Ways To Fund College

The stories are endless.  Joe and Sally saved their entire lives for their kid’s college education, but the recent market downturn has cut their college savings fund in half.  Now they are desperately searching for ways to fund college.  Often times this report is followed up by a tearful high school senior explaining their dream of attending an Ivy League school has been crushed.

I’m a father of two kids, and I know how it feels to want to give your kids everything.  But I honestly think parents are unnecessarily beating themselves up over these college fund balances.  Parents and college-bound kids are going to have to make some tough choices between now and next fall, and the toughest of those choices will be dealing with the financial reality that a large portion of their college funds are gone.

These days most families turn to student loans, particularly those who lost half the value of college savings in a matter of months.  Their story is a cautionary tale for those invested in risky investments too close to a financial goal, but since they all recognize that now there is no sense beating them over the head with portfolio allocation instructions.  No, we are where we are, and we have to figure out where to go from here. Because I generally dislike student loans, the following tips will intentionally leave Sallie Mae out of the mix.

Photo courtesy of StuSeeger

Seven Ways To Fund College Without A College Fund

1. Reconsider your choice of school.  I sound like the guy who doesn’t read his own articles.  I made the mistake of getting hung up on an out-of-state school because my best friend was going there, and I liked the football team, and it was my favorite college town.  Big mistake.  While I do have the ultimate souvenir from those days away at college (my wife), I also came home after 2 1/2 years with a pile of student loans and credit card debt.  After enrolling in a local university it was obvious the quality of education was just as good, and the tuition was considerably less.  Lesson learned.

2.  Ask for help from friends and family.  One of the more interesting concepts I have seen lately to formalize this process is a type of social investing market lead by Freshman Fund.  Students and parents tie the child’s Freshman Fund account to existing 529 college savings plans, and then share the student’s profile with family and friends.  Contributions are collected and deposited directly into the 529 plan behind the scenes (no need to share account numbers, etc. with extended family).

3.  Apply for every scholarship under the sun. I mean that quite literally. If I were a high school junior facing rising tuition costs and a small balance in my college savings fund I would make it my part time job to apply for as many scholarships as possible.  I would enter writing competitions, join various associations, and basically spend every free moment researching scholarship opportunities.  Even if you applied for 1,000 scholarships and 990 of them turned you down, there is a chance those remaining 10 could finance a year of school (or at least offset some of the costs of that first year).

4.  Get a part time job.  This one is a little controversial because some argue that part time work detracts from the college experience, or leads to lower grades. I started working my freshman year to cover books and miscellaneous expenses, and later worked even more hours to pay for an apartment and utilities. Admittedly, it was a drain, but I appreciated things far more than if my mom paid for everything.  I think it helps kids to have at least a little financial skin in the game.

5. Work full time for tuition reimbursement.  Many companies offer tuition reimbursement plans to their employees.  Start by researching companies in the field you are ultimately interested in studying. Most company websites offer a list of perks included in their benefits package, and if you have questions about tuition reimbursement eligibility contact the company’s human resources office (or recruiter) usually listed on the job search page.

6. Live at home and stay local, or commute a short distance. Room and board can add significant costs to already inflated tuition costs.  If you are short on cash you might be able to pull off tuition-only and stay and stay on the “Mom and Dad” meal plan. As a compromise, at least consider living at home your first year or two and then look for a reasonable off-campus option for the final years at school.

7. Take a year off to save up the cash. Again, not a popular option for most high school seniors eager to get started on college life. But families need to be realistic; if the money isn’t there it just isn’t there.  And with many people being laid off, or at least fearing they may be laid off, most parents are reluctant to try to cash flow tuition at an expensive school.  It might make sense to take a year off, work full time while living and home, and save every single dime you earn towards the next year’s tuition.

I wish I had chosen this route – in fact, I ultimately did. I went to school right away for a couple years, returned home and worked for a couple years, and then wound up working my way through my remaining time at school. Looking back, I could have done things even smarter by starting a Roth IRA when I was a teenager to save for college. That’s right, you can use a Roth IRA for college because contributions may be withdrawn at any time, and earnings may be withdrawn penalty free for qualifying higher education expenses.

