10 ways to pay for college right now!

by Nick on February 13, 2012

girl-410175_640Does it drive anyone else nuts when someone says they “paid” for something when really they financed it?  It’s really not the same.  You didn’t pay, you promised to pay later, plus interest.

So if you’re considering taking out a parent plus or some other loan to pay for your kid’s college, please think very carefully about what you’re getting into.  You aren’t “paying” for their school and haven’t paid for their school until you pay off the loan (sorry, but it’s true!).  You did, of course, take some pressure off of them by taking on some of the costs.  So don’t get me wrong, it’s admirable to want your kid to get through college student loan free, but I’d prefer you did it without going into debt, cool?

So what do you do if you or your kid is getting ready to head to college?  Simple.  Follow these ten steps from Forbes with great passion and you’ll be in much better shape.  Also make sure you’re not buying a Rolls Royce when you only need a Honda, especially if you still come up a few bucks short, ok?

So what are the ten steps that Forbes says you should take?  (I’ve mixed in some relevant thoughts from me and my Rolls Royce post, too…. Sorry, I can’t help but give my two cents!)

  • Apply for financial aid.  Thanks Captain Obvious!  Seriously, do it.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much grant money was out there (and had no idea how or why I qualified…). Many universities offer financial aid programs that will come up with a way for you to afford your education. In some cases, grants or scholarships might be available, so it is well worth a try. Your university will also get you to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, which will determine how much assistance you can receive. While some of the money that you receive might come in the form of a loan, as least you will have the chance to receive some grants along the way.
  • Apply for national grants.  You see a theme here?  Apply for every national grant you can find.  Ask everyone and anyone who will listen about available national grants.  Call your guidance counselor.  Ask colleges.  Ask anyone.  Just in case you don’t know, “grant” generally means you don’t have to pay the $$ back!  Wahoo!  This is HUGE.
  • Apply for local scholarships.  Just like national grants, you should apply for as many scholarships as you can.  Ask your priest, rabbi, teachers, guidance counselors, the college, local government reps and anyone else you can think of.  I ended up scoring a few hundred bucks by filling out just one form in my town that was sent to a bunch of places.  Not bad for about 10 minutes.  I wish I filled out about a thousand more…
  • Cast a wide net.  This is definitely worth the time.  Applications are expensive for sure, but applying to less than 5 schools may end up costing you thousands of dollars in lost scholarships, grants or other valuable financial aid.
  • Bargain.  Definitely, definitely bargain!  Just think, you’re bargaining with someone who is giving out someone else’s money (usually the school’s or the government’s).  As long as they’re “in budget” they’ll be fine.  When I got my financial aid package from my first choice I called and asked if they could up my school grant.  They did (I think they gave me an extra grand or so per semester.  Not bad for a call, right?  I also met with them and got more $$.).  Call.  Go in person.  Go again if you must.  Be polite but ask specifically what you can do to get more grant or scholarship and if there is any way they can up it – even just a little bit.  They have wiggle room.  It’s a seductive dance…
  • Find an official benefactor.  This is pretty cool.  I didn’t do this at all and didn’t know it was very common.  I knew about ROTC, but that’s about it.
  • Look abroad.  Another thing I didn’t even think of.  How cool would it be to get a top-notch education in Paris or Rome and save a ton of cash at the same time!?  My guess is your resume would look pretty cool, too.  This would definitely be on my to-do list if I were doing it all over again.  Muy bien.
  • Live at home.  I’m now pretty indifferent about this one.  Living at home certainly could save you some cash, especially if it’s the first two years before transferring to a “better” school.  But there’s something about getting a job (or two) on top of college and learn to pay bills, manage an apartment and play well with others.  Also, cutting the cord is pretty important in my opinion.  I won’t be bad at you if you live at home to save money though.  It’s huge money sometimes.
  • Tax tricks.  “The American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit are two excellent options.”  Cool.  Take them if you got them!
  • Ask a guidance counselor.  Believe it or not, they know what they’re doing.

Well, that’s all that Forbes has to say!  What do you think?  You know you wish you did all of this before you took out all of those student loans!  I know I do.

I did only some of these and came out of undergrad (a five-year program) with about $35,000 (the rest of my mess was for grad school).  You’d think I could have found another $7,000 per year by doing all of these and those in my list, right?

Anyone have other ways to score free money for school?  How did you keep your costs down?

Until next time, put your credit card down and slowly step away from the mall!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Money Infant February 13, 2012 at 10:44 am

I'll be passing these along to my 17 year old son and his mother. Hopefully they can whittle down his student loan burden. Yes it will be his, I've already gone through my own and he only need to fund one education. If I take the burden I'm on the hook for 3.
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Modest Money February 13, 2012 at 4:40 pm

I was quite lucky to have my mom help with the cost of tuition on the 2 year post-secondary courses I took. It did really relieve a lot of the financial burden I would've had. Unfortunately at the time I was ignorant about the high cost of tuition and how many people have big problems with paying student loans. So I didn't recognize the importance of applying for scholarships and doing other things to make schooling cheaper. The problem is that to get scholarships the process really starts much earlier as you get much more scholarships if you do things like get on student council or year book committee, or just volunteer time more. It did help that I only took a 2 year course instead of a 4 year degree.
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Kooz February 13, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I agree with all (or at least most–I'm borderline on the "live at home" idea for other reasons) of these. The "bargain" concept is key. What's great is playing all scholarships/grants from the schools themselves against other schools–X gave you $5k, but Y gave you $7k; call X and tell them about Y's offer, then when they up their $5k to $7k, call Y and tell them you have $7k from X, and ask if they can sweeten the deal to tip the scales in their direction. This works!
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Adam Lawrence January 6, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Kids should live at home and attend community college for the first two years. They can improve their chances of getting into a better school if they have okay grades. The competition is out of high school, not after two years and with a transfer. Also, kids should work summers and part time through school to help make tuition payments. If they save while attending community college they’d have some money set aside to help with the bill.


Alex Swift July 18, 2015 at 11:22 pm

I would recommend looking into the scholly app. I use it and I think it works amazing. It is a good way to find scholarships. It was recently on Shark Tank and I highly recommend it to students.


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