September is College Savings Month! Saving for college can seem like one of those long, arduous tasks that never ends… like figuring out what to make for dinner for the rest of your life, perpetual laundry, etc.
I know there are a couple of fears out there when it comes to saving for college. They’re super real, and it would be silly not to address them.
Some common fears stop us from saving for college. Let’s address these so you can jump right in and start saving.
1. The Fear of Believing You Won’t Save Enough
Are you worried that you’ll never be able to save enough? Do your eyes get wider and wider every year as college costs rise? Worries about not being able to save enough may be enough to stop you before you even get going.
Here’s the deal. You may not be able to save enough money to pay for every penny of your child’s college education — I get how it can get you down before you even start.
However, here are some quick reminders:
Your child may qualify for merit-based scholarships.
You can take advantage of a tuition installment plan. (Don’t forget how much purchasing power your monthly income has!)
The sticker price is just a starting point. I don’t know a single student who paid the full sticker price to attend our institution when I worked in admission.
Price transparency may continue over time. A handful of schools have started to reduce their costs using something called a tuition reset. It attempts to offer more transparency in the college cost landscape. Check out an article I wrote about tuition resets for the “Journal of College Admission” and what they mean.
Colleges may be getting more creative in the pandemic’s wake. For example, check out Unity College’s new Distance Education and Hybrid Learning plan, where students can choose to take only one or two courses per term to be full-time and can choose online, in-person or a combination of both.
Federal financial aid is usually easy to get.
Bottom line, try to save as much as you can, even if it’s just a little bit.
2. The Fear of Getting it Wrong
It’s hard to start something new. It’s even tougher when you think you might get it all wrong. So what do we sometimes do? That’s right — never even start.
How do you get over the fear of doing something big in your life?
That’s right — you just take a deep breath and do it.
For the longest time, I was afraid of planting a garden. I wasn’t sure how to do it, despite the fact that I grew up helping my parents pick green beans. My parents always planted a vegetable garden (they still do!) — full of delicious zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn and more. You know, though, when you’re a kid, you don’t really pay attention to allll the details — how to plant the seeds, when to plant them, how to make the rows and more. Plus, I was worried about whether or not I’d have time to keep up with the weeds.
But one spring, I said, “Enough is enough. We’re going to have a garden!” My husband and I took the plunge, tried it, and we’ve had a garden for two years now. No more excuses!
Did we fail? Yeah — our tomatoes didn’t grow the first year. I think we ended up with only six pea pods. But we got better the next year! Our tomatoes are flourishing right now and we have more than we could ever eat. We’ve had to give oodles away to the neighbors!
Even if you don’t get quite started the way you want on your college savings plan, you can pivot. The point is, get started and go from there.
Fortunately, many college savings plans (like 529s) you can enter your risk tolerance, child’s age and your investment gets more conservative naturally. In most cases, it’s impossible to mess it up!
3. The Fear of Thinking You’re Behind
Has your best friend been saving for college for 18 years — before her child was even born? And you haven’t been able to save that much all?
Your child is more likely to go to college if you’ve saved just a little bit. Even with savings of less than $500, a child is 25% more likely to enroll in college and 64% more likely to graduate compared to a student with no savings, according to a study from the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL).
4. Thinking You Don’t Have Enough on Hand to Save
Worried about not having extra cash to plump up a college savings account? What if, instead of agonizing over this, think of it as the fun part. How creative can you get?
Can you manipulate your budget?
Sit down and divide your expenses into “needs” and “wants.” “Needs” should only include those necessary items, like rent, utilities, groceries and school supplies.
Anything else that isn’t an essential expense should be put into your “want” category. “Wants” include coffee runs, entertainment and nice clothes that aren’t required for a job.
Can you make more money?
What if you made some spare cash every month and vowed to dedicate this to college savings? Do you have a specific talent or skillset?
What is the best thing that you can charge $10 for? Do that, then do it 10 more times! Can you make crochet hats? Can you sell your PR skills? Make birthday cakes? Babysit? Serve as a sales consultant? Figure out what it is that you can do so well that someone else will pay you money to do it.
My friend Angela makes these gorgeous signs for her company, Touch of Twine Design. They are so beautiful. They’re white with a beautiful script font — and can say anything. Her customers order inspirational quotes, poem snippets, Bible verses — whatever they want. The money she makes goes into a college account for her two boys.
Another couple I know scavenged pallets on the side of the road, at work at a manufacturing facility and more to make furniture, sold it online and made a lot of money.
The sky’s the limit. What talent can you offer the world?
5. Not Knowing How to Save
It’s a case of too many options, isn’t it? You can invest in regular savings accounts, CDs, 529 plans, UTMA/UGMAs, Roth IRAs, custodial accounts, and on and on.
I LOVE all of these for different reasons, but I really recommend checking out UNest. It’ll give you a quick win right away! It offers a tax-advantaged savings plan option based on your risk tolerance and age of your child.
Can you invest in stocks for college? Sure! Just like you can invest in regular mutual funds, bonds and more investing options we’ve listed.
However, the advantage of investing with UNest or any 529 plan is that you get tax benefits.
Is this your only option? Of course not!
A stock is an investment in a specific company. You buy one share of a company’s earnings and assets when you buy a stock. Companies sell shares of stock in their businesses to raise cash. You can sell stocks when they increase in value and this method can also result in high returns.
You lend money to a company or government when you buy a bond. Your bond purchase allows the bond issuer to borrow your money and pay you back with interest.
