I earned 4 degrees in 4 years for $20,000 and so can you

I’m James. I’ve been fortunate enough to earn four high quality college degrees from a great state research university for less than $20,000. Everyone should be able to have the same experience I’ve had.

Every year the cost of college tuition goes up, so much so that when it goes up less quickly, that’s news. Student debt is out of control, and is increasing inequality. But a college degree drives huge future earning potential, so it is worth it — and even better if you can earn it by spending less money.

Here are four things I did to save time and money that you can do (or share with a student you care about) — whether you’re already in a degree program, thinking about a masters, or still in high school:

  1. Earn credits in high school

Advanced Placement (AP) tests, International Baccalaureate (IB) exams and dual enrollment (high school students taking college courses while in high school) can give you a leg up in starting college. Per The College Board, students who take AP courses/exams are more likely to graduate in four years, while most other students take five or six years. Plus, AP courses may increase a student’s eligibility for scholarships; 31% of colleges and universities consider AP courses in scholarship decisions. Most universities have a cap on the amount of credits you can exempt through AP/IB and dual enrollment — investigate, because rules change all the time in both directions.

In my case, I attended the University of Florida and received 48 credits from AP/IB and dual enrollment — three full semesters!

I saved about $9,600 this way.

2. Combined degree programs

The master’s degree is the new Bachelor’s degree. Last year, there were about as many Master’s degrees awarded as there were Bachelor’s degrees in the mid 1970s — they’re a great thing to have on the resume.

Combined degree programs let you work on a Master’s and Bacehlor’s simultaneously, where courses count toward both degrees. They create a year or more of overlap between undergraduate and graduate studies. My Master’s of Science in Finance was 32 credit hours, 18 of which counted toward both degrees.

Combined degrees aren’t just for Master’s degrees. For example, in an accelerated medical degree program, a student can finish undergrad in three years before spending four years in med school.

My combined degree saved me about about $5,400 (and an entire semester of time).

3. Hack your schedule

Even after you’ve maxed out your AP credit and signed up for a combined degree, you’re going to have to take some classes. I’ve got a few tips here

  • Pair your classes; mix up easy/hard classes in a semester. This allows you to take more credits per semester. If your school has flat-rate tuition (also called block tuition), this can save a lot of money.
  • Consider pass/fail credits — if permitted by your institution/degree program. If the class isn’t going to be used to apply for graduate school, nobody cares if you took it Pass/Fail.
  • Earn credit for a summer internship. While you’re working, take online classes. Make sure you know your school’s internship credit policy.

By planning ahead and being smart about your schedule you can make sure you graduate on time, perhaps even early. I don’t have my quantifiable dollar savings here, but being efficient about your schedule and course mix leads to a smoother semester balance and course load.

4. Transfer classes — the secret weapon

Can’t find a class that fits with your schedule? Can’t find an “easy” class to add to your mix? Or, have you missed the boat on AP and IB credits by finishing high school?

Try a transfer class. State universities and community or junior colleges have courses that are 50–90% cheaper per course than research or liberal arts institutions. These are high quality courses, with low student to faculty ratios.

Sounds like a big inconvenience? It isn’t. You can take a transfer class from another school, fully online, without ever leaving your dorm room. And by doing so, save thousands.

For example, in California, in-state students can save around $500 per class — and it’s repeatable every semester. Out of state students? More like $2,500.

Using all of the above, I earned four degrees in four years for just $17,500

My total savings — nearly $24,000!

I know researching and navigating the transfer credit process can be tricky — but the benefits are tremendous.

That’s why I started a company, Quottly — to help you get the benefit of transfer classes without all of the time-consuming hassle. Quottly is a marketplace for accredited, transferable college courses, just like Kayak for flights or Hotels.com for hotels.

You can search for free to find the courses that fit your schedule, transfers to your home school, and see information like course descriptions and professor ratings. We automate the registration and credit transfer paperwork process for you as well. Watch this short video explaining how it all works.

It only takes 30 seconds to fill out a profile to get started.

We’re going to change the way you take classes, and save you thousands in tuition in the process. From a student who used Quottly:

Before Quottly, my parents and I had to research the tuition costs required to take the courses I needed at my institution. With this platform, it’s so much easier to see these costs, find less expensive classes and enroll in the courses from there.