Four years used to be the norm for achieving a college degree. And while that might be the timeline most people aim for, it's certainly not the only way to achieve the same result: Earning a degree with your name on it from a reputable institution. In order to accommodate the realities of getting that degree, here are three ways to adjust the four-year timeline to help you achieve your college goals.
Go to School Part-Time
It's no secret that sometimes the hardest part of finishing college is paying for it, so some schools allow their students to attend classes part-time so that they might also work elsewhere in order to pay for those classes. It might seem odd to suggest stretching out your time in college in order to save money, but this can be a great option for the right situation. (In particular, students living at home or off-campus can benefit most from this, as they won't be paying a set amount for room and board on top of tuition, but part-time enrollment also results in lower tuition than full-time as you'll be paying by credit instead of a flat amount.)
However, keep in mind that you may receive less financial aid for part-time credits, so carefully consider whether the amount you could save would be greater than you'd receive if taking classes full-time.
Instead of having to work part-time, you might be able to defer your admission. You'd still apply to colleges like normal, so this isn't the same as taking a gap year, but once accepted, certain schools allow you to put off attendance for a year. That time can be used to save up some cash to make up for any unmet need left by your financial aid package.
However, there can be a drawback here: If your earnings in a given year are over a certain amount, the amount of aid you receive may be lower. Still, if you're able to save money to use instead of acquiring more student loans, this may be a viable option for you, especially if your chosen school decides you're not eligible for aid and your family can't come up with enough to cover the entire cost of college. Taking time off while putting as much money aside as you can might be the only way to make up that difference.
Transfer in Later
If you don't want to compromise the amount of time you spend working on your degree, you can alter your timeline by splitting it between two institutions. Consider starting at a school that is more financially manageable and then completing the latter half of your degree elsewhere. Do two years at a community or public college before transferring to a state or private college.
Transferring allows you to get the same end result — a degree from the college of your choice — without having to pay the premium cost for equivalent classes. Usually, a school's expertise or focus comes in during the higher-level classes of a program anyway, so chances are strong that you won't miss out on much by completing a few lower-level courses at a different school. Do keep in mind that the requirements for a transfer student can be higherthan those for an incoming first year, and that sometimes the financial aid can also be lower for a transfer. Also research your future school thoroughly to ensure it will accept credits earned at your first institution. Again, weigh the difference you'd save in either situation to determine whether this is right for you.
Going to college doesn't have to be a one-size-fits-all process — sometimes you have to do what's best for your situation instead of what might be traditionally expected. Restructuring your schedule is a perfectly acceptable way to go about that. For more innovative ways to fund your college education, check out our book 8 Steps to Paying Less for College. And for more on the college admissions process as a whole, read through the most commonly asked questions from parents and students in our College Admissions 101.