How Much College Can We Afford?
Many parents put off the challenge of paying for college until the last moment, when they are faced with the reality of that first semester’s bill. That’s when they find themselves asking the dreaded question of “how much college can we actually afford,” a question that can dictate the success or failure of a college experience if solutions aren’t found. This primer will help you figure out how you and your student can afford the college degree needed for your child to pursue the career of his or her dreams.
Paying for College Solutions
Once you’ve determined how much you can afford and how much college is going to cost, you’ll want to investigate the following possibilities.
Investigate College Options
Your student has probably heard a lot about a few popular colleges that “all the kids” are going to. While one of these colleges might be your best bet, there’s a good chance there is a lesser-known college around that will offer a good education at a cheaper price.
State colleges are notoriously lower-cost options, especially smaller state colleges. Some small, lesser-known private colleges and liberal arts colleges offer generous scholarships or grants, especially for students who fulfill a demographic requirement (minorities, athletes, etc.)
Is Your Student in the Top 25% of the Applicants?
Many students feel like they should go to the most exclusive college they can get into, often referred to as “reach” schools. However, most colleges give the best financial aid packages to the students who rank in the top 25% of the applicants that year.
This means that your student will probably get less financial aid from that exclusive school where he or she ranks in the bottom 25% of applicants, but will get a better financial aid package from a college where he or she is in the top 25% of the applicants.
Can Your Student Test Out of Classes?
If your student has taken a lot of AP (Advanced Placement) or honors classes, he or she may be able to test out of several college courses. You’ll have to pay for the tests (they are usually about $80 apiece) and should purchase a study guide for your student beforehand, but you’ll save anywhere from $200-$800 per class by testing out.
What About a Part-Time Job?
Some colleges provide on-campus employment as part of their financial packages, but your student can probably deliver pizzas while in school even if he or she doesn’t get a co-op or work-study offer.
Paid internships, employment as a residential hall monitor, and teacher assistant positions are all excellent ways to supplement your student’s income while in school. In fact, internships and TA positions will help your student learn the material in depth and will set him or her up with excellent references for post-graduation interviews and opportunities.
Not finding jobs on campus? Think outside of the box and look into online employment or freelance work. Many students make money with virtual jobs such as freelance writing, editing or tutoring opportunities.
Have You Applied to Scholarships?
Believe or not, the majority of the scholarships available are for high school seniors and current college students. Make sure your student applies for scholarships every year. The same goes for grants. Invest in a comprehensive scholarship book or service – it’ll pay for itself even if your student only wins one scholarship.
Afraid your student won’t qualify for any grants or scholarships? Your student doesn’t have to be a genius to win a scholarship. Sure, many scholarships reward academic accomplishments, but just as many are designated for niche interests (even as obscure as surfing or throwing darts) or are awarded to specific demographics (race, ethnicity, religion.) Many are also need-based.
College Compromises That Really Pay Off
Your student might have his or her heart set on going to XYZ School, but you may be able to strike a deal with your student that will cost far less. Your student will save up to 75% of college costs if he or she attends a community college for the first two years, lives at home while in college or takes online college courses for the first two years.
All three of these options are significantly less expensive and will still allow your student to graduate from the school of his or her dreams. What matters is where you spend your last two years of college, not your first two years. And living at home might be more appealing if you offer to buy your student a car as a part of the compromise. A set of wheels can make living at home much more appealing (while saving you far more than the cost of the vehicle and insurance.)
Determining How Much College You Can Afford
Paying for college is a challenge, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge. Enlist your student’s help as you explore possible solutions together. You’ll be teaching your student some of the most valuable lessons of his or her college years—how to budget appropriately.