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How I Saved $20,000 as a Non-Traditional Student


Guest post from Cheri of

When I started college (in my late twenties as a single mom) I had no idea where to turn for extra financial help. Pell grants and student loans were readily available, but I knew I needed more. I couldn’t live in the dorms or share an apartment with a bunch of co-eds, nor did I want to.

I started out my first year working two jobs at a time and never getting to spend much time with my kids. I needed an easier way to save and make more money so that I could complete my degree quickly but still have a life.

Thankfully, after doing a little digging I found $20,000 in extra savings — here’s how I did it:

I found a college with family housing.

Total savings: $14,400.

This was my first requirement when I transferred to a four-year university. The average rent costs, including utilities, at that time where I lived were about $700 on the low end.

Our university housing cost was $300 per month, including utilities. That’s a big savings!

I found a need and filled it. 

Total savings: $5,400.

Seriously. You would not believe the things you can do on a college campus for money. All you have to do is ask!

After a few months of living in my campus apartment, I noticed the trash was always running over in the laundry rooms and the light bulbs were always out. So I went to my housing department and asked if they needed someone to take care of those issues. It paid off big time.

They offered me the job of apartment manager and knocked half off my rent (including utilities) for the rest of my time there!

I asked for hidden money.

Total savings: $2,000.

Most non-traditional students don’t realize that there are scholarships available that they can qualify for, and institutions don’t always make that information readily available.

I received a $500 scholarship each semester for my last two years by asking my School of Business office if there were any extra scholarships I may not have heard of. No one else had applied, so my requirements were minimal.

I asked for local discounts.

Total savings: over $1,000.

My college town, along with every college town I know of, has a slew of businesses that offer ongoing discounts to college students. Some businesses have signs posted, but a lot don’t.

I got a list from the student activities office, but I also wasn’t afraid to ask if a business wasn’t on it.

These are just a few of the things I did to shave thousands of dollars off of the cost of my education, but there are many more.

The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to ask!

Are you a single mom thinking about going back to college? If so, what are your concerns?

Cheri Read is a Christian blogger and freelance writer with a passion for helping women discover their callings and fulfill their dreams. You can find her blogging over at about Christian living and lifestyle improvement.

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  • Felicia says:

    What years did you attend college? How was the application process? What state was the college in? Sorry I’m a mother of three and would love to go back to school. Thank you

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Felicia! I graduated in 2006 but I have found that these tips still apply. I attended in Texas but I think these are universal things to try. Another thing you might do is check with your state workforce commission. Most states have pretty generous help available for single moms! Good luck!

  • Megan says:

    These are great tips! Another way to save is to email your professors ahead of the semester and ask if they have determined what books they will assign. Then you can order them online for much cheaper than what you’d pay at the bookstore. I’m a college professor and I am always happy to give out this information to help my students save (I also use the “old” version of the textbook for at least 2 semesters before upgrading to the newest version so my students can buy it used rather than new).

    • Cheri says:

      That’s a great tip, Megan! We have done that with most of my daughter’s books and you’re right…it’s a huge savings.

    • I love these tips, Megan! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Jessica Jill says:

      Some people don’t like to risk having an older edition of the book, but I have ordered older editions for pennies on the dollar. I have then compared it to the current edition (usually in the library on closed reserve). Usually the differences are minimal. You can make a copy of the table of contents to make sure you are doing the right readings. If I pair that with good class attendance and note taking I’ve never had it adversely affect my grade.

  • Mimi says:

    Another big savings can come from taking CLEP exams in place of some general education or intro level courses. They cost about $100 each for 3 credits….usually much less than a regular course. Similar to AP classes (taken in high school), you can save a semester or two of money AND time…. Getting you into the workforce at a college graduate salary even sooner!

  • You are very inspiring! I love your courage and gumption–asking for discounts and help isn’t always easy. What a great example you set for your children!

  • I love these great tips. I think everyone going to college should find ways to make it cheaper. Avoiding student loans is so important.

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