College Payoff: Strategy to Cut Down Costs

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A college education can be one of the biggest investments a student or parent will ever make. There are ways, however, to reduce the bill.

18-year-old DyAnna Washington and her 18-year-old classmate, Rebekah Kusak, are both students at Cleveland's School of the Arts and both have mapped out a strategy for lowering future tuition bills.

"College is way too expensive in my opinion," said Kusak.

"There's so much money out there and it just goes unclaimed," insisted Washington.

The teens enrolled in college level courses at Tri-C, while still attending classes at the high school. Tuition and books are paid for as long as they're enrolled at the School of the Arts and all credits are guaranteed to transfer at any Ohio college or university.

"There's like three or four classes that I don't have to pay for because I've already taken them," said Washington.

"I've taken five classes, so I got all those books for free and the classes for free, and I just realized how much money that saved me, just that small amount," Kusak told Call For Action Reporter Lorrie Taylor.

Washington estimated her savings at $2,400; Kusak said there's a possibility she could eliminate the cost of her entire first year.

Comparing schools and what they have to offer was a big part of Washington's plan to ensure her education would be affordable. The federal government made it easier with its online "College Scorecard." The Scorecard shows the costs at different schools across the country.

"It's probably the most important thing that you can do because you don't want to end up going to a school that you can't afford or that you didn't budget," said Washington.

The teenager told Taylor that financial aid packages are better at some colleges and universities than they are at others. She advised students not to be afraid to pick up the phone if they don't like what they've been offered.

"My mom and I got on the phone with them and they're like 'oh really? That's how you feel?' And they just gave me more money," said Washington.

Venus Puliafico, financial aid director from Case Western Reserve University, said negotiating for a better financial aid package is always worth a try.

"I hear of it all the time," she told Taylor.

She also recommended students check out social media accounts for the universities in which they're interested.  Case Western, for example, routinely posts newly released scholarship opportunities on its Facebook page.

"We actually post these on a daily basis," said Puliafico.

Kusak's scholarship search will continue as she pursues a degree in veterinary medicine, while Washington's is officially over. Her persistence in finding the very best financial aid package resulted in a full scholarship to a private college in New York, where she’ll work toward a career in physical therapy.

"I was just really happy and now I get chills every time I talk about it," she said, beaming with pride.

For more information on researching the cost of attending college, click here.