Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN), eBay Inc (EBAY): Four Nearly Painless Ways to Save on College Costs

If the idea of putting yourself into indentured servitude in order to obtain a college degree galls you, you should know there are alternatives to those gargantuan levels of debt many are incurring these days. A $35,000 debt load upon graduation is no small thing, so anything you can do to chip away at the burden that 70% of your college-graduate peers are taking on will put you ahead of the game.

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With that in mind, here are four fairly straightforward methods to slash your college bills down to the bone, meaning you’ll likely begin your post-graduate career virtually debt-free.

1. Start your college career at a community college, then transfer to a 4-year institution. Community colleges offer great educational value, costing thousands less per year than a typical four-year school, while giving students an excellent skill set and knowledge base. In fact, recent research shows that some two-year degrees enabled graduates to score higher salaries than their four-year-diploma-wielding counterparts.

If your goal is to attain a bachelor’s degree, however, you can save a bundle by putting in the first two years at the community college level. For the 2010-2011 school year, two-year colleges averaged just under $9,000 per year, while four-year institutions charged an average of $22,000.

Know the rules before you sign up. Choose a major that fits in with a college transfer program, and find out whether the four-year school of your choice will accept your community college credits. You won’t save much money if you wind up having to take several courses over again after you transfer.

2. Pick a state school over a private institution. The average yearly costs at a private college, at over $32,000, is more than double that for a public four-year school, which averaged just under $16,000 annually for the 2010-2011 academic year. If you can’t find a college in your state that has the curriculum you desire, don’t fret. Most states have academic reciprocity programs, which allow out-of-state students to attend schools in neighboring states without paying the higher costs.

Currently, there are the following programs to choose from: Southern Region, Midwestern Region, Western Region, and New England. Check out the details of each at NASFAA.org.

3. Save on textbooks. These necessities of college life are expensive, but you don’t always have to buy new books at your college’s onsite bookstore. Take that syllabus and book list and sit down at your computer — and start shopping.