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Higher education can be expensive — even when scholarships, loans, and grants are taken into consideration — but if you prepare for your educational and financial future before you even start applying, you can set yourself up for long-term success. Use this college application checklist to help narrow down your list of colleges based on which will give you the most value.

1. Consider In-State Schools

According to research from the College Board, state school tuition is significantly less expensive than tuition at private colleges. In-state tuition and fees at a four-year public college averages to about $10,440, while the average cost of tuition and fees at a private four-year college is $36,880. Over four years, that's a difference of over $100,000.

Look for in-state schools that offer programs equivalent to the private schools on your list, and do thorough research. Search on the schools' websites to find their graduates' average starting salaries and the percentage of grads who land jobs within 6 months after graduating. This information will help you figure out if the private school will give you enough of an advantage to merit more expensive tuition.

2. Look Into Commuting

While tuition varies greatly between state and private schools, room and board costs aren't drastically different. The average cost of room and board is $11,510 for in-state students at four-year colleges and $12,990 at four-year private colleges, per the College Board. If you're within commuting distance of any colleges, compare the costs of gas, car maintenance, insurance, and more against the cost of living on campus. Given the high costs of on-campus living, you might save money by living at home.

Many schools have programs in place to help commuters get involved with campus life just as much as resident students. Living at home now, while it may not seem desirable, may allow you to take on less debt.

3. Live Off Campus

Look for schools that allow you to live off campus. Renting an apartment can be less expensive than living on campus, especially if you live with a roommate or two.

Living off campus may be especially appealing if you attend college far from home. During school breaks, you'll likely face pricey holiday travel costs or fees to stay in your dorm, along with limited services, such as reduced dining hall hours. Living off campus makes it easier for you to live and work in the area during holiday and summer breaks — and tailor your food budget to your specific needs.

4. Think About Transfer Opportunities

You don't have to go straight to a four-year college to earn your bachelor's degree. Earning your associate's degree at a community college or other two-year program, and then transferring to a four-year school may help you save on tuition.

Some schools even have guaranteed transfer agreements with other public schools, as well as numerous private institutions. In addition to specific college programs, look to statewide programs.

5. Narrow Your List of Colleges

Most college counselors recommend applying to five to eight colleges. Applying to more schools only delays your inevitable decision — and costs you more money. Keep in mind that application fees cost an average of $43 nationwide, but they can be as high as $90.

Narrow down your list of schools and continue to winnow it down until you have a mix of five to eight safety, match, and reach schools. Also, check to see if you qualify for income-based waivers or if any schools on your list offer fee-free applications.

By taking into consideration all the costs of college, from application fees to room and board, you can choose the school that offers you the greatest educational and financial value.

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

By selecting any external link on www.Key.com, you will leave the KeyBank website and jump to an unaffiliated third party website that may offer a different privacy policy and level of security. The third party is responsible for website content and system availability. KeyBank does not offer, endorse, recommend, or guarantee any product or service available on that entity's website.

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