Paying for College

Scholarships & Insurance Waivers Cut College Costs

Learn how to reduce the cost of college through scholarships, including where to look for them and when to apply, and by waiving school health insurance if your child is already covered under a health insurance plan.
father and son using computer to learn how to reduce college costs through scholarships and health insurance

What can a student or family do to reduce the cost of college?

Believe it or not, there are practical, relatively easy steps that simply depend on the family and students making the effort. They can add up to thousands of dollars the family avoids paying out of pocket. We discussed them recently on the MEFA Podcast with our in-house expert, Apelila Joseph.

"I always tell families, 'Start with free money.' So that means looking at outside scholarships," says Joseph, Program Manager for MEFA Pathway, our interactive, online college and career planning portal free to all Massachusetts middle and high schools and their students. MEFA Pathway includes a database of local, regional, and national scholarships and can be found online at Many high schools have an online resource that lists scholarship information.

March is scholarship season, when tons of various scholarships are open for applications, many with deadlines in late April or May—in time for awards at high school graduation ceremonies. These are scholarships available independently of the student's college, from local employers, community groups, and civic organizations.

"Those smaller, local scholarships—maybe it's a $500 award—those little awards will add up. So, if it's $500 that you're winning at a scholarship, that's 500 less dollars that have to come out of your pocket," says Joseph.

To find scholarships, start with the high school guidance, office which may have a list of local scholarships. Also, look online, including MEFA's scholarship blog posts, and in MEFA Pathway's scholarship database.

"Start local, go to your school's guidance office. If you belong to a church, sometimes your mom's or dad's jobs, they might offer a scholarship through them. Pound the pavement, tap into those local networks," she says.

After applying to college, applying for financial aid, sorting through acceptance letters and offers, and then finishing their final year, we can understand if high school seniors are exhausted. Yet, we cannot stress enough making one final push to apply for scholarships, which often require a short essay on a particular topic. This extra effort will be worth it if it reduces the amount of student loans or money paid by the family.

"You will be surprised how many local scholarships are out there, and they're totally going underutilized, meaning they have small applicant pools. There's a lot of local scholarships that will often extend their deadline because they haven't received enough applicants," Joseph says.

And here's one more great tip. This one can save families about $2,500.

 "If your child is covered under your health insurance—maybe you have health insurance through your job—they're able to waive that school-sponsored health insurance," says Joseph. "That's something that you should absolutely do if your child is covered under your health insurance." Waiving the school's health insurance will save you a hefty fee on the college bill. If you do not see the option to do this somewhere on the billing statement or student portal, ask your college for assistance.

Catch my entire conversation with Apelila Joseph on the MEFA Podcast episode, How to Pay Your College Bill, where we also discuss how to be a wise borrower and not get overextended on loans.

Listen to the podcast episode