Again, I want to stress to those parents and students out there who might be reading this that it is not healthy to play the blame game. Many parents are mad at themselves for not rolling funds into cash last year, and many students are equally mad at parents for losing so much of their college fund.  Being mad at yourself, or resentful towards your parents accomplishes nothing.  Now is the time to pull together as a family and work to find a solution that works best for everyone involved.

High school seniors, resist the temptation to take out huge student loans. I know the money is there, and you don’t have to pay it back for a few years, but you will have to pay it back.  When you graduate college you will be filled with the excitement of getting started in your career, and finding your first home. Don’t spoil it by tying a noose around your neck and hanging four years of student loans from it. Those loans will limit your options, and are often the gateway to other forms of debt such as credit cards and car loans. Make the sacrifices now so you don’t have to make them later.  I promise, ten years from now you won’t regret it.

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  1. I had a scholarship and a part-time job. One thing I did that helped cover my housing was work as a resident adviser. I got a free dorm room all to myself. My husband went to community college at first, living at home, and then parlayed his grades into a scholarship to finish out the remainder of his schooling at a four year school.

  2. Community colleges are a very affordable way to complete your first two years of college – especially since those are usually the years you are trying to figure out what you want to do.

    I caution folks who plan to work for a year and then go to school. When you delay school, it gets harder to go back. In addition, college costs increase 5 to 10 percent every year, and you’re losing the ability to earn significantly more income with a college degree for each year you delay your schooling.

    I used to be an academic advisor at a community college and I saw many students who were so focused on working as many hours as they could to pay for college that their coursework suffered. College actually cost MORE for them, because they had to repeat courses. These folks would have been better off working less hours and taking out loans so that they could finish their degrees and start realizing their true earning potential as a college graduate.

  3. I had a number of friends do this:

    Go to community college for 1-2 years and take just classes that you know will transfer. After that time transfer to the 4-year school of your choice. The only thing that matters is what school you’re at when you graduate.

    My recommendation is to always go to in-state public schools. No one should go to private school unless the costs are covered 100% by scholarship or rich parents.

  4. I wanted to stop lurking just to comment on one phrase in your article: “we are where we are, and we have to figure out where to go from here”. Having just suffered a major work related setback and struggling to come to terms with it, I do appreciate being reminded of that simple truth. Thank you.

  5. I agree with getting a job! I worked all through college (sometimes up to 40 hours a week but still considered “part-time”) so I could pay rent and eat. The rest was covered by student loans, unfortunately, and scholarships.

    It doesn’t detract from the “experience”…was is that supposed to mean anyway? Get drunk every night and sleep around? Seriously. I still had plenty of time to hang out with friends and do lots of fun things. Your experiences are what you make of it not what other people “say” you should get out of it!

  6. 3. Apply for every scholarship under the sun.

    What you say here is true. My mom made myself and my 2 siblings do this. Two of us ended up getting sufficient scholarships to cover tuition (to a private school, no less) entirely as well as a little bit toward room and board. The other sibling came pretty darned close.

    It’s a pain in the butt. But graduating with literally $0 of student loans is a great thing.

    If you’re a parent, please please please make your kids do this.

  7. I was lucky enough to have my parents pay for everything, but I can definitely vouch for #7.

    Taking some time off before college is a great idea. It’ll help you figure out which path you want to get on once you do start school and you’ll be much more mature once you start.

  8. As someone who works in an institution of higher learning closely connected to doling out scholarship funding (at an Ivy League school), we sometimes find it shockingly difficult to give away the money! I know it sounds crazy. But many of the endowments are very old, and they have criteria attached that make it tough to give away. So college and graduate school people should find out how to submit their information to the financial aid office, do it in a timely manner, and include every miscellaneous piece of information about themselves that they can. Religious, ethnic, hobbies, areas of study going back even to high-school-they can help a student to meet that criteria.

    Another possibility for the parent is to work at an institution of higher learning. Where I work the University will pick up the entire tuition if the student goes to that school, and half if s/he goes to another school. And if both parents work at the University, the entire tuition is picked up no matter where the student goes! Universities are also wonderful and very stable places to work with many additional advantages.

  9. I did most of the things you suggest in the article when I was in college about 10 years ago. I went to a community college, worked a part-time job, and went to a cheaper school. Now that I’ve had 10 years to reflect on it, I’ve regretted all of it! I wish I had the “experience” that many frugal personal finance bloggers so readily dismiss. Sure I ended up with the same education and less debt than most people, but the first two years in college are the most important for meeting people and forging friendships that last a lifetime. This kind of networking cannot be replaced easily and its value is hard to quantify.

