How Our Oldest Daughter is Paying for College

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How Our Oldest Daughter is Paying for College Graphic

As promised, here’s a look at how our oldest daughter is paying for college. She graduated from high school in May of 2020, and has now completed one year of college.

Before we dive into the numbers, I want to draw your attention to the fact that this post is titled, “How Our Oldest Daughter is Paying for College,” not “How Mom and Dad are Paying for College.” And that’s because we aren’t.

A few years back, I wrote a post detailing why we wouldn’t be paying for our kids’ college education, and we stuck to our plan, including the part where we promised to help them find scholarships and edit countless scholarship essays.

So How Did Everything Shake Out?

Our oldest daughter graduated high school with a 4.3 GPA. She earned her Girl Scout Gold Award as planned, and completed a bunch of Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment classes. The cost of her DE classes was covered by a Tennessee Lottery grant.

She’s now attending an in-state four-year private school, and is triple-majoring in design, writing/communications and Spanish. She’s also earning her Nonprofit Leadership Certification.

She started college with 18 credit hours, and tested out of an additional five classes. This will allow her to squeeze her three degrees and nonprofit certification into the normal four years.

It’s also helping her save money on her meal plan. Freshman are required to purchase the full meal plan, but she had enough credit hours going into her second semester to be considered a Sophomore. This allowed her to downgrade to the silver meal plan for the spring semester. She’s now entering her second year of college as a Junior, which has allowed her to downgrade once again. She now has the lowest meal plan that the college offers and a kitchen in her suite, where she plans to prepare some of her meals.

Tuition costs went up again this year. The estimated four-year tuition cost is now a whopping $196,164 (up from $191,756). That’s based off of the 2021-2022 tuition costs, so it’ll actually end up costing more than that.

She doesn’t qualify for any federal grants or loans. We’ll be able to file for a $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit on our tax return, but that’s the only help she’ll get from the federal government. Everything else will have to be covered with scholarships. Our goal is for her to graduate debt-free, so we’re doing everything we can to avoid student loans.

And that means going after every scholarship we think she’s even remotely eligible for, no matter how many hours and essays it takes.

To date, she’s applied for 144 scholarships, and we have no intention of slowing down, until every dollar of her college bill is covered.

Since starting college, she’s applied for 11 scholarships. So far, she’s received three of those, which has contributed another $13,200 to her second year costs. One of those scholarships has the potential to be renewable, and could contribute another $10,000 to her education. She is still waiting to hear back on four of the scholarships she applied for.

Towards the end of last school year, she received an unexpected $400 from the CARES Act. She had the option of receiving it as a check, or having it applied to her school account. She opted for the latter. It rolled forward, and was applied towards her second-year tuition.

Here’s a look at where she stands today with her scholarship earnings and college costs.

Scholarships Received

Scroll to the right to view the rest of the spreadsheet.

Her college divides all awarded scholarships between Fall and Spring semester, even if they receive a check for the full amount the first semester. You’ll see that reflected in the spreadsheet. If she received a one-time scholarship, you’ll see it split between first and second semester. If it’s a renewable scholarship, you’ll see it split across additional semesters.

With her GPA and ACT score, she received two academic scholarships from her school, totaling $108,000. She received an additional $18,000 from the Tennessee Lottery. They offer the TN Hope Scholarship for students with an unweighted GPA of 3.0 or higher. It’s worth $14,000 over four years. They also offer the General Assembly Merit Scholarship (TN GAMS) for students with a GPA of 3.75 or higher and an ACT score of 29 or higher. It’s worth an additional $4,000 over four years, and is stackable with the TN Hope.

She applied for a bunch of national scholarships, and was a finalist in several. She ended up winning two worth $7,500 (and potentially $17,500, if one is renewed).

She also applied for a ton of local and regional scholarships. She won eight of them. In total, that accounted for another $32,050 in scholarship wins.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit reimburses you for money spent on allowable college expenses. So, we’ll have to pay out of pocket, then wait to get that money back at tax time. There wasn’t a perfect place to enter it on the spreadsheet, so I just input it on the second semester of each year. It makes it look like she has a surplus for spring 2021, when she doesn’t.

In the meantime, we’re still working to find enough scholarships to cover the remaining $27,139+ that she’ll need to graduate college debt-free. This number will likely continue to go up as each year’s tuition costs are announced, and I’ll continue to update the total accordingly.

So far, the out of pocket cost for her college education is $1,064. She hopes to get this number down to zero by the time she graduates. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Trying to figure out how to fund a college education for you or your kids? There are lots of ways to do it. Here’s how I graduated college debt-free.

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  1. This is amazing! I love reading these types of stories. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! She can and will do it. We had saved money for our son’s college and had planned to contribute extra after all of our bills were paid off minus the mortgage. However, my husband was hurt in a work accident and our world was turned upside down. The bills were paid but there wasn’t any of that “extra” to add to the college fund. During his junior year of high school I started creating a list of scholarships he could apply for. By the time his senior year rolled around I had a relatively extensive list. He is now in his second year at the top school in our state. Due to my husband’s military service, our son was awarded a children of veterans tuition waiver for all 4 years. He is still applying for and receiving scholarships to cover his housing, food, etc. As long as he is awarded a similar financial aid package for the next two years, he will only need another $2500 in scholarship money to finish out. We told him if he is able to win enough scholarships to fully cover the cost of the 4 years, we will give him the money from his college savings to use as down payment on a house after graduation. AND, I get the bragging rights for the ultimate FREEBIE! 🙂

  2. Hey Erin! I’ve been a longtime lurker, HUGE fan of this site, and this story is amazing!! I graduated college debt-free, and know that it’s more common than we think if we put our minds to it. I love seeing the numbers of how the “patchwork” method actually works out. Congratulations to your daughter, an incredible achievement academically and financially. I’m actually currently writing a book about Debt-Free Degrees, and was wondering if I could learn more about featuring this story in the book. Please let me know! Thank you.

  3. Congratulations to your daughter, this article was so amazing and interesting. How many kids never apply for scholarships they may be eligible for. You and your family are truly amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Working in the Financial Aid office of a 4 year university in AL, I can’t tell you how refreshing this is to read! Good for her, and good for you for instilling the right money mindset in your daughter. Way to go!!

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