How To Find Schools For Less Than $20,000 Per Year

Five students in cap and gown each supporting a pink piggy bank.

How To Find Schools For Less Than $20,000 Per Year

Published March 10, 2024

Five students in cap and gown each supporting a pink piggy bank.

If you ever want honest-to-goodness advice about paying for college, ask a parent who’s already been through it. They are full of valuable information that can significantly impact your student’s future— and they’re usually more than happy to share their wisdom.

One of the parents in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group, Chrissy G.M., recently asked the other parents in the group if they had found schools where the cost per year was less than $20,000 for tuition, room and board, without athletic scholarships ($20,000 is the average price per year for colleges, according to the College Board). Hundreds of parents weighed in with tales of the various ways their families had found to achieve that. 

It goes to show that there is no right or wrong way to do anything related to paying for college. There are myriad paths and avenues available. The key is to do your research to find the one that’s best for your family.

Here’s a look at some of the most liked comments about the ways that families were able to keep the cost of college to less than $20,000 per year.

“If you want to talk about total cost, my daughter graduated high school with two years of dual enrollment credits. Her school is $34,000 per year, but she’ll be done in two years. That’s less than $68,000 for her Bachelor’s degree.” — Susan O-H

Taking The PSAT Junior Year Is Worth It

“My daughter received 110 percent of the Cost of Attendance (COA) in Florida for state residents [thanks to their Bright Futures program], but she also received 34 offers from other colleges at 70-95 percent. I suggest taking the PSAT in 11th grade — it isn’t just practice. The PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is based on the PSAT only when you take it in 11th grade. Some kids look at the scholarship of $2,500 and think it’s not worth studying for. Wrong! The National Merit Scholarship of $2,500 prize is nothing compared to the full ride and other merit scholarships offered by schools as many of them want those National Merit Finalists to come to their school.” —Karen M.

“My son received an ROTC scholarship at Texas A&M University. At A&M, if you have an ROTC scholarship, they add free room and board, so it’s a true “full ride,” with a stipend on top. So he is being paid to be a college student.” — Frank T.

“Instead of going to the big state school (University of Tennessee Knoxville), we picked the state school offshoot (Chattanooga). With merit and state scholarships, it left us at $14,000 per year.” — Many F.

“I’m a single mom and a teacher. My two kids are at small liberal arts colleges. Both pay around $13,000 a year, which includes federal loans and private loans. One received a small Pell grant.” — Janis G-M

We live in New Hampshire but because of two tuition grants, plus the NEBHE’s Tuition program that grants residents of six New England states in-state tuition when they enroll at out-of-state schools within the region, my daughter pays $18,000 a year at Vermont State College.” — Carey K.

Look For Schools That Are Investing In Their Reputation

“We found a college (New Jersey Institute of Technology) that’s investing hard to build a great reputation in our student’s field (engineering), is looking for strong students to bolster that rep, and our kid’s stats shine. It resulted in an honors program with tremendous student support, undergrad research opportunities (at an R1 school!), and co-ops, plus too-good-to-refuse merit. It required some adjustment of how we envisioned the “look” of college to be but the program is great and the cost, including room and board, will be under $20,000 total for all four years. There were equivalent programs at more “name” schools that offered us great merit, but even $40,000 annual merit at those schools still left the yearly bill at six times what we’re paying.” — Leslie B.

“We were right at $20,000 per year thanks to our daughter’s academic scholarships from the college, plus a few endowed or departmental scholarships and some from organizations that partnered with her school. The cost to begin with wasn’t nearly as high as I often hear. Her goal was a historically black college or university, and most are cheaper than the ones often mentioned. Not a single one that she was accepted to would have been more than $30,000 per year all in. There was no “secret” special plan other than to look at our budget and a practical daughter who wouldn’t let us take loans. We cash-flowed what the scholarships didn’t cover. She was a good student, but she wasn’t a tippy-top kid and her test scores were average. She dropped any college from her list that didn’t offer enough merit to bring the cost to within our budget. Her fallback was to attend our local flagship and live at home, but she ended up not needing to do that.” — Donna S.

“We received merit and tons of outside scholarships to attend Purdue and the University of Florida. No loans or money from mom was needed other than for care packages and plane tickets. My advice: Find a school that stacks scholarships and grind on local and major-related scholarships.” — Natasha S.

Stay Close To Home For Great Savings

“We’re at a state school in Pennsylvania (Indiana University of Pennsylvania). My daughter received a small scholarship ($2,000) from the school and another $2,000 from her employer, plus a grant towards housing for like $1,000. It left about $15,000 per year, including room and board.” — Maureen G.M.

“We went to in-state, commuter schools and pushed a pretty great ACT score as our GPA was under 3.0.” — Dannette H.

Join this and other conversations with parents just like you by joining our free Paying for College 101 Facebook Group


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

A Full-Ride Scholarship Winner Shares His 7 Best Tips to Earn College Money

Our Full Tuition Scholarship Journey

How to Pick a College That Loves You Back




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