Bonds offer lower returns but do come with the risk that the bond issuer could default on its payments. (However, bonds are typically very safe investments.) Government bonds are the safest investment because they’re backed by the “full faith and credit” of the U.S. government.
Mutual funds are bundles of stocks, bonds and other investments. You can purchase a large number of these types of investments in one transaction. You pay a professional manager to invest your money. It’s typically more expensive to buy mutual funds than stocks or bonds because you pay a middleman to manage that money.
An index fund is a type of mutual fund — but there’s a difference. An index fund passively tracks an index. This means you don’t pay a money manager to pick and choose investments for you. For example, all S&P 500 index funds follow the performance of the S&P 500 by holding company stock within that index.
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are also a type of index fund because they also track an index. Like index funds, they are not actively managed and less expensive than mutual funds.
The difference between index funds and ETFs is that ETFs trade on an exchange like a stock — you can buy or sell throughout the trading day as the price fluctuates. Mutual funds and index funds, on the other hand, are priced once at the end of each trading day.
Certificates of Deposit (CDs)
When you buy a certificate of deposit (CD), you give your financial institution money for a specific time period. When that time period is over, you get the amount you originally invested, plus a prespecified amount of interest. The longer the loan period, the higher your interest rate. Note that you’ll have to pay penalties if you take your money out sooner.
How do you invest in any one of these types of investments?
Go to an insured financial institution like a bank or credit union for a CD or government bond.
You can go to a financial advisor for a mutual fund.
You can find mutual funds, index funds or ETFs through a discount broker like Robinhood or a large broker like Vanguard.
Just remember, investing in a 529 plan offers more tax benefits for approved educational expenses — but a 529 plan isn’t your only option.
6. Fear of Future College Costs
Ahhhh… This is a tough one. Use a college calculator like the College Board’s College Cost Calculator to determine how much it may cost to send your child to college for four years. I plugged in some numbers and it informed me that in 11 years, it’ll cost me over $311,000 to send my child to college.
I understand the the numbers look scary. However, I still come back to this:
Merit-based scholarships take care of a chunk of the costs.
Not everyone needs to (or should) shop for a top-name school. You can still find lots of high-quality colleges and universities among the elites.
Gems glisten everywhere. Don’t discount the liberal arts college down the street because it may be able to offer a connection that you can’t find anywhere else.
A Stanford study says “fit” is more important than rankings. I really do believe too many students and families rely on college rankings published by well-known organizations to define quality. The higher the ranking doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your child. The study found that the “metrics used in these rankings are weighted arbitrarily and are not accurate indicators of a college’s quality or positive outcomes for students.”
Do I even need to write any more?
I chatted with Laurie Kopp Weingarten, president and chief educational consultant at One-Stop College Counseling, and she told me a great story.
“Several years ago I had a straight-A student with strong test scores and interesting extracurricular activities who was a bit lacking in self-confidence. She felt strongly that she should attend a college where she would be the ‘big fish in a little pond’ instead of the ‘little fish in a big pond.’ It was very important to her that she choose an institution where she would be at the top and be recognized as a superstar.
She set her sights on a public university with a 70% acceptance rate. She did apply to other colleges, including those that are much more selective, and was actually accepted into every school she applied to. However, she stuck with her plan to attend the public university.
She SOARED there. She was at the top of her class, where she won all sorts of awards. She is well-known at the school, and they’ve asked her to assume all sorts of leadership roles. She has made mini-promotional films for the school, and now, as a recent alumna, they’ve asked her back to speak multiple times.
In this case, she didn’t feel up to attending a highly selective university where the competition would be fierce. Instead, she decided to choose a school that isn’t overly competitive and where she would stand out. It paid off with lots of internships and job offers, and it built her confidence.”
Yessss! This is exactly what I’m talking about.
Best Reasons to Look for a Non-Selective or Moderately Selective College
Most people think the only reason your child would want to look for a non-selective college is because you couldn’t hack it due to poor academic achievement. Not so. There are lots of great reasons to opt for a less-selective institution.
1. Your Child May Be More Likely to Get In
Obviously, the fact that your child can get in is one of the reasons to apply to non-selective colleges.
How do you find out whether a college is selective or not? Take a look at its admission requirements. Most colleges list their admission requirements, which may look something like this:
Graduate from an accredited high school or equivalent by the time of enrollment.
Rank in the upper half of your high school graduating class.
Have ACT or SAT-I scores high enough to predict probable success. Note: ACT and SAT test scores may not be required if you’re applying for admission right now. Many colleges do not want to place undue hardships on students who cannot take the ACT or SAT due to closed testing locations.
English: Four years, including literature
Math: Two or more years, including algebra, advanced algebra and geometry
Social studies: Three or more years, including American and European history
Sciences: Two or more years of lab science
Foreign language: Two or more years
That may be the extent of a college’s requirements! You can also call an admission counselor for more information about specific college selectivity.
2. Your Child Will Still Take Rigorous Classes
Make no mistake — it’s a challenge to get through organic chemistry at just about any college or university. Lower selectivity institutions definitely offer rigorous coursework.
Just because your child’s valedictorian of her high school class or achieved a 34 ACT doesn’t mean that she won’t feel challenged at a lower selectivity institution.
Some less selective colleges let academically talented students work with faculty on research projects as well.
Students at lower selectivity institutions may also receive more personalized attention from staff.
Some lower selectivity institutions smaller classroom size with hands-on teaching may be more conducive to learning than a large lecture hall format.
You may get to know classmates and faculty closely and form lasting personal or professional relationships.
You child may get more opportunities to work on projects, connect to internships through faculty and gain valuable job experience.
