to earn good grades. However, remember that the grades you earn in dual enrollment classes will not count towards your GPA at the 4-year college.

Many students find that transitioning to a 4-year college from high school or community college is a challenging experience. If you choose to take all your “easy” college classes as dual enrollment courses while you are in high school, you will not be able to count on these courses to help pad your GPA at the 4-year college. As a result, your transition to the 4-year college may be more difficult especially if you start your 1st semester by taking mostly junior level courses.

Concurrent Enrollment Courses

Still paying attention? Good, because you’ll want to hear about this one. There are programs available now that provide high school students with the opportunity to take concurrent enrollment courses. This is a relatively new concept, pioneered by ASU Prep Digital, which allows students to take college courses online (on their own schedule) while they’re still in high school. How is it different from dual enrollment? Since concurrent courses are offered through a 4-year college or university, the concurrent enrollment credits you earn will be directly counted toward your bachelor’s degree. Not to mention, you can take these courses online. No more driving to your local community college. 

Things to know:

If after graduating high school you decide to attend a different 4-year college, transferring your concurrent enrollment credits will be a breeze. If your concurrent enrollment credits were taken at a top research (aka Research #1 or R1) university, such as ASU, your credits will transfer nearly anywhere. Therefore, you will not have to worry about whether these credits will transfer (like you do with dual enrollment credits) with you to another university.

ASU Prep Digital offers online concurrent enrollment courses for $600 per class (divided, this is just $200 per credit-hour). Compared to ASU (and other universities) tuition costs, which depend on your program of study, you can save between $210 and $245 per credit-hour by taking concurrent enrollment courses. Four semesters of concurrent enrollment credits can save an ASU student as much as $9,360 in tuition costs alone.

If you are able to fit a full 120+ credit-hours of concurrent enrollment courses into your high school years, you could save up to $18,720 at ASU, by spending $24,000 instead of the $42,720 you would spend on 8 semesters of tuition (that will cut your tuition nearly in half!)

Taking concurrent enrollment classes can save you money on college tuition if the program offers the courses for a reduced tuition price. Even if the concurrent enrollment program does not offer reduced tuition prices, taking concurrent enrollment courses may still save you money in the long run by: (1) accelerating your time to graduation, (2) getting you into the workforce faster, and (3) allowing you to absorb fewer tuition increases.

To learn more about concurrent enrollment and how you can take courses like these online, visit asuprepdigital.asu.edu.