Concerned about the cost of college? Take summer classes locally!

As the spring semester winds down, college students are starting to figure out what they're going to do with their summers. Working, seeing friends, internships and perhaps a bit of travel are popular plans. But in light of the soaring cost of college, this might be an ideal time to look at a great way to save some money: Taking community college classes, transferring the credits, and maybe graduating college a semester or more early.

For an example of how this works, let's look at how a University of Massachusetts Amherst student might save money taking summer classes at Cape Cod Community College. UMass is a relatively inexpensive public university -- if you're attending a private college, the savings are probably much greater.

At UMASS, the total tuition and fees for one semester is $5,116 for an in-state student, not including room and board or any other expenses. A full-time student generally takes four or five three-credit classes per semester, working out to at least $1,000 per class.

You can take a three-credit class at Cape Cod Community College this summer for $394. If you take five, that could lop a full semester off your bill, saving you more than $3,000, not including room and board. And another thing: the sooner you graduate, the sooner you'll be working full-time at a more skilled job, so the actual addition to your net worth from this strategy could be well over $40,000.

A caveat: Because most community colleges won't offer the higher-level classes you need for your degree, this strategy works best for fulfilling general education requirements early in your college career. If you're a math major, community college might be a good place to take an English class over the summer.

Before you sign up, talk with your registrar's office to learn about the credit transfer process and find out which classes your college will give you credit for.

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