    Working part time (almost full time) only allowed me to miss even more of what experience I did have when I transferred from the comm. college. Sure I was able to pay my own way, have my own apartment and car, but I didn’t have fun and my grades definitely took a turn for the worse.

    I can also tell a difference in the quality of education. While I transferred to a state university, its CS program wasn’t as good as the university I wanted to go to but was a little more expensive. I’ve worked with graduates of the good CS program and the quality of what they learned is light-years beyond what I was taught. Not that you can’t learn it on your own, which I’ve done, but you can definitely tell a difference.

  10. This is amazing. I was just thinking about this subject.

    My assets and income have been hit hard over the last year but when my daughter got accepted to attend NYU yesterday, I was willing to sell myself into slavery in order to get her to attend.

    When I came to my senses, I realized that my motivation was my own ego.

    At the end of the day, if she gets the grants (not loans) she may end up at NYU – but if she does it will have nothing to do with my ego.

    It will have to be a decision that makes sense.

  11. Students need to be be careful when thinking about taking a year off before going to college. Many times you only get the best scholarships to colleges if you are coming straight out of high school. Example: I could have gotten a full scholarship to a certain university if I started there right out of college. Instead, I transferred there from another university my sophomore year, meaning I did not go there straight from high school – the highest scholarship available to me then was only 50%, which was a huge difference, b/c this was a very expensive private college. If I had started there from the beginning, I could have gotten a full ride all 4 years. There are many scholarships that are this way, requiring students to go straight from high school. Also, taking a year off means some people never end up going to college. They will lose their motivation, and may never go. I am a strong believer that everyone should go to some sort of training program, whether it’s college or vocational training, directly after high school.

  12. #8 – Take dual credit classes while in high school. Our little community college (town population 4000) offers college credit for college level classes taken during high school. The select accelerated classes count for high school credits as well as transferable college credits. Look into it in high school!!!

  13. I’m with everyone who suggested hitting the community college for transferable credits. Our local community college costs a third less per credit hour than the next up state university. I worked through college and it actually gave me a leg up – I actually had things I could put on my resume when I graduated. It was part time retail jobs and working the library – but it was something to show I could work and had skills.

    One other thing – I just read an article about how parents are pushing their kids into college (and kids are planning on going) because it is “expected” now days, but let’s face it, some people just don’t do well at college and for these kids it just doesn’t work out.

    The article suggested that these kids might be better served going into something that interests them more and where they can truly be successful, examples would be vocational industries like electrical, construction, and cosmetology – even the military. I am a HUGE proponent of college and higher education, but I am also a big supporter of finding your own niche and excelling in that. If you know your kid is not the college type, or doesn’t want to go, but has another plan for a career they are interested in, be open to it.

  14. Two things I want to add:

    First, I don’t like when people say they are not paying for college because their kids will work harder or appreciate it more if they pay for at least part of it themselves. I did not pay for one dime of college – not one dime. And I never slacked off as I saw many other students do – many of whom paid for at least part of college themselves. The bottom line is if you have a responsible kid, he won’t slack off in college and if you have an irresponsible kid, he will. Money has nothing to do with it. If you can’t afford to pay for your child’s education, that is fine, but it’s a cop-out to say he will appreciate it more if he pays for at least some of it himself.

    Second, I did a similar post recently in my blog. I agree there are many ways to get creative with paying for college. Here’s a link if anyone’s intersted. I came to some of the same conclusions as Frugal Dad:


  15. I too, applied for every scholarship under the sun…and it paid off. Some were only small scholarships, but it helped with books, etc.

    I did not have ANY student loans till my 3rd year of college, and by keeping the amounts low, was able to pay them off in a few years later (actually I paid them off one month, then started grad school while working fulltime the next month!)

    I knew I was responsible for paying my way through college and while I had fun, I LEARNED and kept my grades up. While I am saving for my own kids college, they will be expected to contribute- I saw what happened to kids who got a free ride from mom and dad.

    Work is not a “four letter word”- its time we all remembered that.

