The cost of a college education is being discussed today like never before, it seems. It's a hot topic on financial news shows and in financial magazines. It's part of the debate surrounding the upcoming presidential election. It's even a point of contention in the Occupy Wall Street protests.
But perhaps no group is more concerned with how to pay for college than high school students and their parents. And with good reason—in today's world, a college education has never been more important. Unfortunately, it's also never been more expensive.
[Ask your family these five questions about college finances.]
As Lindsey moved through high school, my husband and I were like a lot of parents: We had some money saved, but not nearly enough to pay for four years of college. In addition, the stock market took a nosedive just as she was beginning her junior year, so what we had invested lost a lot of value.
Still, we've been able to pay for college so far without having to borrow money. Here are some of the things that have helped us bridge the gap:
1. Choosing an affordable school: While Lindsey applied to several schools, she ended up choosing the second most affordable option. Not only was the in-state tuition affordable, but the University of Kansas offers a four year tuition compact, so that the cost of tuition won't rise for us as long as she graduates on time.
2. Starting a new stream of income: Several years before Lindsey left for college, I began doing some freelance writing and earmarking the earnings for her college education. By getting a couple of years' head start, I've been able to stay a semester or so ahead of her expenses. As soon as her education is paid for, that money will go toward doing the same for her brother.
[Find out if you should take a second job.]
As a freshman and sophomore in high school, I saw upperclassmen going to high-dollar schools like the University of Notre Dame and the University of Southern California. From the beginning of my college search I knew I wanted to cover whatever expenses I could in my college education, and here are some of the ways I helped out:
1. Spending time on my résumé and college essays: When I was in high school, the understanding between my parents and I was that, instead of having a part-time job, I would stay involved and concentrate on my schoolwork.
In this way, I wasn't necessarily earning a paycheck over those four years, but I know that my hard work paid off through scholarships. Highlighting these items in your résumé and essays will definitely help to pay off in terms of scholarship dollars.
[Find out what you need to know about applying to college.]
2. Applying for scholarships: My high school's college counselor told me that students typically only receive about 10 percent of the scholarships they apply for, so if I wanted two or three scholarships that, in reality, I should apply for about 20 or 30. I didn't go to quite that extreme, but I did apply for every scholarship I qualified for within the schools I applied to, as well as some external scholarships. Of the 10 major scholarships I applied to, I got three.
3. Getting summer and on-campus jobs: Although I didn't work during the school year while in high school, I always took part-time jobs during the summer in order to save money and cover all my own personal expenses, such as clothes, food, and gas.
Once I got to college, I also got a temporary campus job. This way, my parents only have to focus on things like my books, tuition, and housing, rather than my other expenses as well.