3. Your Family May Experience More Personalization During the Admission Process
Less selective schools must work a little harder for their students. That means you and your child reap the benefits. In other words, highly selective colleges and universities don’t have to work nearly as hard to recruit students — they naturally come to them. That means that less selective institutions must do the hard work of calling, emailing, texting and even engaging students on social media.
You’re more likely to get one-on-one attention from an admission counselor who must carefully work through an application list. As an admission counselor, it was my job to personalize the admission process as much as possible. I would try to learn:
Other schools on their list
Their favorite things (we once sent a box of Wheaties to a student because we knew it was his favorite cereal!)
Connections they’d already made with others at the college
About their families and friends
Anything else I could think of!
We made the college search process a personalized experience — and that might just happen if you’re looking into a less selective institution.
4. The College Application Process is Less Strenuous
Chances are, your child won’t have to worry about a complicated application process if he or she is looking at a less selective institution. Here’s a quick overview.
Regular admission means your child can apply to as many colleges as possible. An application submission deadline varies between institutions. Regular admission deadlines typically fall in early January and admission offers get sent out in late March or early April. Your student has until May 1 to either accept or decline admission offers. (Your child may not encounter this type of admission, either.)
When I was an admission counselor, our college used rolling admission. Rolling admission means a college releases admission decisions regularly instead of sending them all out on one target date.
An admission committee will only review your child’s application as soon as all required information is in. Colleges that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants of admission decisions quickly. (Students learned of an admission decision within two weeks at our college!)
Rolling admission decisions are non-binding. This means that your child will not be required to attend that school and will not need to make a decision until May 1, which is National Candidate Reply Day.
Open admission means a college accepts any high school graduate (no matter what those grades look like) until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Two-year community colleges immediately come to mind — most community colleges have a two-year open admission policy. Note that a college with a general open admission policy may have certain admission requirements for specific programs.
Your child probably won’t encounter these types of admission at lower selectivity institutions:
Early Action (EA), which means your student has the option to submit an application before the regular deadline. Early action plans are not binding, which means that your child is not required to attend.
Early Decision (ED) means your child can submit an application to his or her first-choice college before the regular deadline and get an admission decision earlier than usual. Early decision plans are binding, which means your child must attend that institution.
Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action means your child is not required to attend if accepted. However, if using this method, your child may not apply to any other school during the early action period only.
5. Lower Costs
You’ll typically find lower selectivity institutions in areas that also include lower costs of living (not big urban areas). The savings on rent and tuition might be worth it.
Your child may be able to get an academic scholarship. Many colleges give half or full-tuition academic scholarships to students who have a very good high school GPA, ACT or SAT scores and class rank. The most selective colleges will not award your child a merit scholarship.
“We had a student who wanted to study business. Although she was accepted at multiple selective programs, she chose to study at Bentley University (45-50% acceptance rate), where they placed her into the honors program, provided her with a large scholarship, and of course, she received all the perks that came along with the honors program. She loved feeling like she was the top of the class!” says Kopp Weingarten.
Kopp Weingarten also said, “We also had a student who chose a large public university in the Midwest where she could use her AP credits to get advanced standing, basically entering as a sophomore. She graduated in three years, saved tons of money and was accepted into a top-tier Ph.D. program.”
6. College Selectivity is Not a Reliable Indicator of Learning, Job Satisfaction or Well-Being
The Stanford study found no significant relationship between a school’s selectivity and student learning, future job satisfaction or well-being. Furthermore, the study found only modest financial benefits of attending more selective colleges — and that applied to first-generation and other underserved students.
Individual student characteristics (background, major, ambition) may make more of a difference in terms of post-college outcomes than the institutions themselves.
7. Learning Engagement is Most Important
Students’ learning among a campus community may offer the key to positive outcomes after college, according to the Stanford study. For instance:
Students participate in service learning and thrive when they apply what they learn in the classroom to real life settings.
Students are successful when mentors at the college encourage them to pursue personal goals.
Those who are successful after college engage in multi-semester projects.
8. Grades May Be Higher
Your child may be more likely to graduate with honors at a less selective institution.
“When students apply to medical school, the two most important aspects of their applications are their GPA and their MCATs,” says Kopp Weingarten. “We had a student who felt it might be difficult to maintain a high GPA at a highly competitive college where everyone was aiming for ‘A’ grades. He chose to attend a college where he felt he could keep his GPA high due to the lower competition at the school. Due to the fact that he was at the top of their admit pile, he received a huge scholarship and only paid about $10,000 a year for a private college. It worked out for him because he graduated with a near-perfect GPA and was accepted into medical school. He then had the money he saved to put toward paying for medical school.”
Think Carefully About College Selectivity
The main drawback of graduating from a less selective college is brand recognition. However, there are other things to think about, such as whether your child actually ends up graduating. Plus, if your child plans to go to graduate school, nobody cares where he or she goes for an undergraduate education.
Colleges with higher selectivity are also much more likely to graduate students than those with lower selectivity. However, once your child does graduate, there’s little difference in life outcomes, as the Stanford study suggests.
“Sometimes, the most highly selective schools can open the door for a candidate (job or graduate school). But what really matters is how well the student performs at the school they are at. The school doesn’t make the student successful — it’s up to the student to do that on their own,” says Kopp Weingarten.
Tip: Check the financial solvency of institutions your child is interested in (particularly those small private colleges that were already in trouble before the pandemic). Some have already closed. Attending a lower selectivity public school is less of a risk because if those institutions close, students will still be a part of the state system.
Have you ever compared the tuition cost differences between in-state and out-of-state schools?
