As college becomes increasingly expensive, families have begun to really consider the financial side of selecting a school. Students increasingly base their college choice on both academic and financial fit. Finding a financial fit means selecting a school with an affordable net price (the price that appears on the college bill after taking into consideration all grants and scholarships). It also includes looking for ways to reduce the overall costs.

Students have several options to decrease their college price tag. One option is to take a credit-by-exam, sometimes referred to as a prior learning assessment. The most common examples are Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses that, with a qualifying score on an exam, could result in college credits. The cost of an AP exam is $94. Compared to the cost of a college course, which easily can cost thousands of dollars, the AP exam is a bargain.

There’s less familiarity with the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) or Prometric’s DSST exams. Both provide opportunities to sit for an exam at a minimal cost (under $100) and receive college credits for qualifying scores. DSST features 33 examinations in college subject areas that are comparable to the final or end-of-course examinations in undergraduate college courses. CLEP offers 35 exams in five categories: Composition and Literature, World Languages, History and Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics, and Business. According to the College Board, an adult student who earns 15 CLEP credits to apply toward a degree could save nearly $5,000 at the average public 4-year institution and more than $17,000 at the average private non-profit institution.

Some colleges also offer their own challenge exams, an arrangement with an academic department to assess specific knowledge of an existing course’s content. Earning course credit through challenge exams is equivalent to passing a cumulative, end-of-the-term examination at most colleges.

Registering for classes as soon as possible is another great way to reduce college costs. All too often, students are shut out of a required course because they registered too late. For those students required to take a full course load to maintain their financial aid, registering late may result in registering for a class that’s not necessary for graduation. And some classes are not offered every semester, or even every year. Meaning if a student is unable to register for a class needed during the final year of college, the student might have to enroll for an extra semester.

Finally, students should think carefully and strategically before changing their major. It could result in graduating with way more credits than required. That’s a loss of time and money, especially if students wait until later in their college career to make the change.

College is a significant investment for any family. Taking advantage of available programs and cost-saving measures, and being smart about course planning, can reduce the overall price tag and make an affordable college degree more within reach.

Mark Bilotta serves as the CEO of MassEdCO, the Commonwealth’s largest provider of community-based education and career readiness services for low-income, first-generation college-bound students and adults. Prior to that, he served as the CEO of the former Colleges of Worcester Consortium. Earlier in his career, he held positions in the admissions offices at College of the Holy Cross and Worcester State University followed by his tenure as Executive Assistant to the President at Assumption College. Mark has authored four annual editions (2015-2018) of Paying for College: Before, During and After, designed to strengthen the financial literacy skills of those looking to finance a post-secondary education.