Money Saving Ideas for Paying for a College Education or Degree

Although most people would say that a college degree is pretty much required for young adults entering today's competitive job market, paying for a college education is also very expensive. I recently read a statistic which said that a four-year college education will typically cost between $50,000 and $180,000.  We live in Ohio where the tuition room and board at the state university that our youngest son is attending is more than $22,000 a year (2010-2011 school year).  

Money Saving Ideas for Paying for College

There are several options for paying for a college education and our three sons have used a combination of these options to pay for their college education.

Work and earn as you go through internships, cooperative education, or working part time
Our oldest son started out at a private Christian University with a modest academic scholarship.  After losing the scholarship when his first year grades did not reflect his AP Calculus brain-power, we discussed the implications of taking out loans to stay at his current college (which he loved!)   However, my husband and I  were also concerned about the limited career placement facilities at a smaller school in a very small town and the impact that could have on his job prospects given the economic downturn and  his less than stellar grades. After a period of consideration subsequent to our family discussion, he decided to transfer to a local state university that offered a well-respected program in his major. He also chose to live at home for a year.  In addition, he found an engineering co-op position and rented a house with a group of other young men.  He was able to graduate basically debt free (paid off his small subsidized loan with his first couple of pay checks) and purchased a foreclosed home at the age of 24.

Live at home, attend an inexpensive community college or junior college for a year or two, and work part time to save money until you transfer to a four-year school.
Although none of our sons attended a community college, they have all attended state universities for at least part of their education and the two eldest also lived at home for at least a year during their years in college.  Although campus living and the independence it brings can be great fun, room and board can cost more than tuition at a state school!  In addition, all of our sons have worked part-time throughout their college years.

Openly discuss what the family can afford to contribute towards college expenses.
We communicated to each of our sons the amount that we would contribute to their education.  We were committed to not borrowing, short of extreme and unforeseen circumstances, and didn’t want them to graduate with the burden of substantial debt either. Our agreed upon contribution to each of our sons was that we would pay for four years of the cost of room, board and tuition at a local state university. They would be responsible for any educational expenses in excess of that amount, should they choose to attend a more expensive school or take longer than four years to graduate.  The boys were also responsible for all of their own personal expenses (car maintenance and gasoline, books, entertainment, etc).   We did continue to carry them on our car insurance and health insurance.  We also paid for their out-of-pocket medical expenses, however they reimbursed us for the car insurance premiums. 

Apply for scholarships and grants.

Our sons were all very good students with very good SAT and ACT scores.  Unfortunately, our two oldest started out at private universities and transferred to public which made them ineligible for most academic scholarships as upper level college students.   However, initially our middle son received over $15,000 in scholarships to attend a private university, which actually resulted in paying lower costs than at most state schools.  He subsequently decided to change his major and transferred to a state university.  However, he has worked part time jobs throughout his college years and will graduate this spring with no debt and “money in the bank”.

Borrow the necessary funds.

As mentioned above, we strongly encouraged our sons to keep borrowing to an absolute minimum.  In my opinion, borrowing to during the college years should be the very last resort!  However, if borrowing is your only option for a portion of your expenses, follow these two very important rules:
·        Borrow only what you need. We met one young man who had borrowed the full amount offered in his financial aid package and used some of the money to purchase a PS3 game system!  He is now married and has brought a large amount of debt into the marriage.
·       Pay the borrowed money back as quickly as possible, even if that means sacrificing to pay off the debt quickly.

So although paying for college can be complicated, it's not impossible. And remember that there are several options other than racking up overwhelming debt to get your degree!

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! "   Matthew 7:7-11, NIV