How Should I Pay For My Child's College?

My daughter is now a senior in high school. She has a 4.0 plus average (honors, AP classes) and has a 75% tuition scholarship so far and will be probably be able to attend the closest university for free if she continues to apply for scholarships. At 75% paid, I can make up the difference if necessary.

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However, she and her high-achieving friends want to attend the largest state university in a college town that's too distant for her to commute. I have told her that she can go if she gets enough scholarships to make up the difference. Room and board are more than I could pay as a single mom.

However, since my daughter is such a high achiever (many awards for her talents) I am starting to waiver. I wonder if I should take out a home equity loan or try to cash in my TSA? What if she gets in a car accident while commuting?

SusannL from Florida

July 26, 20070 found this helpful

I was the oldest child of a single mom and we were always struggling with money. Despite being an honor student, I didn't even apply for college right out of high school (this was almost 20 years ago now!) because I couldn't see how we could pay for it. I worked my way through community college with some financial aid grants and then went to a state university at age 23. I was surprised that my financial aid was much smaller than at the community college. Upon investigation, I discovered that I was too old for my mother's income to be counted and, as a single adult, I was eligible for nothing but loans! I still owe on my college education to this day.

My younger and smarter brother went to MIT and had to pay very little mostly because of my Mom's income. If I had gone straight to university, I would have been in a similar situation and probably gotten good grants.

My (somewhat convoluted) point is that it is VERY important to apply for Federal Financial Aid, every year, especially if your family is low income. Even if you don't get grants this year, you might get them the next. Also, the grants and low interest loans are given away until the money is gone so it is VERY important to apply as early as possible.

Back to SusannL's actual request: First, congratulations on having such a responsible daughter. I would recommend that you look at the student loan program before you take out a home equity loan or cash anything in. You can always do that later, if the interest rates are too crazy. Plus, interest is waived for the duration of the schooling, so it is not prudent to pay that interest before you have to.

Second: if your daughter is as responsible as she seems, it might be more cost effective to get her a small apartment, maybe with friends or see about a room in a house at the far college. The dorms, in my experience, are very expensive and you can always buy a meal plan at the college without living in the dorms.

Another bit of money saving advice is on buying books. There are a lot of internet sites that sell college textbooks at a substantial discount. Books were always surprisingly expensive to me.

Good luck!

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July 26, 20070 found this helpful

Please go to the financial aid officer of the college(s) your daughter is applying/going to - These days, financial packages are very complicated. Financial aid officers are professionals who spend their days working on problems just like yours!

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July 26, 20070 found this helpful

SusannL, I do not know why you are a single mother. If you are divorced, check your Divorce Order, or even better, have it checked by the maintenance officer at the maintenance court having jurisdiction for your area. It could just be that your child's father could be legally responsibe for her education, or part thereof, until she is no longer dependent. Or maybe you could take him to the maintenance court for increased maintenance in view of the costs of higher education. Also, check with the universities whether they have any special arrangements/financial aid for students from single parent families. I also suggest that your daughter finds herself a parttime job, preferably on, or as close to campus as possible. Maybe as a tutor or student assistant with the unversity. This will be good experience, she will build a good working record and will also get paid! My daughter did this and she earned far more than I could ever have given her as pocket money. I do NOT think you should jeopardise your home or car to pay for your child's education!!! Good luck!

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July 27, 20070 found this helpful

Thank you for all of the feedback. The soonest I can apply for federal aid is January 2008. Although I am a single mom, I make $58,000 as a teacher with over 20 years experience, and there are only two of us in the house. This isn't a high income for the cost of living in my state, but it may be too high for FAFSA. I am divorced. Unfortunately, my ex-husband is an alcoholic who has great difficulty holding a job and supporting himself. Even if his small wages were garnished, he would soon leave his job, and the legal process-paid for by me- would have to be initiated again.

I wonder if anyone has had any success with the college scholarship sites, such as fastweb.com? It just seems with so many applying for those scholarships across the nation it would be difficult to get one. We are trying though! When school starts my daughter is going to check with the school guidance counselor to see if there are local scholarships available. I heard that often less advertised scholarships go unclaimed because no one applies for them!

I really appreciate the tip which we will definitely keep in mind! I hope that other parents are finding this blog helpful. College is such a big expense, yet frugal in the long run if leads to a self-supporting adult!

