Sorry kids, but college costs aren't going anywhere but up.
"Every year we hit these record levels," says Vera Gibbons, a New York personal finance expert and Mint contributor. "There really is no end in sight. College costs are not going down; they're going to go up for the foreseeable future."
There are some bright spots -- Stanford University provides free tuition to families under a certain annual salary, recently increasing that income threshold to $125,000 from $100,000 for the Class of 2019, while parents with an annual income below $65,000 (previously $60,000) won't have to contribute toward tuition, room or board.
But that's the exception to the rule. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year at a private college was $31,231 -- up 3.7% over the previous year. That fee increases to $42,419 when you factor in room and board.
But you don't have to get stuck with the entire bill.
"When you see the sticker price, don't let it scare you too much," Gibbons says. "There's lots of help available to help minimize these costs."
Gibbons offers some tips for college savings:
Financial aid: From grants and scholarships, "it's foolish not to jump on that bandwagon," Gibbons says. "That's money in your pocket." According to the College Board, students received $122.7 billion in scholarships and grants in 2013-14. Grants, which unlike loans do not have to be repaid, include the Federal Pell Grant, which awards up to $5,775 a year based on financial need. Gibbons recommends researching Fastweb.com for scholarships.
Rethink your school choice: Spending two years at a less expensive school and then transferring to your dream school is one way to save big, Gibbons recommends. "Keep a level head about your choice of school," she says. "You're still going to graduate from your top school, but just going to save some money in the interim. We're talking thousands of dollars." According to the College Board, in 2014-15, the average cost of a two-year school was $3,347 per year.
Tax breaks: Families should check to see if they qualify for tax breaks, like the American Opportunity Tax Credit, Gibbons says. "A lot of people fail to take advantage of these credits," she says. "That will knock a couple thousand dollars off, if you qualify."
Make a budget: Once you get to college the costs, while minimal compared with tuition, don't stop there. "Books and supplies are the big things but food, travel and entertainment can wreak havoc on a kid's budget," Gibbons says. "They need to have an app like Mint to show them how to budget." Students should also make sure to take advantage of student discounts, she adds, to make their money stretch.
Explore work opportunities: "If you need a little extra money, explore work opportunities that might exist on your campus," Gibbons says. "I worked at a bookstore. There are sometimes opportunities in the dining room or art gallery for some extra spending money, so you don't have to go to the bank of Mom and Dad."