Friday, March 1, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - How to Pay for College

We're starting to pin down A's college decision for next year, and as we are once again weighing one of our children's opportunities against our bank book, I thought it'd be a good time to pass along some of what we've learned.  Just keep in mind I'm a mom not a financial advisor.  This is purely mom to mom type advice.

We personally despise student loans, and strongly encourage our children to make it through their college years debt free, if at all possible.  I wish we could afford to pay their way for them, but six children, three sets of braces, and a wedding all on a single income, hasn't left us a lot of extra cash for college.  That doesn't mean they can't get a good education.  We advise our college hopefuls to:

Pick a school they can afford.

That sounds obvious, but kids are used to being able wiggle around cost if they really want something.  It's better to know going in that some costs are too high.

Apply to multiple colleges and universities.

They won't know what they can afford until they apply.  The sticker price of a university degree is almost never the actual price.  Most private colleges and universities have automatic "scholarships" offered to every enrolling student.  A(age 18) applied to three private schools that were in the $40,000-$50,000/year range (including room and board) and found that their totals were really closer to $25,000/year once she had applied.

This is where GPA and good test scores matter (but aren't worth ulcers over).  For the three schools she applied for the difference between excellent scores and barely getting by scores was around $7000/year in scholarships.  But, the difference between pretty good and excellent was only like a $1000/year.  Still, when every penny counts, it's time to take the tests seriously.

Apply for financial aid.

This is done on the FAFSA website starting in about October of the year before a school year (earlier is better).  FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  It's not difficult (parents and their students both apply), it takes less than an hour, and most of your tax information can be retrieved electronically as part of the application.  College financial aid offices are more than happy to give you a hand if you find anything confusing or intimidating.

This is how students find out if they are eligible for federal grants (money that doesn't have to be paid back), loans (subsidized - that don't have interest accruing or payments due while a student is in school, or unsubsidized - that don't require payments while a student is in school, but have interest that starts accruing right away), and work-study (allowing a student to work in certain jobs on campus to earn money for their tuition that will not effect their future financial aid eligibility.

Even if you don't think you will receive any grants, it is still important to apply, as colleges use the financial aid numbers to help determine grants from their schools as well.

Apply for scholarships.

Most schools have a list of additional scholarships students can apply for, most often related to a specific degree, academic or sports achievement, or community involvement. They often require some sort of essay.  Applying is a lot of work, but worth a try.

Start out at a community college.

Even if students are too late for high school dual-enrollment classes (which are a fantastic deal), they can still save some serious dollars by knocking off core classes at a community college.  Just keep in mind, not all classes transfer to all schools or into all programs, and sometimes students take longer to finish a degree if they start out this way.

Go local, and live at home.

Dormitory and dining hall expenses add around $10,000/year to a college bill.  If there is a local school nearby, living at home can save a bundle.  Colleges hate that.  Students will receive a lot of pressure to live in the dorms, because it is a big part of the college experience, and living in the dorms can help students to bond with their classmates better.  Still, that's a lot of money for an experience.

Get a job.

We encourage our teens to start working part time jobs as soon as possible (as I've posted about before).  T (age 21) worked full-time for a year before starting into his university studies, and has worked part-time during the school year, and full-time during winter and summer breaks since then.  He also chose a job that pays tuition assistance for his school.

A (age 18) chose a job that does not pay tuition assistance, and has only worked part-time, but at a slightly higher salary.

Keep in mind whatever students earn will count against them when it comes to applying for federal aid.  It can be a bit of a catch-22.

Ask grandparents for help.

This is not our favorite option, but in pinch haven't said no to a check from Grandma.

Consider payment plans.

This is another option we haven't had to fully explore yet, but T came close last semester.  You usually pay a little bit more in fees to be able to pay tuition off in monthly payments, but spreading the costs out over a year (especially a final year) might make things easier to handle.

Easier to handle is good.

Of course, all of this depends on students being able to find a program they can work with and that will further their career goals within the parameters.  So far, we've had one business major, and one wavering between a business major and a degree in elementary education.  Those are common programs with a lot of options.  That helps, too.


Camie said...

Great advice! We are also of the mindset to avoid college debt. My daughter lived at home and she worked part time through three of her four years at the state university, which did cost more than the private universities my son and younger daughter have attended. We were able to pay for her tuition while she covered the cost of her gas and books. Oh, books are another big expense and there are ways to shave that down as well (electronic copies, buying used, selling books back, etc.). My husband is making a lot less now and headed into retirement soon so we're hoping our youngest child has more of a shot at scholarships and grants than his older siblings who were always turned down based on their dad's salary. He is keeping up his grades and will take the ACT test a few times to be able to submit his highest score.

Ticia said...

Great advice, and stuff I"m starting to look into more.

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

My A keeps hoping for a "full ride" scholarship. I am not holding my breath for it, so we keep saving for her eventual education. I can't wait to hear where A will be going.