Did you gasp out loud when you saw out-of-state costs?
Yep, yep. It’s often thousands of dollars more expensive to go to an out-of-state university compared to an in-state university. In fact, the average tuition and fees at a public, in-state school is $10,116 and the average tuition and fees at a public, out-of-state school was $22,577 for the 2019-2020 school year, according to U.S. News and World Report.
It often makes students’ decisions easy. If your child’s comfortable with the idea of going to the flagship university in your state, he might think, “It’s cheaper, it’s close to home. Sign me right up.”
Should you migrate to your in-state university? Well, that depends! Don’t discount your neighboring states — and know a few things before you jump on the local state university bandwagon. Here’s what to know and how to get in-state tuition when you live out of state.
What is In-State Tuition?
There’s a reason you pay less for your own state’s public institutions. One word: Taxes. Your child can attend these public institutions at a lower cost than people who live out of state due to this lowered cost for in-state residents.
States fund public community colleges, university systems and vocational education institutions. This support makes up 14 percent of state spending up to $167 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
What is Out-of-State Tuition?
So, what’s out-of-state tuition? Students from other states pay out-of-state tuition.
There’s a big difference, right? Before you write off ever letting your child cross state lines, keep reading!
How to Get In-State Tuition if You Live Out of State
It’s totally possible to pay in-state tuition if you live out of state — and it might not even be that complicated! Here’s how you can help your child make it happen.
Establishing residency is one of the most straightforward ways to get in-state tuition.
Residency requirements vary by state and university. Living in the state for a certain amount of time is one common way to establish residency.
Live in the state: Many states require your child to live in the state for at least one year to be able to establish residency. Your child can prove residency with an apartment lease, utility bills or vehicle registration form, for example. Note: Right now, some students are currently studying in a different state from where their institution is located due to COVID-19. However, this temporary location change shouldn’t affect residency requirements.
Consider whether you should switch to a different parent’s address. Your child may qualify for residency in both states, depending on where the majority of financial support comes from.
Your student must prove intent. This simply means your child must prove that he or she would like to live there long-term. A driver’s license is another great way to show that commitment, or a written and notarized documentation from an employer that your child has been employed for a specified period of time.
Your child must show proof of financial independence. Check with the school about these requirements. Your child may need to show employer proof as above or show proof that he pays taxes in that state.
Regional Markets and Reciprocity Agreements
Many universities offer regional markets and reciprocity agreements. This means that colleges or universities offer students in different states in-state or reduced tuition. These programs typically get reserved for students who live in the same region. Here are a few examples.
The Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market agreement offers tuition discounts for academic programs for students who live in:
The Regional Contract Program lets students obtain professional health degrees at out-of-state institutions by paying in-state tuition at public institutions or reducing tuition at private institutions.
Your child can also enroll in graduate programs outside of their home state at resident tuition rates and the Professional Student Exchange Program lets health care majors to enroll in select out-of-state professional programs.
Students can pay discounted tuition rates when they enroll in a major not available at public institutions in their home state.
District of Columbia
The D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant offers up to $10,000 per year to bridge the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for students who live in Washington, D.C., to attend public institutions in other states, with a maximum amount of $50,000.
Consider Liberal Arts Colleges
I always smiled when someone asked, “What’s the out-of-state cost at your school?”
Why? Because I had great news for families. The cost wasn’t any different for out-of-state students because I worked at a liberal arts college.
Liberal arts colleges charge the same price no matter where you’re from, and here’s why: Unlike public colleges and universities, private institutions don’t get funding from state governments. Therefore, private colleges and universities charge one tuition rate for all students, whether your child resides in the same state as the institution is located or not.
For example, if a liberal arts college is in Florida but your child lives in Minnesota, you’ll pay the same price whether you live in Florida or Minnesota.
Tuition Adjustments and Scholarships for Out-of-State Students
Our college used to offer an out-of-state scholarship for students who attended an out-of-state college in an effort to boost our out-of-state numbers. Offers like that may be achievement-based or merit-based, depending on differing schools’ requirements. Your best bet is to ask questions if your student’s looking into an out-of-state institution. Email or call an admission counselor at that school for more information.
It’s Possible to Get In-State Tuition!
Do your research. Just in case you didn’t read the last paragraph, I’m going to repeat it again: Email or call an admission counselor at each college your student’s considering. it’ll make you feel more prepared to make some decisions about the college search, or it’ll at least give you a start in the right direction!
When you skim through lists of college costs, your eye often lands on room and board. What is room and board, anyway? To make it really simple, It’s the fancy way for colleges to say “sleep and food.” (I’ll break this out a little bit more in a sec.)
Here are a few quick facts from Urban Institute:
Almost 60 percent of full-time students enrolled in private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities live in college housing.
Only 36 percent of public four-year college students live in college housing.
One-quarter of full-time undergraduate students live at home with their parents.
I remember that families I worked with were often confused about the divisions between room and board and tuition: “Are scholarships subtracted from the full cost? Just tuition? Where does room and board fall into the mix?”
Let’s find out — and put all of it into a COVID-19 context.
What is Room and Board?
Let’s distill it into its simplest form! It goes back to those basic needs — a place to plop your head on a pillow somewhere that’s clean and dry and a robust meal three times a day (or more).
As I said before, “room” is the price paid for a bed in between those cinder block walls! Colleges typically offer space in a residence hall room for your student and one roommate. However, it’s possible to opt for a single or even a triple room.