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July 27, 20070 found this helpful

I meant all of the tips- thank you for posting!

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July 27, 20070 found this helpful

apply!! apply!! apply!!

i can't stress this enough. my daughter will be attending fsu this fall. with bright futures, a grant from the air force aid society and in state tuition, it's a lot more affordable than i thought.

although we did not qualify for fasfa we did qualify for a subsidized loan. the good news is that she will only need a loan for about 3500 per year. this is for the remainder of tuition, books, meal plan and housing.

even though you can not apply for federal aid until january, your daughter can apply for grants and scholarships at anytime througout the year.

to ease your fears about her going away to school i highly recommend you both attend a campus tour. the tours have great information and the students leading the tours can answer alot of your questions.

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July 27, 20070 found this helpful

I agree about applying for financial aid. I was lucky during my undergrad to have parents who could pay for a large chunk of my expensive tuition but I still had to take out student loans. I'm still paying them but student loans are very low interest, easy to manage, and if you get in a bind you can always defer. I've returned to graduate school where I'm putting myself very in-dept for my degree (and I work in the environmental field so dont expect to have a huge income upon graduating). I'm still not worried. I've always been responsible with money (as it sounds your daughter is) and have learned how to manage my debt.

I consider going away to college to be a very important part of growing up. If your daughter really wants to go away to school, there is a way and she should definitely do it -- if she lives at home and commutes she may always regret missing out on the college "experience."

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July 29, 20070 found this helpful

Take it from someone who's been there, with 3 daughters . . . You should encourage your daughter to attend the university nearest you that is offering free tuition, at least for the first year. That will give her time to search for more scholarships and aid and mature a bit in her thinking. Explain to her that she will have to borrow the money if she wants to attend the other school.

Financial aid changes all the time. When my youngest, who is 22, was a college freshman, she didnt get very much in federal aid and could only borrow a small amount the first year. I stupidly took out a parent plus loan for her to attend an expensive school, 3 hours away, just because her best friend wanted to go there. Big mistake on my part. My other 2 daughters are 6 & 8 years older than she. The federal financial aid programs were much better then and they attended the schools that offered them the best financial aid package. They took out student loans for the rest. I buckled under the pressure for the younger one and shouldnt have.

Most kids change their majors several times, so unless she is very certain what she wants to do, whether or not the "free" school has a stong program in her area of interest, she should still take advantage of it. My daughter didnt do very well living far from home and changed schools her second year. Once I agreed to borrowing the money for her first year, I felt like she didnt put as much effort into trying to get scholarships and aid as she should have.

Another point to consider, depending on what major she eventually chooses, many companies will pay/buy her student loans as part of a hiring package. They don't buy parent loans! Also, interest rates and terms for student loans are much better than parent loans. With her GPA, your daughter should be able to get lots of financial assistance if she applies herself. In the end, she will appreciate what she has worked to achieve on her own. If your financial situation changes after she gets her degree, you can always offer to help her repay her student loans.

I remarried a few years ago and my husband has very steep parent loan payments for one of his children. She recently graduated and will make a 6 figure income her first year working. Needless to say, she is in a much better situation to repay those loans than we are.

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July 30, 20070 found this helpful

SusannL, I still think you should be taking your daughter's maintenance up with the Maintenance Court having jurisdiction for your area. OK I live in the RSA, so I have no knowledge on your system. In the RSA, if a parent approaches the Maintenance Court for an increase in maintenance, and cannot afford a lawyer, the Public Prosecutor acts for the parent in the court, without any costs involved. I understand that the father has problems of his own, but it is his responsibility to explain those to the Maintenance Court, and for the court to come to a decision and order based on the evidence heard. Maybe you could at least try so that you could prove that you have tried to obtain appropriate maintenance for your daughter - which is her right and the responsibility of BOTH parents. Also, the maintenance officers at the court should be able to tell you whether you could maybe qualify for Legal Aid. Be strong and at the very least, give it a try. You will be in my thoughts and prayers - I've been there, so I know it's not easy, but always worthwhile to try to make things easier for your daughter and yourself.

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July 30, 20070 found this helpful

Hello! Let the girl work and earn some money to make up the difference. People do it all the time and it makes for a more meaningful and valuable experience for the student. There is no shame in having a job at school and it will help her manage her time and focus on what she is there for. She sounds like the kind of girl that will work for what she really wants, let her do it.

