By Andrew Housser
The average cost of a college education at a public institution is $21,000 per year. Private schools can cost twice that. If you're a parent, those numbers are sure to give you pause. You want your children to have the best future possible -- and a career that they love. But how to pay for it all?
Most college students take out loans and then graduate with $20,000 or more in debt. Of course, the hope is that your graduate lands a great-paying job thanks to that degree and can quickly pay off this debt. Avoiding that debt in whole or in part would be much better, though. While difficult, it is possible. Here's what you need to know.
1. Be proactive about studying.
This sounds simple, but many teens don't make the connection between their performance in high school and their college opportunities. Encourage your child to study hard, get involved in extracurricular activities and/or sports, and do community service. Combined, these are major components in obtaining scholarship aid.
2. Scope out scholarships.
Colleges, high schools, churches, employers, nonprofits, foundations, and even credit unions all give out scholarships of varying amounts. The key is to know which ones your child is eligible for, and to apply by the deadline. Talk to your child's school guidance counselor and do an online search. These are not all based on academics. Hone in on your child's talents and search to see what scholarships are available.
3. Go to college during high school.
Many high schools now partner with local colleges to allow students to take advanced placement classes. This means high schoolers can earn college credits by taking tougher courses. The best part: it's free (or discounted) as part of your child's high school curriculum.
4. Tie in work and college.
Check to see if any local employers offer a tuition reimbursement program. For instance, a teen interested in a career in broadcasting might take on an entry-level job at a local station, which will then help pay for college courses for as long as he works there.
5. Stay home.
Room and board is a sizable expense. Crashing with mom and dad might not be ideal, but the savings can be put toward tuition expenses. Another money-saving option is to have your child live off campus and split rental and utility costs with roommates.
6. Find family members who work at colleges.
If you have a relative who works in higher education (even in a non-teaching role), see if your child qualifies for a family discount.
7. Join the ranks.
This option isn't for everyone, but if your child is willing to give several years of service to a military branch, his or her college courses will be covered. Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programs can be of particular interest to some students.
8. Check out different schools.
Believe it or not, a few schools don't charge tuition. Check out the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York and the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, N.Y. The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., offers a half-tuition scholarship to every student. Visit the Work Colleges Consortium to find a list of schools that offer free or reduced tuition in exchange for student work.
9. Sock money away.
Nearly every state offers a 529 college savings plan. The money you invest in these accounts accumulates interest. Plus, you won't pay taxes on the funds as long as they're used for qualified educational expenses. Find a list of state 529 savings plans and their requirements at SavingforCollege.com.
10. Earn it.
Help your child recognize the importance of saving some of his or her hard-earned cash for college expenses. While in college, the primary focus should be on studies, but many students are able to balance school and a job. More than 3,000 schools have work-study programs in which they employ students on campus, with part of the earnings going toward educational expenses.
There was a time when having a college degree automatically meant a better paying job. Unfortunately, in today's economy, that's no longer a guarantee. Still, you can give your children a better start on the future by helping them keep school costs low and ensuring they are as debt-free as possible when they start down their chosen career path.