On-campus living is sometimes mandatory for students. This can be a great thing because it offers a way to contribute to a robust campus community. Required on-campus living is also an ideal way to adapt to campus life. (It means no waking up at 5 a.m. to make it to the bus stop for an 8 a.m. class or trying to find a parking spot near the science building.) Basic furniture, such as a loftable bed, desk, shelves, dresser and closet space are usually provided, though the exact furniture your child will have at his or her disposal depends on the college or university and what it offers. (In my opinion, there’s nothing more fun than living in a residence hall during your first year, learning how to study till 3 a.m., playing games in the lounge and more.)
“Board” is the amount paid for food at the college of your child’s choice. It usually refers to food and beverages your child can get at on-campus cafeterias. Many schools offer several types of meal plans, which means that while your child won’t have a whole lot of choice over what’s served at school on a daily basis, access to food is definitely ongoing. Fortunately, a lot of cafeterias are buffet style, so that means lots of options at every meal. Dining halls are often super respectful of various dietary needs as well.
College dining halls often do fun things for students, too, such as themed meals and pre-holiday dinners. My alma mater has a tradition called the Breakfast of Champions, in which staff members (including faculty members!) serve students hearty breakfast food at 10 p.m. the night before finals begin. It’s such a great tradition and the whole school shows up.
Many colleges plan to make room and board accommodations for students this year, including required masks, social distancing requirements and more. Check with the admission office at various schools to understand its room and board COVID-19 plan. In the meantime, let’s review how much room and board costs.
How Much Does Room and Board Cost?
Most colleges and universities break down the cost on their website so it looks something like this:
College or University X
Tuition and Fees
Room and Board
Room and board costs are different at every school. I’m going to show you some averages from the College Board, but remember, that doesn’t mean that a private nonprofit four-year college will always be more expensive than an out-of-stateinstitution.
The College Board averages for public two-year institutions in 2019-2020 were:
$8,990 for public two-year colleges in-district
$11,510 for public four-year colleges in-state
$11,510 for public four-year colleges out of state
$12,990 for private nonprofit four-year colleges
Again, it’s all a matter of doing some research — and keeping track. (Honestly, isn’t that the hardest part — keeping track of all the information you research?) Here’s a visit spreadsheet I created that you can save, rename and keep for yourself to input all the information.
Room and board can seem a lot more expensive than living off campus — or is it? Let’s explore that further in the next section.
Is it Cheaper to Live Off Campus?
In most states, average on-campus housing prices are less than the average rent paid by 18-to-24-year-olds, according to the Urban Institute.
Location also matters. Naturally, urban areas are more expensive to rent in than rural areas. In addition, it may be more expensive to live near a college campus instead of a neighborhood off the beaten path. Here are some common apartment rental fees your child is likely to pay, in addition to utilities like electricity, water, garbage, sewer, internet, cable and more:
If your child rents with several roommates, living off-campus may be more affordable, especially if your child splits these expenses with roommates. Buying food at the grocery store (while a big time drain) can also be a lot cheaper than paying for board, especially if you have a low-maintenance eater.
The only way to figure it all out is to round up some numbers. Call a few known apartment buildings in the area and find out how much it costs to rent them. Find out what utilities cost flush out a number that makes sense.
How to Make Room and Board More Affordable
There are most definitely ways to make room and board more affordable — including not messing with room and board at all! Here are some ways to shrink (or eliminate) the costs:
Learn about all your meal plan options. Your child may be able to get away with smaller meal plan (like a 14-meal-a-week plan instead of a 20-meal-a-week plan) — especially if a buffet-style breakfast isn’t really your student’s thing. A packet of instant oatmeal every morning may suffice.
Check into more affordable housing options on campus. Many colleges charge exactly the same amount for all residence halls, but others may charge more for apartment-style living or the newest, spiffiest dorm on campus. Ask about comparable costs.
Choose to have roommates. A single room is usually more expensive than a two- or three-person residence hall room. Is someone from your child’s high school planning to attend that same college? Check with the admission office to find out how to request roommates and to find out how much you’ll save by choosing a double or triple occupancy room.
Live at home. During COVID-19, your child may not be interested in living in a residence hall room at all. If your home is close to campus, it may be a natural fit for your child to think about living at home and reducing exposure to the virus.
Live off campus. Living off campus with roommates can be one way to limit exposure to COVID-19, particularly if some classes are online. Living with just two roommates is a lot different than sharing a bathroom with a whole floor of germy college students.
How to Pay for Room and Board
Here are a few ways you can pay for room and board: out of pocket or through scholarships, grants and student loans.
Paying for room and board in full is always an acceptable option. Note that you won’t pay a separate amount for just room and board. You’ll pay for all out-of-pocket costs when you get your bill. Learn more about paying for college with a tuition installment plan.
Scholarships and Outside Scholarships
Many outside scholarships — scholarships that aren’t from the institution — cover all qualified expenses, including room and board. On the other hand, some scholarships only cover tuition and fees, books, and course- or degree-related costs (like supplies required for specific classes). They may not cover room and board. Most of the time, however, outside scholarship use is generally left up to how your child wants to use it — unless the scholarship committee works with the college directly.
Something to note: Any scholarship your student uses to pay for tuition, fees and course materials, including required textbooks, supplies and equipment, are tax-free. On the other hand, whatever your child spends on living expenses, such as room and board, is taxable.
Your child’s college can apply grant money toward tuition, fees, and (if you live on campus) room and board. Any money left over is given back to your child to pay for other expenses.
Student loans can also cover the costs of room and board. Look into student loans carefully and make sure your child understands which options are best. Here’s a quick rundown.
