Who’s Paying For College? Part Three: Finding a Middle Ground for College Costs

Paying for College

College…it’s expensive. No, really expensive. The sticker price even for an in-state public school can still reach $24,000 a year or more according to CollegeData.com! The question of how to pay for a child’s higher education or even if you should is one that every parent must face. In the previous two articles in this series, we’ve looked at some compelling reasons why parents shouldn’t shoulder the entire burden of their child’s college costs (you do want to retire someday, right?), as well as some equally compelling reasons why you don’t want to handcuff your child to excessive student debt just as they start out their adult life.

Unsurprisingly, most parents opt for something in the middle, and that might be the right path for you too! Perhaps college costs are something that you and your child can tackle together so that no one is left trying to carry the huge cost alone.

The True Cost of College

When you look at college costs, especially saving for college, it’s important to note that there is a big difference between the sticker price of a school and the actual cost that most students pay. Your child may receive a full or partial scholarship to go to a school or be eligible for financial aid based on your family’s income. According to BigFuture, 40% of college students received some sort of scholarship or grant. Most of this comes from the government in the form of FAFSA. With this in mind, here are a few options for carving a middle pathway so you and your child can cover the rest of the college bill:

Pay Up to a Certain Amount

If you make the promise to pay for your child’s college education, you could be on the line for anywhere from $40,000 if your child goes to a low-cost, in-state school to over $200,000 for an ivy league private school. That’s a pretty big difference! Instead of writing your child a blank check, consider offering to pay up to a specific maximum amount for college, say $50,000. If your child wants to go to a more expensive school, then she will need to find a way to make up the difference. The beauty of this strategy is that you can give yourself a specific savings target. It also puts your child in the driver’s seat of her own destiny.

50/50 Split

A similar option is to offer to pay for half of your child’s college costs. You will ultimately pay far less than if you had covered your child’s entire college costs, while your child won’t graduate with a huge amount of debt if he had to pay for everything himself. Since your child will be taking on debt, this will help him feel more responsible for his education and may encourage him to graduate on time rather than in five or six years.

Community College First

You can drastically cut the price tag of your child’s college education if she spends her first two years at community college rather than at a university. Since most colleges require students to take a standard amount of required interdisciplinary classes during their first two years, there’s no reason your child needs to do this on an expensive college campus when she can get the same credits “on clearance” at a community college. This will also allow her to stay at home for two years rather than live in the dorms or have to come up with rent money for a house or apartment near campus. It may not be your child’s ideal start to college, but it could save you tens of thousands of dollars! (Here are five other ways to Cut College Costs.)

College costs don’t have to bankrupt you or shackle your child to a huge debt at the beginning of his life. When you and your child work together, you can both take responsibility for financing your child’s exciting educational journey!

To learn more about Budgets & Planning, view our entire article archive.


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