My wife and I helped three children through college and we learned a lot from that experience. There are some things we would do over if given the opportunity, but more so we wanted to pass on to you some ideas about paying for college. It can seem impossible, but we do not believe that your son or daughter has to leave college with huge debt that inhibits them for their future. So here are our recommendations for those children who may be college bound.
- Take as many college courses as possible while still in high school. This can start while your student is still a junior in high school and it’s cheap. These courses are typically affiliated with a local college campus and they love starting students in their educational programs early. Also, high school AP courses are often accepted for college credit.
- Start looking for scholarships while still in high school. Have them talk to their high school counselors about local scholarships. Money is out there; you have to make it your job (and your student’s job) to find the resources. We even found interest free loans from agencies in our local area that helped our children. Some schools, in conjunction with local rotary clubs and the like, have loan funds available to students.
- Attend a school in your state. Often there are heavy discounts for attending a school in your home state. (Obviously these are state schools only and not private schools.) Sometimes scholarships are available just for staying in state.
- Take your general education courses (normally the first two years) at a local community college. Community colleges are so much less expensive than universities offering the same courses. Live at home and go to community college and then attend your last two years on the campus of your choice to complete your education. It doesn’t sound as exotic, but it dramatically lowers the debt load. As well, take advantage of on-line courses. Nine out of ten colleges now offer on-line courses at a far less expense.
- Take a year off to work after high school – a “gap” year. There definitely is a gap year advantage as most students do not know what they desire to study. Enter the work force and learn about labor, serving, hourly wages, taxes and saving for college. Perhaps you can locate a job that will continue even as you enter college. Two of our children were waiters at local restaurants and made good incomes in the field.
- Do you have a grandparent that would like to sow into their grandchildren’s education? Ask…perhaps they are waiting to help in any way possible. Start 529 Education Savings accounts into which parents and grandparents can contribute and those contributions may be state income tax-deductible.
- Be very aware of which loans you sign up for. When parents co-sign for loans they become responsible for those loans. You cannot predict what might happen in the future. Know that federally “subsidized” loans have deferred interest until six months after graduation. Complete your FAFSA forms as early as possible for possible state grant money.
- Keep working to lower your borrowed dollars. Your student should work full-time during the summer and at least part-time during the school year. There are jobs on campus and off. It all adds up and helps tremendously.
- Keep a close eye on all your loans, the accrual and the interest rates. A good rule of thumb is that your child would graduate from a four-year college program with no more than one year of tuition debt. (For example: if tuition is $28K per year, your student would graduate with no more than $28K in debt.)
- Finally, consider a career assessment test for your son or daughter that helps them to narrow down and/or identify possible majors to study. When your child knows what they desire to study according to their gifts, wasting money on subjects that will not relate to his or her field of study will decrease.
Bonus: Teach your son or daughter to utilize a budgeting tool so they learn how to budget their money and help control their spending and saving while on campus. It might help them to not visit Starbucks daily, purchasing five-dollar drinks. Train them to use cash or debit cards and not credit cards for common purchases. Finally, check out this blog on 7 Ways To Go To College For Free.