Recently, 18 students bought a discounted tuition voucher from Groupon for a course at Chicago's National-Louis University called "Introduction to the Profession and the Craft of Teaching." The students who purchased the offer will pay $950 for the course, a discount of nearly 60 percent off the usual $2,232 price tag.
At first glance, the marked-down education sounds like a grand way to save money while gaining marketable skills. But there are a few crucial catches: The Groupon students will not be officially enrolled at the institution. Instead, after completing the introductory course, they will have to complete the full admissions process--with no guarantee of acceptance--in order to continue in the master's program.
"If you want to get exposure to the program, or to take a test drive on a master's program, this type of Groupon sale is a great idea," said Andrew Schrage, editor of Money Crashers.com. "However, if you are already a good student and won't have any trouble getting accepted, and you know you want to do the whole program, the value of offers like these decreases significantly."
5 creative ways to pay for college
While Groupon may not be a good deal for everyone, students faced with rising tuition costs and cuts in financial aid programs are increasingly looking for new and innovative ways to pay for college. Once you've factored in traditional forms of financial aid and available scholarships, you may still find yourself coming up short. If so, here are five creative ways you can close the gap.
1. Don't like the sticker price? Negotiate a better deal
Don't think that the tuition discounts or financial aid offered by a college is the final word, Schrage says. He advises students to speak to the school about tight finances and to ask outright for help.
"Often, schools will have some surplus funds set aside in the form of unused scholarships, additional grants and unused tuition discounts that they can offer," Schrage said. "And while you shouldn't treat your college as a bargaining table, you should take advantage of some effective negotiation techniques to score a great deal on your tuition just as you would any other large purchase."
2. Save on food--without living on ramen
"Don't simply assume that staying in the school dormitories and living on the meal plan is the only route to go," said Schrage.
Consider setting up a meal schedule with friends. You can get more bang for your buck buying in bulk and cooking low-budget but filling meals like spaghetti that feed a crowd. An added bonus? In addition to saving money, you could also build long-time friendships.
3. Find low-budget housing
Living off campus can also save you money, according to Joe Orsolini, president of College Aid Planners in Chicago.
"Think about commuting. A lot of kids could save a lot of money that way," Orsolini said. "For example, the cost for just housing at University of Chicago is $13,000 to $15,000 per year depending on the meal plan."
Another idea from Orsolini? Become an RA, or resident assistant, in your dorm, and you can get your room and board comped.
4. Become an entrepreneur
Instead of watching TV or hanging out in the quad after classes, consider experimenting with an entrepreneurial venture.
"There are some awesome side business ideas that just about anyone can start in college--things like tutoring, babysitting, craft sales, dog-walking--without taking too much mental energy away from your studies," Schrage said.
5. Get a degree that has a high demand
If you earn a degree in an area that needs public servants, you may be able to get scholarships or loan repayment in exchange for working in a certain field when you graduate.
"Here in Chicago, there is a $17,500 student-loan credit for students who ultimately teach in a low-income public-school district," Orsolini said.
The National Health Service Corps offers loan repayment for students in health care fields working in areas where there is provider shortage. You may be able to get your total loan debt forgiven, depending on how long you sign on to work at an NHSC-approved location.
The Peace Corps is another option--some student loans may be forgiven if you sign on to volunteer with this organization.
Only time will tell if the Groupon tuition discount is a fad or a new frontier in financial aid. In the meantime, these creative ways to save money can help any student make ends meet.