Federal Student Loans
The U.S. Department of Education loans these federal loans to college-bound students:
Direct Unsubsidized and Subsidized loans
Direct PLUS loans: This includes Grad PLUS loans for graduate and professional students and Parent PLUS loans for parents of undergraduate students.
Federal student loans are more flexible than private student loans for several reasons:
No credit checks involved, with the exception of the Direct PLUS loan, which does require a credit check.
Income-driven repayment plans are an option, which means repayment is based on how much your student makes once he or she graduates from college.
Repayment plans can change as needed.
Federal student loan interest rates are lower compared to private loans.
Private Student Loans
A local bank, credit union or national bank are three primary options.
These loans can fill in the need gap after your student has exhausted these options, in order: Scholarships, grants, parent/student savings and federal student loans. Here are some fast facts about private student loans:
You’ll hear about two types of interest rates: fixed and variable interest rates. Fixed interest rates are just like they sound — they don’t change, so your monthly payments stay the same. Variable interest rates go up and down.
You or your student can make interest-only or fixed payments while you’re in school.
Private loans often require a co-signer. This person is commonly you, the parent, or another relative. Students can qualify for a private loan without a co-signer, though that’s difficult to achieve. No matter who applies for the loan, you will need a good credit score and will need to show proof of income.
Ultimately, it’s important to break down all the costs and figure out which room and board coverage options work best for your family.
Coronavirus Impact on Room and Board for College
COVID-19 had a major impact on room and board this past spring. As soon as colleges announced they’d move to online learning, students began asking about cash refunds prorated to the day administrators directed students to move out of residence halls.
If the same thing happens again, online learning could require college and universities to return room and board fees again. It remains to be seen what will happen at this time.
Did you know your child can earn scholarships as a kindergartener? Yeah! Unbelievable, right? It cracks me up to think of my son sitting down at a computer next year, typing away at a computer to fill out a scholarship application. (He’s four.)
I checked in with Michaela Schieffer, an independent college counselor with MoonPrep.com. She says, “While starting a separate savings account for college is the solid solution, you also have creative options to grow that account. I recommend beginning the search for external scholarships as early as possible. External scholarships can be used at any college, and are available as early as age 10 through graduate school. Since most of these early scholarship awards are dispersed in a check rather than directly to a college, this is a great way to augment your savings in a college account.”
Such solid advice! Here’s a deep dive into scholarships — at any age.
What if My Child’s a Senior?
Now, most people’s energy doesn’t turn toward thinking about scholarships until their kids get close to high school — and most students even wait till senior year to start thinking about scholarships.
Is it too late to apply for scholarships when your student is a senior? No, of course not! Start looking at whatever age your child is right now and start looking, whether you’re starting as a rising senior, eighth-grader or sixth-grader. (And if your child is a rising senior, start now!) You can also look into how to help your senior combat scholarship overwhelm.
Don’t forget, your child can still look for and apply for scholarships during college as well. There are opportunities everywhere.
Here are some ways to get started on the scholarship search, no matter your child’s age.
Start Searching Now
Whatever age your child is right now, start looking for scholarships.
What’s the first thing you do when you’re looking for information? Sure, you Google it. Check out FinAid’s Scholarship List as an example.
Don’t forget to check out scholarships in your community. These are lower-hanging fruit because the community you live in is more likely to award scholarships to one of their community members. Here’s how to look.
Ask your child’s school counselor. School counselors are the heroes of community scholarship knowledge. Your child’s school counselor should be able to hand you a list of scholarships available in the community. If your child’s not in high school yet, ask in the school office at your child’s school for any information about scholarships.
Tap into your own local connections. Ask wherever you go — the dentist, the chiropractor — to find out whether scholarships exist, even for younger kids.
Research past scholarships. Ask for old scholarship programs or scholarship awards night programs from local high schools. Don’t be afraid to ask for several going back a few years.
Branch out and ask about scholarships in another local area — or two. Don’t stick to your neck of the woods. Ask for scholarship programs at other high schools in your county or area. A local business might be willing to branch out, particularly if students in that area aren’t taking advantage of a particular scholarship. The business also might be willing to offer a county-wide or area-wide scholarship.
Gear Your Child Toward Scholarship Types
First, let’s consider the ways scholarship committees award scholarships. They want to see your child do a few things.
Develop Specific Skills
Put yourself in a scholarship committee’s point of view. You’ll notice that lots of scholarships awarded are based on entrepreneurial skills, art skills and more. Has your child worked to develop a specific talent or interest? Whatever it is, nurture it, then use those skills to his advantage when you’re looking for scholarships.
Here a few skills your child can develop over time:
Fine arts prowess
Team player skills
Consider Ways to Serve
Wouldn’t that committee rather give a scholarship to a kid who actively provides value to a specific cause or organization? It’s one thing to be in clubs and hold leadership positions. But what if your child can make a serious impact? Doing something that makes an impact can make your child extremely valuable in the eyes of the scholarship committee.
Does your child have a hankering to serve others? Here’s an example. Annie Wignall Foskett was 11 when she created the Care Bags Foundation. She began collecting essentials (soap and shampoo, etc.) for kids in foster care and crisis situations. Foskett jumped into action by creating fabric care bags filled with these essentials. Fast forward 20 years later. The foundation now serves displaced, abused and disadvantaged children all over the world!
Obviously, it’s better to develop a child’s burgeoning desire to serve organically, rather than trying to do it just for scholarships or personal gain. However, if your child has a great idea, nurture it. You never know how much a great idea can take off!
