Reduce College Costs: Things to do in High School to Prepare for College

6 Things High School students can do that will crush the cost of college.

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There are six things a teen can do in high school that will help to reduce the cost of a college education. We’ve done many of these with our 5 kids and they graduated college without any student loans!

How can a high schooler start to reduce college costs?

College is a monumental expense for parents and students alike. Who among us is prepared for paying out tens of thousands of dollars over a 4 or 5-year period? However, with any large expense, the more you and your child prepare, the more manageable the expense can be.

We have helped five of our own kids and hundreds of others work toward a debt-free college experience. We’ve also learned a few things that might help your family dodge the dastardly debt bullet and get a college education without a backpack full of loans.

The preparations don’t start with the months before our darling high school seniors pack their bags for the dorm room.

No, the money-smart preparations should begin years before.

In this article, we’re focusing on what can be done in the high school years to trim college fees. As well as prepare our youngsters’ minds and wallets for higher education at a much lower cost.

Here are 5 things that work:

1) Double Dip in English Class

This idea came from Ben Kaplan, author of the book, “How to go to College Almost for Free.” Help your high schooler unearth scholarships that require essays. As they write the essays, they can be submitted to their English teachers for extra credit . . . and editing.

We don’t know any teacher who wouldn’t reward this type of initiative and your student could get expert editorial help at no cost.

Our kids used this same strategy in college, often bringing essays to their professors a couple of days ahead of the deadline, and were rewarded with expert comments for refining their work—resulting in much higher grades.

2) Leadership Leads to Scholarship

There are multitudes of scholarships and organizations that reward leadership.

If your child is gifted in this area or wants to learn, encourage their involvement in things like Key Club, 4H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA Youth and Government, Congressional Award, Debate Clubs, Honor Societies, and Student Government.

Experiences of these types are invaluable from the aspect of learning organizational structure and planning, but they can also open the door to cash awards and other educational benefits.

3) Community Service for Students

According to a survey of college admissions officers, more than 70 percent of them said that long-term involvement in one or two causes was of great importance to them.

They want to see well-rounded individuals who exhibit the ability to focus on school while being involved in an activity or outreach for which they have a passion.

Consider volunteering at crisis nurseries; animal rescues; hospitals; soup kitchens; food banks; tutoring for low-income families or any other service that benefits the underprivileged, marginalized or elderly.

Learn more here:

4) Earn College Credits Early

a. AP Classes:

Many school districts offer Advanced Placement classes where students can earn college credit while attending classes in their high school. Often these classes have little or no cost to them.

This is a bargain in itself when you consider the average three-credit college course could cost anywhere from $300 to $1200. Not every university accepts AP credits – you can search here:

b. Dual Enrollment (DE) credits

DE is slightly different from AP. Students attend high school classes, but also take a class or two each semester at a community college. These credits are more likely to transfer to a university. It’s always best to learn the policies before enrolling in AP or DE classes.


CLEP and DANTES are two additional ways to earn college credit in high school by “testing” out of a class.

There are 33 different College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests available. And 2900 different colleges accept CLEP credits toward graduation. Students study a textbook in preparation for the test.

Testing costs less than $90 for a three-credit class and occurs at an official college-testing center. Depending on the test, students must earn between 50 and 60 points out of a possible 80 to receive full credit for the course. has a list of CLEP tests available.

DANTES is similar to CLEP testing. DANTES stands for Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support  Originally created for service men and women, these tests are now available for the public to use for accelerated learning.

Bernie Yeater says, “I used CLEP and DSST to reduce college costs. I also took four free classes from . They have over 30 accredited classes from the American Council on Education.

Bonus: Another advantage to taking AP / CLEP or DANTES tests in high school is that when a student cobbles together 15 credits through any of these methods they can eliminate one semester of full-priced college study.

And depending on the school you attend, you could save $5,000 to $30,000. Many colleges have limits on how many of these credits you can bring with you. Our youngest two students graduated high school with in excess of 30 college credits – and both graduated early!

Learn about a kid who used this Dual Credit at Home method to graduate from college in 22 months at a cost of $3100! True Story!

5) Standardized Testing Hack

One of the most frequently used admission measuring devices are ACT / SAT test scores. But did you know that many schools accept Super Scores?

For example, when you take the SAT multiple times they will only count your highest score in each of subsection of the test. You can encourage your kids to take and retake the test many times.

There are about 100 universities that don’t accept Super Scores, rather they utilize your highest combined score from one single test. It’s helpful to know how the university you’d like to attend views test scores.

Pump it up  Our kids used two free study aids to pump up their scores: (this link will get you info about Learning Express Library, but you will have to access the actual site through your public library) and – this site is free – you just need to sign up.

6 Things High School students can do that will crush the cost of college., and hopefully minimize the need for student loans.

6) Volunteering, Internships, and Jobs

We always encourage families to get their high schoolers involved in testing career interests as young as possible. 70 to 80 percent of college students switch majors – which means longer college stints and higher costs.

Finding internships or volunteer opportunities for high school students, in their fields of interest, could save four years of time and thousands of dollars pursuing a degree that your student will never use.

Plus, job experience on a resume is almost a guarantee of having a job upon graduation.

Tuition Reimbursement

There are a number of corporations and businesses that offer part-time and full-time employees tuition reimbursement. If your high school student lands a job at one of these firms the tuition savings could really add up.

Here’s a list of 34 companies that offer tuition reimbursement to part-time workers . . . and we know this list isn’t complete.

Read about Dick’s Drive-In a privately owned, 6 location restaurant chain in Seattle that provides benefits and tuition reimbursement for its workers.

The Pay Off

Parent and students working together to build a strategic foundation aimed at trimming college costs through the high school years can expect to find that their bills after college will be smaller and their net worth, much larger.

The MoneySmart Family System - Family Choice Award Winner Book

More resources for a Debt-Free College experience

For more ideas on how to help your kids be MoneySmart check out:

The MoneySmart Family System (our award-winning parenting book) – we have an entire chapter devoted to saving money on higher education.

Download our audio seminar: Debt Free College: Fantasy or Reality it comes with a detailed fact sheet with lots of useful resources you can access now to prepare your student.

Read all of the Debt-Free College Blog Series Here:

  1. 6 Ways High Schoolers can Crush College Costs
  2. Student Loan Forgiveness Programs: How to get loans discharged legally
  3. Is There Gold at the End of the Scholarship Rainbow? Hack!
  4. How to Maximize FAFSA and Pell Grant Money!
  5. 10 Out of the Box Ideas for Big Time College Savings
  6. How to Eliminate College Debt
  7. How one kid got a college degree in 22 months for $3100 (you could too)

If you know of other ways high school students can prepare for a less costly college experience, please leave a comment below.

4 thoughts on “Reduce College Costs: Things to do in High School to Prepare for College

  1. Kathryn

    In our state (Washington) dual enrollment is called Running Start. So far 4 of my kids have been in this program. We have to pay student fees, entrance test costs, and books and supplies. Tuition is free but there are grade requirements to stay in the program. The community colleges here have dirrect enrollment agreements to larger 4 year state colleges so it make sense to go to the community college that has an agreement with the 4 year college you want to end up at. It has been a big help with college costs for our family.

    1. Steve Economides Post author

      This sounds like an awesome College Advanced Placement program and if it can cut a semester or two off of a college education it really helps keep the cost of a college education down. Thanks for sharing. You guys did great with your kids!

    1. Steve Economides Post author

      Alexis! Love it. 12 credit hours is almost one complete semester of college – that’s a huge savings!
      Was there any cost associated with taking the college credit classes at your high school?

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