In about 22 months I’ll begin my quest to slay the college dragon. My problem is that I’ll have another one to start slaying just 12 months after that. Two in college a year apart. Ouch. It’s gonna be tough but here are some of my plans to pay for college without draining my bank account.
Paying for college
I don’t know if you’ve checked out what a college degree costs these days but it isn’t cheap. Depending on who you ask (and which site you Google), in state college costs average $15,000 per year for tuition, room and board with out of state costs roughly double that amount. I have managed to squirrel away some cash, but since my two oldest children want to go to an out of state school, I have some strategizing to do.
1. Search for scholarships
There are four ways to find scholarships that I know of:
- Online sites such as Scholarship Zone or Fastweb where you enter your information and you’re matched to money that’s available
- Your high school’s guidance counselor
- The college you’re planning to attend
- Networking through friends, co-workers, and community service organizations (Rotary, Kiwanis, etc), or other students
The key to getting a scholarship seems to be – simply ASK … and ask early.
2. Go after grants
The beauty of grants lies in their “gift” nature. Unlike loans, grants don’t have to be repaid. There is the Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) for those capable of demonstrating the financial need for them. I should also consider whether these two new grants might be appropriate: the Academic Competitiveness Grant, which offers up to $1,300 for students who have completed a rigorous high school program; and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent, or SMART, grant, which offers up to $4,000 for undergraduates majoring in physical, life or computer sciences, math, technology, engineering or a foreign language “determined critical to national security.”
3. Set up kids with a work study program
When I went to college (back in the dark ages), work study was one of the ways I paid for my tuition and books. Jobs available for work/study can range from assisting in the college’s administration office to working at the recreation center. I worked 10 to 12 hours per week on the Special Collections floor of the University’s library. My job was encapsulating rare maps and I really enjoyed it. We also temporarily stored the hounds tooth sofa and desk from Paul “Bear” Bryant’s office (he had recently passed away). The sofa sat in a corner for years with piles of old newspapers on it. Today it’s roped off and untouchable!
4. Consider a “gap year”
No, I’m not talking about the current craze for the Gap Year where kids head off to Europe on their parent’s dime in order to “find themselves.” No, I’m talking about taking a year off to establish residency in another state while working and building up a savings account to help pay for college. Remember that residents can save half or more versus an out of state student. It takes a lot of discipline to save the money, but I genuinely wish I had taken this approach rather than jumping into college just because it was my next step.
5. Select the right school
We all have our personal preferences, but if you can get a sheepskin from an accredited school that costs half as much, it makes sense to at least explore it, don’t you think? Sure, private Ivy League schools have an almost irresistible appeal, but other options exist that cost much less. If you’re set on an elite private school, remember that many of them offer “tuition discounts” (i.e., financial aid). But generally, you’ll save a big pile of money by choosing a public university in your own state.
6. File for financial aid SOON
Most parents and potential college students already know about the need to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, in order to receive federal grants and other forms of aid. Families should complete this form as soon after Jan. 1 as possible for the upcoming academic year. One thing to consider: 529 savings plans, Coverdell education savings accounts, and prepaid college tuition plans now are considered parents’ assets, not students’ assets. If you accidentally list such assets as your child’s instead of your own, your child’s chances of receiving aid could be greatly diminished.
7. College courses in high school
My oldest daughter will finish her high school math requirements as an eleventh grader and will be eligible to take her first year college level mathematics class during one of her class periods next year. The cost is only $60 per credit hour for a total of $180 and the local college is an accredited university. That’s a no brainer since many colleges charge $300+ per credit hour. We’re definitely taking that route.
8. CLEP – get credit for what you already know
CLEP is a program from the College Board (the same people who put out the SAT test) which allows incoming college students to get credit in 33 different areas by paying $77 to take an exam. CLEP can also allow students to skip general introductory courses and move on to more advanced classes and save money by either graduating on time or actually graduating early. We will also be taking this route.
9. Junior college
A local junior college may be a cheaper way to knock out a year or two before delving into a university setting. If you consider this route, make certain the junior college courses are verifiably transferable to the four year institution your child hopes to attend. Junior college classes are usually less expensive, though not always. They may allow your student to live at home a few more years and save some cash to go to their selected four year institution.
Online education has taken gargantuan leaps ahead since the old correspondence course days. In fact, many accredited four year institutions offer online courses. They aren’t easier, in fact, they’re much harder in many ways. An online student has to master time management and self discipline to succeed. Having been both a traditional student and an online student, my experience was much more difficult as an online student.
Borrow as a last resort
If student loans are unavoidable, opt for subsidized loans when you can. The federal government pays the interest on such loans while you’re in school and during the grace period before repayment begins. For details, turn to the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Information Center, Nellie Mae and SallieMae. You also could consider applying for a loan through Lending Club, a peer to peer lending site.
Photo by ralph and jenny