Of his two college choices, my son is leaning heavily towards the more expensive one. (Good news: it’s not as much more expensive as we had originally thought, but still around $4,000-$5,000 more for freshman year, including transportation– not exactly chump change.) We tasked him with finding some ways to bring his costs down and we’ve been pleasantly surprised with what he’s learned.

He started his research with current students when he visited campus this winter. Two suggestions he was given: Students who work in the dining halls get discounts on their meals, and the school is chronically short male RAs, meaning he has a good chance of getting an RA position sophomore year if he applies. RAs get free housing and discounted meals, which would more than make up the cost difference for one year. He talked about the position and requirements with a current RA and feels like it’s a good fit for him, especially since he’s spent several summers as a camp counselor so he has some sense of what he’d be signing up for.

Here’s something else we learned: The more expensive school has a Guaranteed Tuition Rate, whereas his second choice does not. Guaranteed Tuition means that the tuition cost is the same for four years. His second choice school– our in-state public school– has not finalized in-state tuition rates for the coming school year; information on their website indicates that tuition may rise by as much as 5% this year, and that given our state’s pension situation we should expect similar increases annually. All by way of saying a decent portion of the cost gap is going to close itself over four years.

Many academic departments offer their own scholarships, with a wide range of dollar figures attached. Our in-state school said that about 50% of business majors (my son’s intended major) receive a departmental scholarship with amounts ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. One of my kids’ friends who is interested in a less-popular major has found departmental scholarships in the high four digits at some schools. In many cases (including all of the above), this information is only available directly from the department so it’s worth a call or visit to learn more.

All by way of saying, a little digging might yield some buried treasure.