Financing College Costs on One Income

If you are like most parents, you’re probably wondering how you’ll be able to send your kids to college without going into serious debt. With the cost of an undergraduate education at a private four-year institution, including tuition, fees, room, and board averaging over $45,000 per year (Source: Trends in College Pricing—2016, The College Board), paying the bill might seem overwhelming, especially if your family has only one wage earner.

One option might be to do nothing in the way of saving and simply hope for the best with the college financial aid system. However, that could be a risky proposition. When it comes to paying for college, unless your child is fortunate enough to get a full scholarship, most schools will expect you to pay some part of the bill. And, who knows what might be available in the way of college financial aid in the future?

What’s a Parent to Do?

One of the myths about going to college is that you must go to a “prestige” school in order to have any chance in life. If that were true, not too many of us would have made it because those schools can take only a small percentage of each year’s applicants.

While it is true that a “designer label” degree may help gain entry into some “designer label” graduate and professional schools, there are many excellent, reasonably priced colleges that turn out graduates fully capable of competing in the real world. Check them out!

Who Needs Help?

Many families will need some financial assistance to pay for college, but need can go both ways: Colleges also have a need: for customers (students) in order to utilize the full capacity of their classrooms and dorms. Some colleges seek regional diversity in their student bodies and will provide aid to attract students from distant parts of the country. Expanding your geographical horizons could pay off with big savings.

Perhaps your graduate-to-be is going to “kick back” or work during the summers between school years. Maybe going to summer school is a better idea. Some schools reduce their tuition and board fees for the summer term, and earning credits toward graduation at summer “discount” rates might lower the overall cost of getting a degree. Furthermore, colleges expect a student to contribute from his or her own earnings to fund the education, so part of the earnings from that summer job may be factored back into the payment of tuition bills.
Make Plans

Perhaps the most important thing in preparing for college expenses is to start early. When your child is first born, consider putting money away on a regular basis—however small the amount might be—in order to build up a college fund. The magic of compounding can work wonders with a seventeen-year time horizon!

For kids in high school, the sophomore year is not too early to begin investigating colleges, even though your child may have little idea about what he or she wants to do in life at that age. Good planning is a process of finding the “right fit” between your child and a college, a process better developed over a period of time than entered into at the last minute.

Whatever you do, don’t despair! With a little detective work, some creative planning, and a willingness to forgo the “designer” degree, you can find a school that will provide your child with a fine education, and you do not have to go broke paying for it.