01/18/2013 11:51 pm ET Updated Mar 20, 2013

College Is Expensive, But Still Worth It

Americans are starting to become disenchanted and doubtful about the value of a college education, and it's not hard to see why. The cost of going to college is skyrocketing -- according to the College Board, the average overall cost for a public in-state college has risen to over $22,000 per year. With high tuition (and room and board, and books, and so on) comes loans -- in 2010, two-thirds of students graduating had debt (owing an average of about $25,000). These daunting numbers are more than enough to cause some doubt.

But a college education is still worth it, even after all that. Why? Well, for starters, the unemployment rate in December of 2012 was just 3.9 percent for those with a bachelor's degree or higher, but it was 8 percent for high school graduates, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workers with a four-year degree can expect to make almost twice as much as high-school graduates -- a $45,648 average yearly salary versus $23,233 a year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of course, if you come out of college with crushing debt, it won't feel like you're making twice as much as your peers who didn't go to college. The key is to avoid that debt in the first place.

The obvious avenues for paying for a college education are loans, financial aid, and, of course, scholarships. These are things you think about as you go through the college admissions process. However, there are ways to start thinking about an affordable education long before senior year, and one of the most overlooked is taking Advanced Placement classes and exams throughout high school.

As you probably know, AP exams are scored on a scale of one to five, five being the highest. A three is a passing score. Most colleges allow students who take AP exams to use their scores toward credit for entry-level courses, meaning these students can not only skip taking some basic classes, but they can enter college with some credits already under their belts. Schools differ on what scores they'll accept in exchange for credit, but most will take a four or a five for at least some class credit.

This is an incredible opportunity. Not only does it afford students the option to further advance their studies, but it might let them graduate early -- that means a semester's or a year's tuition, saved. An AP exam costs $89 -- compare that to the cost of a course at the school of your student's choice and you'll see why this is a huge money-saver.

Not only do good scores on AP exams save money on college courses, they also help in other ways, like preparedness for the academic rigors of college. According to the College Board, 31 percent of schools consider AP experience when deciding which students will get scholarships, and 85 percent of the most selective schools say that AP classes have a favorable impact on a student's admissions. Students who take AP classes in high school also have a better four-year college graduation rate than those who don't.

Taking AP classes and preparing for AP exams is hard work, but well worth it in the end. Encourage your student to challenge himself with AP classes -- you (and your wallet) won't regret it.

Danny is the GM and co-founder of GetAFive, a Chicago-based company whose website platform for AP class help and test prep features video lessons, quizzes, and full-length practice exams.