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When I became a parent, one of my goals was to send my child to college. My husband, Todd, agreed with me that starting a college savings fund would be a good idea.
But things changed after Todd was diagnosed with a serious illness. We no longer had extra income; we were just struggling to get by. Putting aside money for college was not an option.
I didn’t think too much about paying for Chelsea’s college tuition until her freshman year of high school. I made an appointment with the counselor to get some information for us – how Chelsea could best position herself to qualify for scholarships – and the counselor gave me some information on the average cost of a four-year education. It was much higher than I thought. The counselor advised me not to worry and to continue to support Chelsea in being an honor roll student involved in other activities.
Eventually, Chelsea made a list of schools that she wanted to attend and how much it would cost to go to each. The amount that Todd and I could contribute each year was very small. It was the equivalent of what the cost of books would be. I wanted Chelsea to be able to go to college, but the costs were crazy.
Todd and I helped her fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Filling it out together showed Chelsea how much her dream school would cost in comparison to how much it takes to run a household. Some parents might think it’s too much for a child to know, but we wanted her to learn about the real world from us, not someone else.
We received the results back for her aid package and it was so disappointing. She didn’t qualify for any grants. It was all loans. Chelsea wasn’t sure about what career she wanted, and I couldn’t in good conscience help her sign off on a loan that could keep her a slave to debt for years to come. There had to be a better way.
Through some research, we discovered that Chelsea’s high school, our church, and other community organizations offer scholarships. She applied for these scholarships as well as admission to a community college and a local public university. She also applied to some of the “dream schools” on her list.
After long discussion, and getting a glimpse of the money situation, Chelsea made some smart choices. She decided to attend school for her first two years at a community college, and those first two years were paid for in full. Without the pressure of paying tuition, she maintained great grades, so well that she landed a transfer scholarship at the public university, where she transferred for her final two years of school. She also worked all four years, and was able to save that money for tuition funds. The money that she wasn’t spending during those first two years at the community college was a big savings that she eventually used to pay on her tuition during her third year.
The cost savings on where she attended school was huge: she decided to live at home all four years. The school she transferred to for her junior and senior years wasn’t on the “dream schools” list, but it was one she grew to love. Both schools had transfer agreements so she was able to make the move easily.
While my original plan had been to pay for Chelsea’s education, her hard work has made me truly grateful.
Equally important is narrowing down which colleges have the best prices. According to a study from FTB, here are the most desirable states to go to college
Here is a nifty college locator tool that lets you check rates, student population, etc… for all online colleges in each state. I found that my state really seemed to have pretty high tuition: