My husband and I don’t lose sleep worrying about how we’re going to pay for our kids’ college education because we decided long ago that we’re not footing the bill. That always shocks people when it comes up in conversation, and I’m sure it’ll shock some of you, too. But we truly believe we’re doing the best thing for them and for us.
Because, bottom line: If they work hard now, they shouldn’t need our money (or their money) to pay for college.
We first told our kids we weren’t paying for college when they were in elementary school. That may seem awfully early, but we wanted them to understand how important it was for them to do well in school and to plan for their future.
They know I graduated college debt-free, and they also know that that’s largely because I worked hard in school and got several scholarships.
So, we told them, if they worked hard in school, we’d do whatever we could to help them secure the scholarships and grants that they’ll need to pay for school. They’re holding up their end of the bargain by getting good grades, and we’re holding up ours.
Here are some of the things that our daughters are doing to increase their chance of graduating college debt-free:
- Taking Advanced Placement courses. Our oldest daughter is currently a sophomore, and is on track to take 12 AP courses by the time she graduates. If she does well, that’s enough to knock out a full year of college!
- Signing up for free test prep courses. Earlier this year, our oldest daughter took advantage of a free ACT prep course that her school offers. She’s now taking a free PSAT prep course, in the hopes that she’ll score high enough to be designated a National Merit Semi-Finalist. Since there are currently $42 million in scholarships available for National Merit Finalists, it’s well worth the effort.
- Applying for scholarships now. Our girls have been applying for scholarships since they were in middle school. We figure starting early will increase their chance of winning enough money to cover the full cost of school, and if nothing else, all of these early tries are great practice.
- Working towards their Girl Scout Gold Award. Both of our girls have been in Girl Scouts since kindergarten, and there are lots of scholarships available to girls who earn their Gold Award. They’ve both earned their Bronze and Silver Award. Our oldest daughter is now working on her Gold Award project.
- Pursuing activities that interest them. Our oldest daughter is on the school’s rock climbing team, and is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, the art club and the Model UN team. She also writes a monthly column for one of our local newspapers. This summer will be her third year as a Counselor-in-Training at the local Girl Scout camp, and her second at a camp for disadvantaged kids. Our youngest daughter (currently in eighth grade), writes for a different local newspaper. This summer will be her first year as a Counselor-in-Training at the Girl Scout camp and at the camp for disadvantaged kids. These are all activities that they’re passionate about – not things that they’re doing to pad their college applications, and I think that will really come through in their application essays.
- Planning to go to school in state. Tennessee has a generous lottery scholarship for students who enroll in state. Everyone who meets the GPA and ACT requirements receives it. You can use the scholarship at a community college, public college/university or private college. They stand to receive $11,500 each!
And here’s what my husband and I are doing to increase their chance of graduating college debt-free:
- Researching scholarship opportunities. A few years back, I started a folder in our household notebook for scholarships. Any time someone finds information about a scholarship that they can apply for now, or later, it goes in this folder. My husband and I go through the graduation announcements in the newspaper in May to see what scholarships and grants are mentioned. If there are any we haven’t heard of, we research them, and if they’re relevant to our kids, they go in the folder.
- Paying for their testing fees. We’re happy to pay for them to take the ACT and SAT as many times as they’d like to, and to cover the cost of their AP exams. Those 12 exams that our oldest daughter is set to take will cost $1,140, but if it helps her eliminate a year of tuition, room and board, we’re happy to do it.
- Helping them plan their high school schedules. We sat down with both of our girls in eighth grade and helped them come up with a four-year plan. We steered them towards AP classes that would help them eliminate college requirements, and away from the ones that wouldn’t. We also encouraged them to take courses in areas that interested them, so they’d have an opportunity to build their skills. For our oldest daughter that meant steering her away from AP calculus, since her interests aren’t likely to make that a requirement in college, and towards more art classes, so she’ll have an opportunity to build her portfolio (which could lead to scholarship money).
- Proofreading/editing their papers. I’ve edited more research papers, newspaper articles and scholarship essays than I care to think about. While there’s absolutely nothing fun about doing it, it’s given me a chance to work with them on their writing skills. Hopefully this will help them stand out from the pack as they apply for scholarships and college.
- Driving them hither, thither and yon, paying for activities, sewing on Girl Scout badges and doing whatever else they need to stay on track with their plan to graduate college debt-free.
When they get closer to college, we’ll submit their FAFSA as early as possible, proofread their college applications and help them wade through all the various college financial aid packages that they receive. If they don’t receive enough money to cover the full cost of their college education, we’ll be there to help them figure that out too, whether that means helping them find an employer that offers tuition reimbursement or looking for ways to trim their living expenses.
But we won’t be footing the rest of the bill. We want them to have to work hard to make college happen because we think they’ll value the experience more, and because they should work hard for the things that they want in life. Our job is to raise them to be strong, responsible people, not to make their lives easy.