Six Tips for Financing a College Degree without Debt (or Stress)

DSC_0184sLast 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.

Sweet-Pea-and-Mimi-graduati

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.

Lisa

 

 

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

20 Comments

  1. Cici
    June 5, 2014

    I would like to add that there is nothing wrong with going to community college for two years to finish general ed requirements and then transferring to a bigger name school. It is a huge cost savings and also has little to no impact on future opportunities. Some community colleges are quite spectacular and offer amazing programs.

    Reply
  2. Lori Glasscock
    June 5, 2014

    I'll chime in and echo your sentiments about state universities! I think entering the secular environment while still living at home enabled our children to bring home the new ideas and process them with our input. It was a great baby step in the direction of living in, but not of, the world they are entering. And as a bonus I thoroughly enjoyed the extra years in close proximity with my children. 🙂

    Reply
  3. sharimcminn
    June 5, 2014

    Excellent! Congrats Dad and Mom, and all the kids that have worked so hard.

    Reply
  4. Lisa McNamara
    June 5, 2014

    Our oldest son went to Colorado Christian University. It is a fairly reasonably priced school, not significantly more than the state school that our second son attended. Our son, Kevin, got a part-time job in the financial aid office his first year at CCU. He continued working there, and at age 20, married his high-school sweetheart. Around the same timing as their wedding, CCU offered Kevin a full-time job. The benefit of working full-time at CCU is that you and immediate family members get full tuition as a benefit. He did a lot of evening and online classes, but both of them graduated without having to spend any more money on tuition. Kevin is now going to graduate school, free of charge, while continuing to work at CCU. We have loved watching God provide for Kevin and his sweet wife.

    Reply
  5. Deb
    June 5, 2014

    Our first child is now attending college — with 7 coming along behind her — financially it's mind boggling. However, we have found that CollegePlus has been a nice fit for her. She can live at home and found a great job at the local library close to our house. All of her courses are either online or CLEP. There is a cost, but it is much more feasible. I can already see that this is probably not going to be a fit for every child that we have, but we are so thankful that our oldest has found this alternative route.

    Reply
  6. jenny given
    June 5, 2014

    Our Lacy lived at home while attending LCSC. She worked as a CNA while in nursing school. I was able to pay her tuition even though we did not get financial aid. She graduated about the time we were moving to Montana, so she came along. She lived at home for the first 7 months of her nursing job. By the time she moved to Boise she had saved 17,000 toward her next degree. Pretty snazzy way to do it, we think! Now we live a block away from the University of Montana Western. Linden who graduated this year from high school is going to Missoula for school. It is going to cost a small fortune when compared. I find some comfort in knowing that we got off pretty easy with the first one!

    Reply
  7. Kayla
    June 5, 2014

    I am always amazed at how people can make paying for college so very complicated. Get decent grades in high school. Go to a school you can afford. Consider a community college. Get a job. I know college tuition has risen dramatically since I was in college (almost 15 years ago) but the majority of folks, I still think those very basic things work. (In fact, my first year of college I actually made money because I had worked my tail off to apply for every scholarship I could and actually had an overage. That only happened that year, and I did end up having to actually pay but by and large my husband and I who married while in college, graduated with about $5000 in student loans as our only indebtedness.)

    Reply
  8. Laurel
    June 5, 2014

    These are great tips!

    Reply
  9. Lisa
    June 5, 2014

    Our oldest daughter worked and basically supported herself while attending the local community college to earn an Associates degree in Emergency Medical Science (highly employable). She now has a great job, her own apartment, and is continuing her education through an online program at a regional state university. Her employer even provides some tuition assistance. Our #2 daughter WORKED hard on the basketball court and earned a scholarship to a Christian college. Our #3 daughter moved to another state and is working and saving and will put herself through a two-year program at a community college/culinary institute. We help them out a little as we are able, but it's mostly been their hard work and determination. We advised them to work and save and not to take out student loans. So far, so good.