  16. One additional point — whatever the situation is, you must discuss it with your children early on. If you can pay, tell them. If you can’t, tell them. If you will pay, but only if they attend community college for a year or two (I did) tell them. If you will only pay if they get good grades, tell them. If you expect to claim them as a dependent while you pay, tell them.

    If you are willing to pay, but only if they take a major you think is worthwhile, visit home every holiday, or avoid falling in love with someone you disapprove of — and be honest with yourself here — tell them.

  17. I forgot to mention that I “Co-op’d” when in college. Many fields, such as engineering- will allow you to work in your chosen field one semester then attend school the next.

    I’m an engineer, and while it added one year to my education (5 instead of 4 years) I have invaluable work experience when I graduated. I was paid much more than I would have at other jobs, and ended up with a job offer at the company I co-op’d with. Something else to think about…

  18. Why are the children not financing the education themselves?

    My parents always made me save at least some of my allowance, plus half of whatever I made from other sources such as babysitting. I earned about half minimum wage but it added up.

    I started working outside the home at age 13 because I could lift and carry like an adult and had a stronger work ethic. This was mostly weekend work even through the summer, but I also coached sports one night a week and had a summer job. While in university, I worked two nights a week, delivered papers occasionally, kept a seasonal weekend job and worked full-time through the summer. It doesn’t have that much of an impact on your grades although you do need time and resource management skills.

    I did wig out the first year of university due to stress, and I went to the university shrink’s office because I thought I could pick up time management skills. They wanted to medicate me instead so I bugged out and got the time management skills elsewhere. The key is to write down all appointments and watch carefully to make sure I never get so busy that I start not being able to keep the commitments I make.

    The result of all the work, and a couple scholarships and bursaries, was that I was able to put myself through school twice with no debt. Most students will only have to do this once. I had to do it twice because the first time around I stupidly allowed my parents to control the money, such that I ended up forced to finish a degree in an unmarketable discipline that I also disliked.

  19. Great thoughts! I agree with the weakonimist above about taking community college classes and then transferring them to a “better” school. Do this with your general education courses because these are the classes you have to take anyway. The education you would receive taking these same classes at a “better” school won’t nearly justify the expense involved.

  20. I’m curious about what makes the “better” schools better from an undergraduate perspective, besides hype and atmosphere.

    A lot of the big name schools have gigantic classes taught mostly by grad students and the professors are more interested in their own research than they are in teaching. The funding that pours in from industry grants is for cooperative research, which is reserved for graduate students. That’s great if you’re a graduate student, but the undergraduates get the short end of the stick. The things that actually cause them to learn are in shorter supply. All those professors from overseas who are so brilliant and who make the faculty so diverse? If the internationally renowned research genius teaching your class has an accent so thick you can’t understand the lecture or a language barrier so severe that the questions you ask won’t be understood or answered, you’re not going to learn.

    Similarly, most of those highly watchable sports teams do not bring enough money in to pay for themselves, so the majority of students get hit with a “jock fee” to pay for gymnasiums and training facilities they aren’t allowed to use.

  21. I want to echo the comments to attend community college. It’s so much cheaper. I went that route, and met some great people that way that I am still in contact with.

    Then I transferred to a 4-year school, lived in the dorms, and met some more great people. Some were fresh out of high school, others were transfers like me. I feel like I got the best of both worlds.


    Excellent grades lead to excellent scholarships. My son worked hard and was a National Merit Scholar–some schools offer free rides to those. He left a private school with about $10K in low-interest loans.

    There are a number of ways to get serious financial aid by joining the military, including service after you complete school.

  23. I appreciate your attitude about student loans. OUr government and cash hungry colleges have conspired to convince far too many students that the only path to a happy future is through college, and that the path can be paved with student loans. What a dangerous myth that is.

  24. This was a great post for not only parents but high school kids as well. My parents did NOT have any type of college fund for me or any of my 4 other siblings. We were completely on our own and 4 out of the 5 of us have finished school. Me and my husband have some student loans (I have my bachelors and my hubby is finishing up law school) but our loans are TINY compared to what others have and I am proud to say that from my 4 1/2 years in college I paid a total of $300 out of my own pocket for my tuition and books. I was lucky and applied for multiple scholarships and was able to get some great scholarships for my freshmand and sophmore year to pay for tuition and then I got married in my sophomore year and we recieved huge amounts of Federal Grants to pay for the rest of our schooling. My biggest suggestion would be to apply for scholarships, leadership scholarships are the best. Alot of schools offer leaderships scholarship to students and you don’t have to be the student body president to get the scholarships. I got some because I was a swim team co captain and I served in my church. Leadership scholarships are great because you usually have to keep a certain gpa like a 3.5 but you don’t have any other further obligations where as if you have an athletic scholarship those are great because they will pay your tuition but you are so busy with the sport that you don’t have time to get a parttime job and pay for everything else.

