Make Smart Choices in College Programs
I think another part of the equation is finding with affordable college options. We all have that dream of being able to send our kids off to some ivy league school or a fancy out-of-state University. But that’s not always realistic on an average family budget. You need to have a frank talk with your High Schooler about a few different things.
- Be realistic about what is or isn’t possible on your family’s budget. My youngest son wanted to be a Forensic Pathologist. It would’ve required 13 years of school – college, plus medical school and specialized training. It’s great to dream big, but in this case, a big dose of reality was needed. Kids do not get to choose any career that suits their fancy, regardless of the amount of money it will take to achieve. Not to mention that his so-so grades and lackluster study habits weren’t medical school material. So, we talked him into a more affordable medical technician program.
- College is a massive investment – be smart about it. In order for me to sign off on something that expensive, there’d better be a BIG pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. You want to study French Literature, Basket Weaving, Acting, Latin, Greek, or Russian. Do it on your own dime. These are great hobbies and pastimes. But if I’m footing the bill for a pricey education, it had better be something that has an actual JOB attached to it!
- Take the time to pick the RIGHT field of study. I don’t know how many adults I know that have an expensive degree, but are doing a job in a completely different field. Again, what a huge waste of time, effort, and money. Take the time to help your child research different options carefully to find out if the job they think they want is actually going to be a good fit for them. Make them do some research – do job shadows, some internships, or some part-time jobs in the summer before you will sign off on their course of study.
- Be open-minded to ALL options. That college degree from a “brand name” institution is definitely the gold key, but you know what – with some smarts, hard work and ambition – the silver key, the bronze key, and the brass key can all lead to the same place. My two oldest boys opted for trade school programs and are doing very well in their careers. Only my youngest son opted for college, but he is starting with community college and a relatively affordable state school. Also, both of my younger boys had the benefit of High School tech programs that were completely FREE. Both of them graduated High School with their certification in basic medical assisting programs. That’s a pretty good way to start out and they were able to build up from there.
- Set them up for success. It is heart-breaking to see a kid who drops out or doesn’t complete a program, and it’s a boatload of money going down the toilet. My friend had her son blow-off his scholarship and drop out in the last semester of a four-year $40,000 dollar program. That was awful. Kids this age are still KIDS. They need a certain amount of independence, but you can’t just send them off to sink or swim. Keep the lines of communication open. Schedule monthly or quarterly discussions about their school performance and their overall mental outlook. Are they getting burnt out, partying too much, and are they fully invested in making the most of their opportunity. Make sure they are keeping on top of their paperwork and other requirements. Trust but verify is my motto.
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Don’t Forget about Scholarships
Scholarships are critical to a loan-free college experience. You really can’t spend too much time applying for scholarships or grants and there are a lot of them out there. We are still working the scholarship angle for #3 son – those lackluster grades in High School are not helping. Especially since we can’t demonstrate much in terms of financial need – although we both work about 60 hours a week to keep on top of everything and our son works too.
But so far, we’ve been able to pay for the first two semesters tuition, books, bus pass, and meal plan, all in cash from our college savings. And we have enough saved up for at least two more years of state school. Hopefully, by then some scholarship money will show up, and we’re still saving our faithful $25 a week.
We definitely do it on the cheap – rented textbooks, no fancy laptop – we bought him a used Surface at the local pawn shop for $100 bucks. He’s saving for a car, but so far, the bus pass is getting a pretty good workout. School lunches are pretty cheap, but there’s a Del Taco right across the street with coupons it’s quite a bargain.
Watch Out for the Marketing
It’s interesting to see how many offers we get in the mail and Email for college “aid” (which is a nice way of saying LOAN). One college actually “admitted” him to their program with a paltry $200 scholarship (bribe) even though we had never stepped a toe on their campus. These programs are money makers – each student can generate tens of thousands of dollars in profits. And Mom and Dad are a nice juicy target for their marketing plans. They do want to educate your child, but there definitely is a profit motive that you need to be aware of.
So, it will take some planning, some seriously fueled savings, and a bit of strategy. But you are paying for college on your own, both you and your child will be SO much better off. Even if you can only swing a year or two, you’ll be better off than people who just automatically sign up for the student loans.
Sidebar: I had an interesting realization as I was writing this post. I was looking at the three generations of my family – my parents, my husband, my sister and I, and all of our now-adult children. We have the full gamut of educational backgrounds – my father had a University degree, my Mom and I had an incomplete college education, my sister and several of the kids had some kind of trade school programs, and many of us only have High School diplomas.
But surprisingly, regardless of our educational background, we’ve all been pretty successful. It’s hard to admit, but I think most of us have been MORE successful than my University-educated father, who as a well-educated while male in the 60’s, had the full benefit of the good ol’ boys network.
College isn’t everything – sometimes creativity, hard work, and a good dose of ambition can be more helpful than a piece of paper.
If you want to know MORE about paying cash for college – my amazing friend Charissa has written an Ebook that has a whole section about doing college with NO student loans and ALL CASH. This is something that could save you and your kids literally thousands of dollars, so it is well worth taking the time to check it out. Plus, she has tons of other fabulous tips on your finances. Click HERE for more info.
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