Here are some ideas you and your child can think about developing:
Help disadvantaged children
Assist senior citizens
Raise awareness and help for animals
Take care of the environment
Help the hungry
Assist the homeless
Reduce crime and promote safety
Enhance the local community or state
Help disadvantaged schools
It’s a great idea to do some research to find out what the needs are. A great way to launch a major project is to start by volunteering. Encourage your child to check at school, at your family’s place of worship or city council to determine what type of help is needed. Encourage your child to just get started wherever he or she gravitates toward, such as a homeless shelter or nursing home, and ask whether it takes volunteers.
Does your child have to build his own nonprofit or create an amazing foundation like Care Bags? No. Showing extraordinary compassion toward a particular cause is also a phenomenal way to gather scholarships
Develop a Vision or Trajectory
Help your child develop a vision for his or her life. I know, it can seem impossible for most young people. How can they possibly know everything that’s available to them? Most kids have a limited worldview because they haven’t had the life experience that comes with age. However, it’s a great idea to have some sort of idea of what that could look like. Does your student gravitate toward social justice issues? Writing? Entrepreneurship? What does that life look like?
My aunt knew at a very early age that she wanted to be a teacher. She was probably in second grade when she declared she wanted to influence children for the rest of her life. Guess what? She became a first grade teacher and taught for years! I’m amazed by that story and like to share it because you might not be too young to figure it out.
Build on Other Traits
What other characteristics does your child have? Is your child a minority or have a disability? Is your child left-handed? You already know there’s a scholarship for just about everything you can think of. I have a personal example that applies to this. My school counselor knew that I’m deaf in my left ear and partially deaf in my right ear (yes, it’s true!) and got me in touch with our local vocational rehabilitation office. The organization gave me some extra scholarship money over the course of my four years at college. (State vocational rehabilitation (VR) offices help people with disabilities prepare for, obtain and retain employment.)
I wouldn’t have even known it was a possibility if she hadn’t mentioned it. Sometimes it’s about talking to everyone you know — and searching online for that information.
The University of Washington has a great list of scholarships for those with disabilities if your child qualifies.
Get in the Habit of Looking Often and Take Action
It’s never too early to start looking for scholarships, but it’s important to also look for them all the time. Be on a constant search for scholarships that fit your child’s profile. Encourage your child to look, too. Here’s a quick example of what you could do:
Look for scholarships on the first and 15th of every month. (Set a calendar alert so you remember to do it.)
Select at least two scholarships to apply for every month. (Your child can do this!)
Create a Trello board to keep track of scholarships researched, applied for and received. It’s really helpful so I stay organized. I do this for my blog and align my editorial calendar with the following:
Articles to Write
Ready to Input
Review in Six Months/One Year, etc.
Create an account for the scholarship money. (But learn the scholarship rules — some scholarships don’t allow you to just “take” the money. Some may have specific requirements, like a preference to pay the school directly.) However, if a scholarship committee allows you to cash a scholarship check, consider whether you want to invest the money in a diversified fund — particularly if your child wins the scholarship years before the start of college. Consider contributing your own money to that account as well (regularly and often!) so there’s a robust amount earmarked for college.
Constantly review what’s going well during the scholarship search. If
Don’t Get Discouraged
Not getting results? Keep going. Keep moving forward!
I know I already mentioned this, but don’t wait till high school to start looking for scholarships, particularly if your child is truly doing some exceptional things. If he’s creating his own app to feed the homeless in Africa, you bet scholarship committees will want to hear about it — even if your child’s only eight.
When it comes down to it, it’s a very generous world we live in — and people want to help promising kids go to college!
Make an Impact on the World
Here are a list of scholarships your child can apply for, divided by age.
What are your immediate thoughts and feelings when you think about this?
Do you feel excitement for the years ahead? Sad at the idea of being an empty nester? Do you feel a deep spike of fear when you consider how you’ll pay for it? Maybe you feel all of the above!
Hang in there — it’s normal to feel a rollercoaster of emotions.
I’ll always remember the unforgettable Andriuskevicius triplets. (That last name! Three times!) The three high schoolers came through the admission office looking so identical. It was so fun talking with them. Two of the kids ended up enrolling at the private college I worked for. One enrolled at a state university.
Their parents got slightly nervous when the conversation turned to paying for college. “You know, we knew this was coming,” Mrs. Andriuskevicius said. “But when they say, ‘Enjoy it, they grow so fast,’ they really mean it,” she added.
She was a fun mom (she had to be, to raise triplets!) and asked how much it would cost immediately. She listened to the financial aid spiel and did some fast math. Mrs. Andriuskevicius totaled up a pretty accurate figure in her head about much it would cost for all three kids to go to college — after grants and scholarships.
According to College Board, the average published yearly tuition and fees (not including room, board, housing or supplies) are:
Two-year public colleges (in-district students): $3,440
Four-year public colleges (in-state students): $9,410
Four-year public colleges (out-of-state students): $23,890
Private four-year colleges: $32,410
Multiply these amounts by two (or three or four!) kids and you could be looking at quite a chunk of change, as Mrs. Andriuskevicius deduced in about one minute flat. (I was really impressed.)
Hang on, there’s good news coming!
There’s Good News!
Did you know that it having two kids in college can work to your advantage?
“In my experience, the FAFSA’s expected family contribution (EFC) takes a significant drop when the second and third child enter college,” says Pam Rambo, former financial aid director in a community college, four-year college and a 5-city college access organization training counselors in financial aid. She now owns Rambo Research and Consulting.
The EFC is based on household income and assets. It’s the minimum amount that a household is expected to contribute toward the cost of college.
The financial aid office at each college uses the EFC for each student to determine how much aid your student gets. “That is a simple subtraction problem in which they take the official cost of attendance (COA) for their school and subtract the EFC,” Rambo says.