    Also, GET A PART TIME JOB ON CAMPUS!!! The semesters I wasn’t working parttime I did terrible with my classes because I had so much open time that I just dinked around and wasn’t organized. When I worked part time 15-20 hours a week I was more disciplined and organized and did better in my classes and still had time to play. Plus getting an on campus job is great because you don’t need a car to travel around in so you save money there and if you are working on campus you can claim exempt and have hardly any taxes taken out so when you get paid 11 dollars an hour you actually really do get paid 11 dollars an hours.

    Work Full time in the summers and save every penny and then work parttime during the school year. You will be so much more grateful for your education and everything you experienced in college if you pay for it yourself!!!

  25. Don’t forget about ROTC. It is not for everyone, but it will certainly take care of those college bills.

  26. i think this is a great post–however, i DO have a couple comment.

    first of all, realize that GETTING scholarship (even if you apply to hundreds) isn’t as easy as it sounds. in my situation, my parents made too much money for me to qualify for work study & many of the scholarships that required “financial need”. BUT they didn’t make ENOUGH money to pay for my tuition entirely. i’d kept my grades up enough to get a large slice of my tuition paid for at my private university BUT i was still left with a giant bill each semester, a STACK (probably 50) of denied scholarship applications, and generous parents, grandparents, & other family members who stepped forward to pay for my undergrad.

    secondly, it is important–especially for parents who either didn’t go to college or didn’t have good experiences in college–to recognize that MUCH of college is about the EXPERIENCE. given, walking away with an degree in social sciences $60,000 in debt isn’t a wise move…BUT talking to your kids about WHY they want to go to a particular school, their expectations of it (is it a party school, one focused on community service, one that has fabulous networking opportunities?), and YOUR requirements of them while they are there may help ease the tension in your contribution to their higher education.

    thirdly, i also think it is important to consider POST-undergrad study. if i had to pay for my undergrad at $25,000 a year (my scholarship took care of about a third) AND had my medical school debt on TOP of that, i’d be in WAY over my head (shoot, i already feel like i am just with medical school tuition). if your kids are planning on pursuing a career that requires additional education, a cheaper undergrad institution may very well be the best (if not only) fit.

    and last, don’t forget to encourage kids to look into “college in the highschool” or “running start” programs. i did this in high school & came out an entire semester (plus a few credits) ahead–this allowed me to double major, giving me an advanced competitive edge during medical school applications.

    🙂 great topic, as always jason!

  27. These are all excellent suggestions. I taught at the University level for over 10 years and never have tuition prices been this outrageous. I agree with the first commenter – go to a less expensive school for 2 years and then transfer the credits in and graduate from the college of your choice. You typically need 2 years in the school you graduate from. I’d recommend an in-state school over a community college, depending upon the school. Many universities don’t accept credits from community colleges as readily as they do from state schools. They look at them differently. Check the transfer policies of the school you’d ultimately like to graduate from before getting started.

  28. 1. Use all the college-level credits you can accumulate in high school (advanced placement, etc.) to skip the low-level requirements (which are often the dreaded cattle calls)

    2. Military, possibly before, but preferably during.

    I attended the most expensive private college in my state and at the time the ROTC program would take nearly any science or math major.

    I knew one math guy whose parents would no longer pay after his sophmore year due to his grades, but ROTC snapped him right up, paid the last 2 years in full, plus a decent stipend.

    3. Community college/summer school.

    Check and make sure the credits will transfer first.

    My liberal arts college would not accept summer school business classes from a major university because they did not offer a “business” major (just economics)

    4. Figure out what you want quickly.

    I toyed with in physics, and took several classes (lowering my GPA – the department was proud of how tough they graded).

