Getting a Bachelor’s Degree in a Cost-Efficient Manner: A Case Study

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For some, funding college is one of the most daunting tasks of our era. The cost of advanced education is ever-increasing, and any form of assistance is well-received. Thankfully, there are ways to plan for these costs and take advantage of scholarships and resources. What we have found is that the most important factors in navigating university in a cost-efficient manner are school choice, knowing what you want, and sticking to the plan. This is a case study of a client’s child:


  • $12,000 UTMA dedicated towards funding college.
  • Child had a 3.6 high school GPA.
  • Child was accepted into ASU and Barrett Honors College.
  • Planned to live off campus.
  • Had a merit-based institutional scholarship of $6,000 per year.
  • Total tuition + fees + books cost per year was roughly $15,000.
  • Net Cost was estimated to be $9,000 per year for 4 years resulting in $36,000. Minus the $12,000 saved in an UTMA, it equaled an out-of-pocket cost of $24,000.


Case Study and Cost Breakdown

Prior to the client’s child graduating from high school, they were contacted by Maricopa Community Colleges with a scholarship opportunity called the Presidents’ Honors Scholarship. This scholarship covered full-time tuition up to 15 credits per semester for two years and is offered to high school graduates with an un-weighted 3.25 GPA. Students then have the opportunity to transfer into university.
This opportunity created a compelling alternative from a financial perspective given the situation of the client’s child. The initial breakdown was the following:

 Community College Transfer RouteArizona State University – 4 years
Cost of First 2 Years$1,000$30,000
Cost of Second 2 years$30,000$30,000
Gross Total Cost$31,000$60,000
Scholarships + Assets Available($12,000)($36,000)
Net Projected Out-of-Pocket Cost$19,000$24,000

While in college and university, the child searched for and applied for other scholarships. As a member of Phi Theta Kappa, an honor society based on GPA, the student was able to qualify for a transfer scholarship. The requirement was a 3.5 GPA plus maintaining a 3.0 cumulative GPA during University. This provided an additional $2,000/yr in funding.

Additionally, the student sought out industry and career-specific scholarships, and was awarded a $10,000 career-specific merit-based scholarship. The final cost breakdown was the following:

 Community College Transfer RouteArizona State University – 4 years
Cost of First 2 Years$1,000$30,000
Cost of Second 2 years$30,000$30,000
Gross Total Cost$31,000$60,000
Scholarships + Assets Available($26,000)($46,000)
Final Out-of-Pocket Cost$5,000$14,000


What Can Be Learned

What can be learned from this case study is that carefully evaluating options prior to execution is an important step in reducing the cost of education. By attending community college, the student saved $9,000 in tuition cost. In addition to these financial benefits, the student reported that their experience with the education was more personable and of equal or superior quality to that received at Arizona State.

For those that opt for the community college route, it is important to be on the lookout for transfer scholarships and scholarships that can be earned by membership through an organization or affiliation of some sort. We have observed other students receive a scholarship from their parent’s employer, for example. Participating in student organizations and clubs can open up other avenues for scholarships beyond the traditional “write a 500-word essay” scholarships. For those who have narrowed down the career they want to pursue, becoming involved in that industry and searching for scholarships from donors in the industry can pay dividends. Industry scholarships and membership-based scholarships can provide more value than the traditional essay-based scholarships because they often prompt the student to develop other job-specific skills and, with enough effort, they can surpass peers. In addition, these types of scholarships can have smaller applicant pools. When these factors are paired, they increase the chance of being awarded a scholarship.

Getting a university education is by no doubt costly, and in this particular case there wasn’t a need to pay for housing and meals. However, by leveraging the resources available, making good choices, and being intentional, the student was able to drastically reduce the cost of obtaining a 4-year degree. These principles hold true in many situations and demonstrate that, although university is expensive, it can be more affordable when all funding sources are optimized.

All content is for information purposes only. It is not intended to provide any tax or legal advice or provide the basis for any financial decisions. Topics should be discussed with your individual adviser prior to implementation.

Matthew Benson, CFP®

Owner / Certified Financial Planner™

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Important Disclosure

Advisory services are offered through Sonmore Financial LLC, an Investment Advisor in the State of Arizona.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.

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