In other words, let’s say your student is attending a college that costs $30,000 per year and your child’s EFC is $15,000. The amount of need for your oldest child is $15,000.
Now, that doesn’t mean that all financial aid offices try to meet the full $15,000. Each financial aid office uses a financial aid formula that they use to distribute aid. Some colleges try to meet 100 percent of need. Others might meet 50 percent to 80 percent of need.
Check for a Sibling Discount
Have your kids considered going to the same college?
Whenever I think about this topic, Michelle, Maye and Rachael all come to mind — three sisters who attended the college I worked for — all at the same time. Michelle was a senior, Maye was a junior and Rachael was a freshman! They always said their dad (jokingly) refused to move three girls to three separate colleges each fall. It worked out really well that they all went to the same college.
I Know What You’re Thinking: “There’s No Way My Kids Will Go to the Same School!”
You might think there’s no way your kids will go to the same school: “They’re like oil and water! There’s no way they’ll end up on the same campus!” But the reality is that older siblings do have an influence on younger siblings, according to a working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
In addition, a study by Joshua Goodman of Brandeis University, Michael Hurwitz of the College Board, Christine Mulhern of Harvard University and Jonathan Smith of Georgia State University found that when older siblings enroll at a target college, it “nearly quadruples” the probability that younger siblings will apply to that same school. In addition, 13 percent of younger siblings follow their older sibling to the target college only because their older sibling enrolled there.
The benefit? Cost reductions.
“If the children are entering the same college, I have seen very favorable treatment in terms of the financial aid package offered,” Rambo adds. She says there’s no fixed dollar amount for the reduction because the reduction depends on financial information from each family.
“I like to address the fear of parents of freshmen, sophomores and juniors with a plan to apply where their aid awards will be greatest in relation to the cost of the colleges. Looking at whether colleges collect even more data about a family by requiring the CSS Profile is another strategy,” she says.
The CSS Profile, short for the College Scholarship Service Profile, is an online application created and maintained by the College Board. It allows college students to apply for non-federal financial aid and requires a much more comprehensive overview than the FAFSA. Nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs use it to award non-federal aid. Check with the admission office of the schools your chid is applying to to determine whether your child needs to fill out the CSS Profile.
Filing the FAFSA
Does it change the FAFSA with more than one student in college? Rambo says that in addition to other calculations, the FAFSA collects information on the number of minor children in the family who will also be attending an undergraduate program at the same time and figures that into the formula, which is used to calculate the EFC for each child headed to college.
A frequent surprise for families with two children in college: Each child has a different EFC number. “They ask, ‘How is this possible when we entered our same income information for both?’” Rambo says.
The answer is simple: Student income and bank balances can make a difference.
How Many FAFSAs Do You Need to Complete for Multiple Kids?
This is a great (and common!) question. You’ll need to fill out FAFSA forms for each child but can transfer the information from one form to another so you don’t have to completely start from scratch each time you work on the FAFSA.
But wait! Before you file the FAFSA, you’ll need to get separate FSA IDs for each child. An FSA ID is a username and password combination that serves as your legal electronic signature throughout the financial aid process. You and each of your children will need your own FSA ID.
Your FSA ID is associated with your Social Security number and is equivalent to your legal signature. That’s why you must have a special FSA ID per person. You’ll use the same FSA ID to sign each of your children’s FAFSA forms.
Don’t forget to do a few things methodically:
Look for lower-priced schools.
Put an emphasis on having your child help earn money throughout school.
Consider ways to earn more or make more money.
Consider federal loans over private loans. The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS loan) is an excellent option if you’re willing to take out a little bit more for college. for the freshman year and work with the college aid and scholarship offices to find additional funds for sophomore year and beyond. Learn how to apply for the Parent PLUS loan.
Remember that you don’t have to come up with the full amount yourself. Many colleges offer steep discounts!
“You might find that if you’re a high-income earner and your child has already been accepted at a high-dollar university which only awards need-based aid, you may not see much help with the first child who enrolls there. That will improve some when a second child goes to college,” Rambo says.
It Takes Planning
Every dollar you save is $1 less that you or your child will have to borrow. (Yep, I’ll bring out the “a penny saved…” adage. Those pennies really do add up, even after just a couple of years!)
Most families end up covering just over 40% of college costs with a combination of savings and income, according to a national study by Ipsos and Sallie Mae. Your child will likely get scholarships, grants and loans as well.
What can you do as a parent?
Don’t forget about how helpful meeting with a financial advisor can be. If you can, do it before your first child’s a senior so you can develop a comprehensive plan to determine what’s best for your family’s financial circumstances. In some cases, financial advisors can recommend how to reallocate your assets, which can be helpful before you file the FAFSA. (It can help you qualify for more aid.)
Also, don’t discount your earning power. Your earning power may be tremendous during the course of a 10-month period. Remember that you can always figure out how much your paycheck can cover and submit money (even if it’s just a little bit!) to help pay for college.
You Can Do This!
I always admire the Andriuskevicius triplets’ parents because they handled having three kids in school all at once with such grace. They took a deep breath and handled the costs through a combination of grants, scholarships, cash and loans. All three kids made it through college (and incidentally, the “oldest” triplet ended up student teaching in my daughter’s first-grade classroom. A fun connection!
Thinking about putting more than one student in college at once can feel like plopping yourself into an icy stream. But it’s doable. Jigsaw the puzzle of all the options together. Consider how you can break it down, and remember, having more than one student in school can be a benefit, not a drawback.