    But my college does not grant double majors (only lacked one class for a physics major), nor do they grant a minor (so nothing I could put on a resume)

    If I hadn’t messed around I could have used AP credits and summer school to graduate with my economics degree in 3 years instead of 4.

  29. Community college is a great deal! Also, dual enrollment classes in high school. My younger daughter is a senior and we are older, I am 55, I told her she can get a student loan but Dad and I can’t get a retirement loan. She was adament that she wanted to go away to school. Her grades are good, but her SAT scores, not so much. She did get accepted by a private college, and we filled out the FAFSA and got back that our EFC was $12K! OMG! We got the financial aid offer back from the school, which costs $33K a year. She was offered a mixture of grants, work study and student loans, subsidized and unsubsidized, for a total of $16K a year, and they suggested that we take out a PLUS loan for the other $19K! After we stopped laughing hysterically, my daughter decided the sensible thing was to go to the local community college, which she is already enrolled at due to her dual enrollment Eng 12-HS/Freshman Eng. class. Cost: Tuition, books, transportation, $4K a year max!

    Those general studies requirements that college students spend their first two years taking are pretty much the same at all schools, why pay more? My older daughter went to CC and then transferred to the local public university and she said she got more personal attention at CC from the profs and always had a full prof teaching the classes at CC, not graduate assistants like at many large universities, not that there’s anything wrong with being a GA, but for the money…..

    After you get into a 4 year school, future employers will not care that you went to CC the first two years. If they do, you dont’ want to work for them anyway. I also think that “prestige” colleges are overrated for many students. After you get your first job and prove what you can do, they don’t care if you went to Harvard or Podunk U.

    I also think many professions could be better served by training people through apprenticeships rather than requiring that 4 year degree (necessary for some professions, but not others) and it’s a shame that so many kids graduate with huge student loan debt and then have to take a job clerking at Target because they can’t find anything in their field.

  30. Student loans are unfortunately the norm these days for college students, and I certainly had my share of them when I was attending college, but I don’t agree with them.

    First, the students REALLY don’t understand what they are getting themselves into. I sat through the required presentation telling me I would have to pay it back, but like most other college students, I had NO clue it actually meant I would be making payments for years to come. Monthly payments were as foreign to me then as a 401k plan.
    Now I realize that if I only pay the required monthly payments, I would owe until 2018! The same year my daughter would graduate from high school.

    Secondly, freeing a student from any outside responsibilities (besides school work) does NOT help the student understand what is expected of them in the real world.
    In the real world, most of us have jobs/careers that we work during the day to pay the bills, AND responsibilities at home (family, home upkeep, etc.) If the students are adult enough to take on the debt of student loans, then they are very well capable of understanding life in the real world.

  31. Scholarships are great (I got a bunch of them myself) but there are not enough of them out there to fund everybody’s education. That’s not a reason not to apply for them, just something to keep in mind.

    Another thing you can do (and that I would have done if I hadn’t had the scholarships) is try to graduate in fewer than four years. Somebody mentioned taking college classes for credit while in high school, and there are also AP exams (which you can take even if your high school doesn’t offer official AP classes). And once you are in college, consider taking more than the standard course load, especially if it will shave a semester or two off your time to graduation.

  32. About #3, applying to tons of scholarships — I’d say that it’s more important to apply only to the scholarships that you think you have a good chance of winning. There’s no use asking for a biochemistry essay scholarship when you’re a history major. What little research you find online isn’t going to get you the scholarship, and you’re going to waste a lot of time. Focus your time on scholarships you can win.

    #7, take time off before school: be careful! Some schools will withdraw your scholarship if you wait a year! They want you to attend right away.

  33. I should have been a bit more aggressive with scholarships, but do have a couple of interesting stories.

    I was made aware of a “Voices of Democracy” scholarship that the American Legion sponsored. I found out about it at 3 PM one day, and a taped speech was due at 9:00ish the next day. The guidance counselor told me I would win school’s contest and advance to the next level, since there were no other entries.

    That night, after chores and homework, I put together a speech that, quite honestly, was not my best work. It wasn’t complete gibberish, either – it was an honest effort, just one that didn’t have much time put into it. I won the $100 but did not win the next level. It would have been much better to have known about the scholarship earlier, but it was smart to submit the last minute entry.

