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“Scholarship Resumes” and Other Ways to Reduce College Costs


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a marked shift in student attitudes toward higher education, particularly among high school students who are more aware than ever that the choices they make will have a lasting impact on their financial and professional future. Given that, many are rethinking their post high school graduation plans.

In fact, according to a recent national survey of Gen Z teens age 14–18 from ECMC Group’s Question The Quo campaign, there has been a nearly 20 percent drop in the last eight months in students considering four-year college, with many wanting a shorter educational path to a career. In addition, the number one thing high schoolers want to change about higher ed is the cost.

No matter which path students choose, understanding how to reduce higher education costs and think critically about financial aid is a good idea.

Scholarships continue to be a go-to for reducing the cost of college, with options for students from all backgrounds with all levels of academic achievement and extracurricular participation. To make the most of their experiences, we suggest students create a “scholarship resume” that lists not only their academic interests, but also their experiences outside of the classroom, whether they be organized activities and sports, or part-time jobs and work at home. This resume provides an overview of their accomplishments — often quite impressive to the student when compiled–and also helps them determine the range of scholarships that may be available to them.

In addition, students should apply for as many scholarships as they can, particularly given the work/reward ratio. Students who spend an hour or two each week applying for scholarships can earn hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars towards college. Imagine spending an hour writing an essay that can be used to apply for several scholarships. If that hour-long writing project results in two $500 scholarships–$1,000 earned in a short period of time is an impressive rate of return.
Students should also research whether their parents’ employers provide any type of tuition assistance or reimbursement for family members.

There are also ways to reduce the cost of college beyond scholarships.

  • Start college before “college.” Many students have the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school with Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Earning an acceptable grade on the AP exam will earn them college credit even before stepping foot on a college campus while providing the experience of the rigors of college-level course work. Students may also take dual-enrollment or summer learning courses at their local community college. We’ve worked with several individuals who have even been able to complete two full years of college course work even before their high school graduation.
  • Be selective and read the fine print. Students enrolling in college often are unaware that there is flexibility to adjust their college expenses in ways that will not compromise the quality of their education. For example, some college costs are fixed and cannot be changed (i.e. tuition, fees, etc.), while others are variable and depend on the student’s choices. These variable expenses (what you want vs. need) include things like entertainment and clothing. Another option is to consider taking the general education requirements–often the first two years of college–at a nearby community college where the cost per credit is typically significantly lower than a four-year university. Just make sure the credits earned will transfer to the college of choice in order to reap the greatest savings.
  • Embrace the elements that save money. Other ways to lower costs include living at home vs. on campus, walking/biking or using public transportation instead of a personal vehicle, renting textbooks rather than buying, or looking for low or no-cost entertainment options in the community. Many colleges provide free events for students and many businesses in college communities provide student discounts.

As students rethink their options, many are focused on the overall return-on-investment of education. Yes, the cost of tuition is important, but students should also consider the time it takes to complete a degree or program, how much money it will cost aside from tuition, and ultimately, whether that path connects directly to a job that will allow them to repay loans if they decide to take on debt.

With a little planning and preparation, students can successfully reduce their higher education costs and also improve their financial situation in the future.

By Tomika Brown and Monique Adorno-Jiménez, directors at ECMC's The College Place locations