Challenge: Hack my College!

Tuition is insane, scholarships are low, and it takes forever to graduate. 

Sure, you can pay full price, but why?  Inside EVERY college’s own catalog are legitimate opportunities for students to save either time or money!  Of course, colleges don’t have any incentive to make it easy for you!  They’re not going to tell you how to take FEWER classes, pay LESS tuition, or graduate SOONER.

Desperate parents and students are looking for ways to save time or money, and that happens to be my superpower. 

Is there money to save? Time to save?  A better way to get a degree?  Let’s find out!

CHALLENGEUniversity of Alabama

JENNIFER’S ASSESSMENT:  Students at the University of Alabama will be happy to know that as much as 50% of their degree requirements can come from credit by exam (though you’d have to be very careful to match things up) and you’ll want to take FULL advantage of their policy!   Motivated and resourceful homeschooling families can plan all 60 credits (the first 2 years of the degree) at home, completed in high school.  The last 60 credits (the last 2 years of the degree) can be completed as an enrolled student on campus.

What they want you to pay: $100,000 (in-state) $180,000 (out of state)

What you should actually pay: $50,000 (in-state) $90,000 (out of state)


CHALLENGE:  The University of Arkansas.

JENNIFER’S ASSESSMENT:  The University of Arkansas makes it tricky to find out how much it actually costs to attend. Instead of a simple sheet, they use a “calculator” to give you an estimate.  Those things are terrible!!  After some digging, I found that in-state tuition is about $320 per credit. Out of state students shouldn’t even consider this college! (over $800 per credit!!!)  Now, $320 per credit isn’t a terrible price for our Arkansas families, but what blows the bank at this college is living on campus.  The cost of a dorm at this university is MORE than tuition, so the first big savings here is to live at home for as many years as possible.  If you’re not close enough to commute, they offer distance learning classes that you can do for at least 1-2 years.  If you can live at home for all 4 years, you’ll save $75,000!

Let’s also talk about the one really cool thing I found – besides the fact that they accept most CLEP and AP, they actually award more college credit for some CLEP exams than AP (wow?!).  Now, their CLEP policy isn’t great– they want higher than normal scores, but we can work with that.   Most of the time, CLEP is a lot easier to pass than AP, and you can certainly take a lot more CLEP exams than AP.   So, for this college, we’re going to choose CLEP instead of AP.  The cost to take a CLEP?  $0  So, every college credit you earn via CLEP  is *literally* free at The University of Arkansas.  Based on credit awarded, applicability to a degree, and ease of passing, these are my top picks for using CLEP at this college:  College Composition, Chemistry, Psychology,  College Algebra, and US History 1 & 2.  Pass those 6 exams before you enroll and you’ll reduce your attendance by about ONE YEAR and your tuition by about $8,000.

What they want you to pay: $115,000

What you should actually pay: $32,000

CHALLENGE:  New York University

JENNIFER’S ASSESSMENT:  Yikes, this has to be one of the most expensive universities in the country!  Of course, you’ll have to look really hard to even FIND their tuition information!  I’m going to be honest, this hack was tough – in the end, I squeezed out a little savings, but they make it very hard to do!  Since NYU is located in the heart of New York City, it’s predictable that housing is also expensive.  First-year students will pay about $15,000 but then each additional year is about $20,000.  Commuting to this school is unlikely to save you significant funding, so a housing solution:  not hacked.

Moving on to tuition.  NYU advertises that the average freshman receives a $37,000 tuition scholarship. Since this is not guaranteed, when you’re building a budget, don’t factor that into your planning!  Even if your student gets that award their first year, you’re still on the hook for every year AFTER freshman year, so this is a temptation you must resist!  NYU attempts to lure you into the program by a significantly lower first year (reduced housing, big freshman scholarship) but then hits you with full price for each additional year!  Also, don’t assume that elite universities are above “hackable” tuition strategies, but NYU makes it tricky.  While they advertise accepting transfer credit, note that if your teen’s credit was earned in high school- it’s excluded!  That’s right, only college courses completed AFTER high school graduation count, so that’s also a huge disappointment.

New York University charges an astonishing $1,800 per credit, but motivated teens can get take AP exam in high school and earn college credit for some majors at this college.  NYU expects applicants to submit 2 AP scores, so this strategy is in line with what they expect.  For every score of 5, you’ll save $5,400 so it’s a huge win if your teen can do this.  My advice is to focus on AP.  They cap your AP credit limit to 32 credits, and don’t award credit for “old” AP exam scores. This sounds ok, but their policy is only hype. In reality, they may only award advanced standing, which simply allows you to choose a different course in place of that course – saving you nothing! Further, they consider your foreign language AP scores too old once they’re 18 months old, limiting you to AP exams taken during 12th grade.  You’ll have to be exceptionally savvy and be sure your AP exams line up perfectly for you to actually get anywhere close to 32 credits.  You’ll want to spend some time reading the rules (there are many)

You’ll want to AVOID the AP exams that don’t award college credit!  Be sure you don’t waste your time on English Literature, Computer Science Fundamentals, English Language, Environmental Sciences, or European History.  Based on a credit award, applicability to a degree, and the likelihood of finding an AP testing facility,  I recommend you take only these four AP exams, and that you work exceptionally hard to score a 5 on each.  If you do that, you’re going to have the best chance of saving significant tuition.  Take AP Biology Exam, AP Chemistry Exam, AP Spanish/French Language and Culture Exam (12th grade only), and the AP Calculus AB Exam.  Passing those four exams will save $43,000.

What they want you to pay: $288,000

What you should actually pay: $245,000