    Reply
  10. Jessica Pair
    June 5, 2014

    Thank you for your excellent post. This was a bit of an answer to prayer. My oldest child is only 12 years old, but lately I have felt that I need to skip him to 9th grade next year. He has already been studying high school level math, science and reading for the past year. I read too many homeschool blogs though, and I always feel like I have to push him to attend an Ivy League school, but none of them are in Washington state (where we live). If he starts high school in the fall, he'll graduate at 16. I don't want to send him too far at that age. We do live pretty close to UW-Tacoma, however, and your examples of how attending a state school hasn't held back your kids is very encouraging. What have you done to prepare them for college during their high school years? You have obviously prepared them well. What do you feel has benefit them the most during their preparation for college?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 6, 2014

      I'm so glad you are encouraged by this post. Annarose is also going to graduate next spring at 16; she (with us) hasn't decided whether she'll start college that fall or take a year off to do something interesting. With five older brothers and sisters, she's used to being with an older crowd and I think she would handle it well, but she doesn't need to rush. My kids would probably all agree that the thing that prepared them most for college was my inability to teach them everything they needed to know (there is probably a blog post in that). They learned to explore topics and be responsible for their own work. I'll survey them and get their thoughts and write a post – after the wedding.

      Reply
      1. Laura
        June 6, 2014

        I would encourage you to look into Running Start. My daughter, and Lisa's niece Madeleine, acquired 50 credits from a combination of UW in the high school classes at our local high school and from Green river Community college. Most of the Running Start classes were online so she did them as they fit into her day–she took some classes at the high school too. We only paid books and fees and one quarter for one 5 credit class because she was taking too many classes at the high school. All of her credits transferred to Seattle University which she is attending on a combination of academic scholarships, alumni scholarships, grants, and some loans. She also works part time during the school year and all summer. While she will finish with some debt, the small class sizes –some as small as 12–is well worth it. My middle child, Caleb, just graduated from Idaho with Samuel. He attended for less than an in-state WA school because of academic scholarships and the WUI. My oldest son made the choice to attend a school out of state and pay out of state tuition. While he will be paying off loans for years, God led him to the wonderful young woman he will marry in October.

        Reply
        1. Jessica
          June 7, 2014

          Laura, thank you for your suggestions. I had never heard of UW in the high school before, but I have considered Running Start for my son. He also plans to take some AP courses when he can.

          Reply
      2. Jessica
        June 7, 2014

        Thank you so much for your reply. I look forward to that post. I pray everything goes well for all of you as you prepare for the wedding.

        Reply
  11. Deborah
    June 7, 2014

    ROTC is another great option, as is military enlistment with plans for higher education after. Done right, a student can enter at higher rank with credits earned during high school, earn their undergrad while serving their country, and use their GI Bill for a graduate education. Not to mention the numerous other benefits such as being paid, fed, housed and medically cared for during those early post high school years. My son also lacked a clear idea of what he wanted to be "when he grew up"….. the Navy used his asvab results to funnel him in a direction he wouldn't have explored on his own and he has truly found his calling in the field of mental health and loves it……. and he knows he loves the work which will make that commitment to grad school easier!

    Reply
  12. charity betts
    June 9, 2014

    I also have a sister who moved to Georgia, it is my understanding that in state residents with good grades go to state colleges free there…worth looking into if you have the freedom to live where you choose.

    Reply
  13. Janell
    June 9, 2014

    I didn't know you went to SPU! I did too. I was there in the early 90's. I loved the small class size and made wonderful friends, but often feel the cost was extremely high.

    Reply
  14. Jeny
    June 11, 2014

    Spot on, Lisa! Dave Ramsey (Financial guru) would be very proud of you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 11, 2014

      Thanks, Jeny. I take that as a great compliment!

      Reply
  15. JeffCindy Blair
    June 11, 2014

    Thanks so much for this post, it has given me some hope for our large family. I also appreciate the responses from others……I'm learning lots!!

    Reply

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