    We had another foundation that awarded 4 scholarships – 1 for outstanding male/female student or athlete. You could apply for the student OR athlete scholarship, but not both (not sure of the logic behind that).

    It was pretty obvious who would win the top male athlete scholarship. So obvious that nobody bothered to compete with him. However, he was also a smart guy (and didn’t want to be known as a “dumb jock”), and applied for the outstanding student scholarship. I edged him out for that scholarship – I’m sure it was a coin flip. Since nobody applied for the male student scholarship, the scholarship funds were divided three ways (1/3 to me and 1/3 to female student and female athlete). If someone – anyone – had applied for the male athlete scholarship, they would have won.

    I worked about 20 hours a week during college, went to a state school, and still had a fair amount of students loans, but have happily paid off all that debt.

  34. My son is in the process of getting letters from colleges now. A lower-ranked school offered him a free ride; several state universities offered him 5-6000 in merit aid; a private university offered him $2500 in LOANS to offset their $50,000 pricetag (no thanx!) If I were starting over, I’d encourage him to look at more slightly lower-ranking schools that offer large scholarships and yet have a good honors program (Denison is one, I think). A lot of scholarships are nonsensical and require one to jump through too many hoops in my opinion–like make your prom dress out of duct tape or write an essay on the history of pipe-fitting–all on the very off-chance that you could win $500. Some schools take part of that money off of the money they give you in financial aid, too. If you have to concentrate on something, I’d spend the time on 1. picking good target schools, and 2. strengthening yourself as a candidate (grades, SATS, activities, essay, recommendations). Especially Grades and SATs. These statistics are worth cash!!!

  35. My biggest tip for high school kids:


    This is the tip I got the hard way (my 3 older sibs didn’t do it and learned). Why is the PSAT more important than the SAT? Well that’s the big secret. National Merit Scholarships are based on PSAT score, because they know that most people do better every time they do the test, so the PSAT is the “most real” version.

    I knew I’d be fine on verbal, but math was my weakness, so I did an SAT prep workbook for about 10 – 15 minutes every day for the few months before the PSAT. I set a timer and just did it. And guess what, I got a National Merit Scholarship!

    The actual scholarship is pretty small ($1500 if I remember right), but it opens doors big-time because universities love to brag about that statistic: ‘our freshman class has 3 National Merit Scholars.’ Some schools actually fly Natl Merit Scholars down for set weekends (I knew one guy who was flown to Virginia from Alaska, another from North Dakota) to try to recruit them, and give them full rides plus. Natl Merit is BIG MONEY, folks. I ended up with a full tuition scholarship, the National Merit stipend, and two other small scholarships for trips abroad. I still had to work for living expenses and, ok, beer, but I didn’t graduate with a crushing debt… or any debt at all.

    If you have kids, put a shock collar on them if you have to – make them study for the PSAT!!

    (um, just kidding about the shock collar, you can put it down now)

  36. in my family, we came to the conclusion that I needed to move out of the house- I’d never develop into an adult with my parents hoovering over me all the time. this ruled out community college or a local school with me living at home. more expensive for tuition/ room and board, but priceless in getting me to grow up. The social connections freashman year are often key business connections later on- its the only reason most of my friends found jobs later on, no employer in our area will hire w/o recomendations.

  37. If a student got an excellent scholarship for their Freshman year – TAKE IT! The same scholarship is not available the next year. My son found that out the hard way when he attempted to move to his fully funded state education scholarship his sophomore year…it was gone and he stayed where he was.

  38. I graduated about 9 months ago and wished I would have read this advice before I applied to college. I’ve been a personal finance junkie since I was 16 years old. I understood the concepts but never really had to PRACTICE the concepts until now…with all my knowledge, no one ever sat me down and told me exactly what it feels like to be in debt. Avoid it like the plague!

    -Schedule your classes around your job. While I was in college I managed to have a Tuesday/Thursday class schedule for most of my time in college so that I could work on the other days.

    -Consider transferring from a junior college. I wish I would have done this. It saves you money and you enter college at a more mature time. It gives you time to fully consider things before leaping into college.

    I did a little of everything discussed in this post and did not have a traditional experience. I am in debt right now, but I have a plan that I’m following. My advice would be to work, plan, and stay away from student loans and credit cards at all cost!

    Kimmy B. “The Prosperity Blogger”