Last month Samuel graduated from the University of Idaho, making him our fourth UI graduate. Several people have asked how we fund college for our large family. I’ll let you in on a secret; our kids pay for their own education.
There are a number of factors that make that possible, some of which we can take credit for and some we can’t. Here are a six tips.
1. Choose a school that offers a good education at a great price. The University of Idaho is a great bargain at approximately $6,500 per year for in-state tuition. It may not be glamorous to attend a state school, but there are huge benefits. I’ll say more about this at the end of the post.
2. Save on living expenses. We live in a college town and our children are welcome to live at home while they attend the university. They cover all of their personal expenses, while we are happy to feed and house them. It may not be cool to live with your parents, but it’s a huge savings for our kids. Yes, they miss the experience of living on campus, but there are other ways for students to immerse themselves in campus life.
3. Get a job. Our older kids all work during the summer and save a good chunk of what they make. They also often work during the school year. Samuel was a grader for engineering classes during his last three years of college. Most of their summer jobs haven’t been glamorous (Noah cleaned gutters and washed windows), but they pay tuition bills.
4. Apply for scholarships. There are many types of scholarships available, from academic to special interests. My niece got a knitting scholarship (who knew?). Thankfully, our children have all had great SAT scores and have earned academic scholarships. They’ve earned scholarships from a homeschool curriculum company (Sonlight), and even a car dealership.
5. Apply for financial aid. With a large family and one income, our children qualify for quite a bit of financial aid. Russ is an expert at filling out the FAFSA. The kids have avoided taking out loans as undergrads; medical school is another thing entirely.
6. Earn credits by alternative means. There are many ways to earn college credit without paying full price.
*Isaiah took dual-enrollment classes at the local high school which gave him college credits; Annarose may do that next year.
*The University of Idaho gives credit for high scores on the SAT. For example, my kids didn’t just test out of lower level math or English, they actually received credit for the classes.
*My sister, Laura, lives in WA state and her kids did Running Start which allows high school students to take classes at the local community college for college credit.
*Students can get credit for AP classes taken in high school.
*Credits can also be earned by taking CLEP tests. I like the CLEP slogan, “Get credit for what you already know.” We’ve never done CLEP testing, but I plan to look into it in the future.
There are a couple of things I want to say about choosing a state school. First, I know that many families highly value Christian education and want their children to attend a Christian college. I attended Seattle Pacific University, so I understand this. However, our children have been steeped in the Christian faith their entire lives and by the time they attend college, we’re comfortable with them being in a secular environment, and even see some advantages. They’ve all done very well. Ultimately, the financial burden of a Christian college is more than we can bear with our large family.
Second, our society places a high value on Ivy League schools and other prestigious institutions. Our philosophy is to get a good, solid education at a state school and then go to the best school you can for graduate school. I’ve talked to families who worry that if their child doesn’t attend Harvard, they’ll never get into medical school or a great graduate program. Hannah and Noah graduated from the University of Idaho and both were accepted to numerous medical schools. My nephew attended a public university in Oregon and is doing his doctorate at Cornell, his sister is doing her PhD at Yale. Russ got his Bachelors in engineering at UW and got his Masters and PhD at Cornell. Their options weren’t limited at all.
I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to send your child to a private college, I’m only saying it isn’t a choice we can make for our family, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt our children’s opportunities at all. So, if you can only afford your local college, that’s fine. It’s what your children invest personally in their education and the opportunities they take during college that will make all of the difference.
People often ask if our children get free tuition since Russ is a professor, and we’ve always answered, “No.” Two years ago that changed when UI began granting half price tuition to one student per employee. Noah and Samuel took turns receiving that benefit. If Isaiah decides to attend UI next fall, he’ll get the tuition break all to himself – until Annarose catches up with him.
We recognize that not all of our children may earn academic scholarships. As our children grow up, our family size will also decrease changing their eligibility for financial aid. At that point I will turn my attention to helping them get credit through alternative means, such as dual-enrollment while in high school.
I hope that answers a few questions about how we finance our children’s college educations. I recognize that some of our circumstances don’t apply to other families, but this is what works for us. There is not one right way to do it.
One last thought, if you have a large family and the flexibility with your career to live wherever you like, consider moving to a college town. It just might make college more affordable.
There are so many other ways to earn a college degree without financial stress. Please feel free to add your thoughts and suggestions to this post. I would love to hear from you.
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