If you’re looking for a relatively easy way to save some money on your college bills, taking summer and winter courses may be just the trick. You may need to sacrifice a bit of your all-important down time, but the trade off is big: A lot of extra time, and money, in your pocket.
Is it Really Worth It?
If you investigate the cost of taking a single class at your university over the summer or winter break, you’ll likely see that you will be charged on a “per credit” basis. This means that the cost of a class depends on how many credits it entails. At UConn, for example, the per credit cost of taking a winter course for 2016 is $469, which translates into $1,482 for a 3-credit class.
But if you look at the regular tuition for one a fall or spring semester, you’ll see that tuition comes in at $5,612. Dividing that by $469 (the cost per credit of your winter course) yields 12 credits. In essence, this means that you must take 12 credits (or, three 3-credit classes) in the fall or spring semester to get the same value as you would in the winter session.
Most college students take more than 12 credits each semester, which drives the cost per credit down during the regular school year. Taking 15 credits (four 3-credit classes) brings the cost per credit down to $374, and taking 18 credits (five 3-credit classes) brings it down to $312. In these cases, taking a full schedule during the regular academic year appears a lot cheaper than taking a winter or summer course might be. So is taking these extra classes at your university really worth it?
If your primary goal is to shave time off of your degree, then yes, it is worth it (more on this below). But the fact remains that you often don’t have to take classes at your university.
Using Community Colleges to Your Advantage
To save money on the classes that you want to take over the winter or summer holiday, you should turn to community colleges near home. These universities usually offer classes at a discount compared to state or private universities, giving you a much more favorable cost per credit. Add in the fact that you’ll be earning these credits free of housing and meal expenses and it’s easy to see the value that community colleges can offer in advancing you through your degree (though yes, of course you’ll be paying to cover the costs of commuting).
Before enrolling in any community college courses, though, you need to make sure that your university will actually accept any transfer credits. Each university has different rules about this, so you can’t just assume that you’ll be fine. If your university won’t accept the credits, then you might as well just be throwing money out the window.
Your best bet is likely to use summer and winter courses to cross gen-eds off your list of graduation requirements (things like Intro to Psych, Art History 101, and the like). Because your university will likely be more selective when it comes to accepting transfer credits that are specific to your major, these are the ones that you’re more likely to run into issues with. Save yourself the headache by taking these courses when you’re on campus.
Value of Time Saved
Beyond saving money by taking advantage of lower costs of community colleges, the goal of taking summer and winter courses is usually to shave time from your degree. By taking as many classes as you can, you can cut a semester or even a full year from your studies.
This is valuable in a few ways. Cutting a year off of your degree means that you are paying for one fewer year’s worth of housing, meal plan, and other student fees. This could translate into many thousands of dollars saved. (Returning to the example of UConn, you’d be looking at a cost savings of $18,678 for the 2016–17 school year by not paying these expenses for a year.) That means that you will have to take out fewer student loans—and pay less in interest.
Beyond the immediate cost savings, though, this is valuable because of the time that you’ve saved. Entering the workforce a year ahead of schedule gives you one more year that you can work. This can translate into a lot of money over the years in terms of raises and wages, and can jumpstart you on your goals of saving up for a mortgage or establishing an emergency fund.
More importantly, it limits the amount of interest that will accrue on your loans while you are enrolled in college. All student loans (except for federal subsidized loans) accrue interest while you are enrolled as a full-time student. If you can’t pay this accrued interest off upon graduation, it is capitalized—added to your principal—which means that you will then be paying interest on top of the interest. That’s no good.
If you can graduate six months or a year ahead of schedule, you have less interest (and capitalization) to worry about.
Bringing it All Together
Whether you want to save money on room and board fees or by trimming interest off of your loans, taking summer and winter courses is one smart way of making your student loan repayment easier. You may need to shell out a little more money for gas to commute to the courses, but that’s a small price to pay compared to the alternative. And of course, there are plenty of other ways for you to reduce your college expenses.