CHICAGO (WLS) -- A college education is one of the biggest expenses a person will make in their lifetime.
In the last 40 years, the cost of college has ballooned 180%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But, you can put a dent in those digits if you do your homework.
The average four-year price tag for college tuition is now more than $100,000.
"The high tuition cost definitely makes going to college a lot less appealing," said Sam Ouzounian, a college student.
The time to start thinking about paying for college begins long before you become a coed. Amy Lin with the nonprofit Money Management, said students should find out if they can save on tuition by taking college-level courses in high school, other special classes and tests, if you know what career you are going for.
"Think about whether or not you really need a four year degree. Is an associate's degree appropriate from a community college? But, now there are so many more options. There are micro credentials, certificate programs, certifications through association," Lin said.
After submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, students will learn if they qualify for government grants and school scholarships. Upper-classmen qualify as well. Don't assume the university with the higher price tag will actually cost you more.
"The university will have a net price calculator, which will show you what the price will be after any aid that they're going to award you. Not all cost of attendance, top line, is going to equal the bottom line net price after your aid is factored in," Lin said.
You can also save money by attending a community college first, then transferring to a four-year university later. Or, over the summer, you can take core courses at a junior college. Another option is to attend a university online and live at home.
Many students pay for some of their schooling by working.
"It seems the campus is offering a lot of on-campus jobs that rotate every quarter," said Mary Tuttle, a college student.
Students ABC7 spoke with said creating a budget and being thrifty are key.
"I found used books on Amazon and other sites that are cheaper," said Jasmine Carlis, a college student.
Another route is joining the military.
"The military has excellent education benefits," Lin said.