Paying for college is one of the biggest expenses that families face, so it’s important to take advantage of any and all possibilities for lightening that financial load. A student’s career in college is not a single pathway carved in stone, however, and a creative approach to getting educated can result in significant savings. Here are a few helpful tips to consider as you put together your personal financial-educational survival kit.

Take a gap year

Colleges are increasingly encouraging students to take a year away from school altogether after finishing high school. Students put in their applications with the rest of the graduating seniors, but upon receiving their acceptance letters, they simply defer entry for one year. During that gap year, students can work full time, living at home and banking their earnings to help defray college expenses. Another added benefit to this gap year is that students will start their higher education with a more mature viewpoint, and they are much more likely to be focused on career goals when they finally reach the college classroom.

Start off at a community college

Even for students planning to enter intensive academic college majors, community college can provide a great foundation of introductory courses. Students who rack up a transcript full of excellent grades in academic classes at a community college will be viewed as serious candidates when they apply for transfers to four-year universities. Meanwhile, you will have saved thousands of dollars in tuition costs.

Move off-campus as soon as possible

Paying for dorms and meal plans is almost always more expensive than going independent, especially for young people willing to share a large house or apartment with others. In some school communities where the real estate market is on an upswing, parents have been known to simply purchase a small home for their child to share with a roommate or two and then sell it four years later for a sufficient profit to cover many of the college expenses. On a smaller scale, having an actual house means that students have a place where they can socialize for free, and packing lunches and making coffee in the kitchen can add up to significant savings.

The key to keeping college as affordable as possible is having a sense of creative flexibility and a willingness to consider every possible option. When students and parents brainstorm together, you can come up with a whole range of scenarios and then pick the ones that will actually work. The innovative thinking that will be needed for academic success can be applied ahead of time to make that success affordable.