Missteps that make college costs skyrocket

Textbooks, failure to plan and poor time management can add to a student's expenses

As costly as tuition and textbooks can be, poor planning and time management can raise the prices even higher.

Richard O’Connor, director of financial aid at American International College in Massachusetts, says students at that institution have several options for saving on books. “About half of our students are low income, so just paying tuition can be challenging.”

His office has asked professors to reserve extra copies of textbooks in the library. Students can also obtain the ISBN of a textbook and shop online sources for used copies or less expensive older editions. They also can buy and sell used textbooks through a university portal.

University of Denver accounting professor Sharon Lassar tells students to check if they can rent electronic versions of textbooks, or whether online sources have less expensive copies for sale.

Being late with a tuition payment can result in a penalty fee, and Lassar notes that some universities (though not her institution) also tack on a fee for late class registration. “Timeliness is an important aspect of controlling expenses,” she says.

Failing to take enough credit hours is another potentially costly oversight, O’Connor says. AIC freshmen start off with a 13-credit load to allow them to get acclimated to the rigors of college studies. Unfortunately some students never pick up the pace, and end up behind schedule and staying an extra semester or more to finish their degree. And if they have financial aid that’s guaranteed for only four years, they have to foot the entire tuition bill after that.

To combat the problem of poor course scheduling, O’Connor says, AIC academic advisors have started talking to students about the financial ramifications of a light credit load.

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