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July 31, 20070 found this helpful

She has a great- though low-paid- job now that ties in with what she wants to do as a career. I am going to pay for her first semester in the dorm even if she attends the university that is only about 45 min. away to give her the experience of living away from home and because my own parents did that for me. They didn't want me on the road right away. Back then the dorms were dead on the weekends when most students went home. I think she will continue to work in college. She's very independent, and I know she will want to have her own place eventually- just as I did. I just don't want her going deep into debt to do it.

Last year her English teacher told the class that he is 39 yrs. old, has two kids of his own and is still paying off his student loan. He did say that it was going to a private graduate school that put him deep into debt. This made a big impression on her. Our goal is to do this with either no or only short term debt.

Ironically, I know of students who have low GPA's. don't take honors or AP classes, and failed our state exam, but are getting 100% paid scholarships to private colleges because they are gifted athletes!

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July 31, 20070 found this helpful

I always worked really hard in school and made excellent grades. My parents always told me, "with those grades you can go to college where ever you want." Well, I only got a scholarship for 50% off to the college where I wanted to go. My mom had a cow because it was a private school and was more expensive than the nearby state school. She was actually mad at me for wanting to go there. I felt betrayed--all my life they'd told me I could go where ever and here I had picked out where I wanted to go and she said no! Well, my dad stuck up for me. We agreed they would pay half the remaining 50% and I would take out student loans for the remaining amount. I had a job during college and worked about 20 hours per week, so I did put some of that money toward school but I couldn't realistically pay for all of my portion and still have money for gas, car insurance and the few groceries that I needed. It was close enough to commute but they wanted me to have the experience of living in the dorm, so I did, and it was a really good experience. Halfway through college I got married, and I didn't want them to have to pay for my school after that, so I had to take out some more loans, but now just 3 years later I have them 50% paid off. When I got married, they took the money they had saved for my school and took a much needed trip to Hawaii.

Anyway, the point is, I had to use some student loans, but I got a great education (both in the classroom and by being part of the campus community living in the dorm) at a school that was a good fit for me and we all lived happily ever after.

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July 31, 20070 found this helpful

Don't forget the Peace Corps. If you join and serve 2 years in a foreign country, your loan repayments are suspended during that time.

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August 1, 20070 found this helpful

Another thing to think about-- you can borrow to pay for college if needed, but you CAN'T borrow to pay for retirement. I would not recommend cashing in any retirement savings to pay for a child's college.

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August 1, 20070 found this helpful

"Another thing to think about-- you can borrow to pay for college if needed, but you CAN'T borrow to pay for retirement. I would not recommend cashing in any retirement savings to pay for a child's college. "

I agree- even if the spirit is willing I might not be able to work until I'm 90!

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August 1, 20070 found this helpful

Please let us know the outcome!!

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August 6, 20070 found this helpful

Have you tried www.scholarshipcoach.com ? It is a great site. LOTS of ideas for your situation and many others. Good luck!

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May 31, 20080 found this helpful

Here is an update:

My daughter was excepted at the University of Florida. It has become a prestigious college and difficult to get into college, but attending means we have to come up with room and board.

We wrote for a ton of scholarships. If you apply for scholarships, the more the better. IMO, the best source is the guidance counselor or career specialist at the high school. We didn't get anything through sites like fastweb.com. Local scholarships are a better bet. She ended up with a $500 and a $4000 scholarship. About community scholarships: it may seem like favoritism, but businesses prefer to give money to students they know or that the people they know can vouch for. On awards night I noticed that the kid who worked as a lifeguard at the city pool got a city sponsored scholarship, for example. Parents who were very involved in local agriculture had a kid who got an agricultural scholarship. I'm not saying the recipients weren't deserving, but those connections are important. Just something to keep in mind.

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July 23, 20080 found this helpful

I am a college student right now and my advice would be to NOT pay for her schooling. My parents put me through community college but I am paying for my university. There is financial aid as well as student loans. I think it is the best thing my parents ever did for me. I am more responsible! You shouldn't have to pay for school. Plus, if you take out a loan for her in your name, and something were to happen to her, then you would still be responsible for paying to loan back. Whereas if it is in her name, you don't have to pay a dime. Also, it will build up HER credit!

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