With the price tag of a college education reaching higher levels every year, students will have a hard time shouldering the entire cost all by themselves. However, students can help pay for college by putting in some work both ahead of college and during school.
When parents and students sit down for the college money conversation, parents need to set expectations for how much of the financial burden they expect their student to take on. Together, you can create a game plan to incorporate some or all of the ideas below.
Option #1 - Working a Job During High School
With the cost of college as high as it is, most students won’t be able to work enough hours to cover the annual cost; however, every little bit helps, and they also earn valuable life skills about the working world. Families can set a dollar amount goal of employment earnings per year as part of their overall college budget. You can also include birthday or holiday gift money are part of this contribution. Working through this process and making spending and saving choices is a valuable lesson for your student to help pay for college.
Option #2 - Earning College Credit While in High School
Frequently called “dual enrollment”, high school students can earn college credit at local universities while in high school. Some high schools are even offering these college courses within the high school. The best part is that these courses are free as long as the student passes the course! We have seen students graduating high school and entering college the next fall with college junior status, meaning they only have two years of tuition and room and board left to receive an undergrad degree. That's essentially getting your degree for half price!
Option #3 - Working in College
Besides working a traditional job during the college years, students also have the option of working in a work-study position or perhaps as a residential advisor (RA) for the university. Remember, work-study is only awarded when your family has financial need. Work-study has the advantage over traditional employment if your financial aid status will be impacted by income from a job outside of work-study. Be sure to carefully consider your student’s ability to manage their time.
A second option is becoming a RA, resident advisor or resident assistant, for the college. The RA is the peer leader for a residence hall. They build community and settle problems among the students. They are a personal touch point for students and can be a sort of 24-hour quasi-counselor. The work can be extremely rewarding as the RA supports and guides students away from home. RAs are provided with compensation from the university in the form of a free or reduced room cost, a potentially free meal plan, or another similar stipend. The value is great, but carefully consider the cost in terms of crisis and time management abilities. Being a RA can be extremely rewarding, but for some, the challenge may not be a good fit.
The Biggest thing Students Can Do to Help Pay for College
The biggest thing students can control in their college money budget plan is their own school work. Students are the only ones who ultimately control their grades and test scores in high school. Getting your student to understand the real impact their grades and test scores will have on the price of college is critical.
Consider Miami University and their merit scholarships. If you look at the chart, you can see that simply raising a student’s ACT test score from a 29 to a 32 can mean an additional $16,000 in scholarships! $16,000 is definitely more than a student could expect to earn from working! When students see how their hard work during high school can make a real impact on the price of college, the realization can be very motivating.
Have the "College Funding" talk with your student
Every student needs to understand the importance of the financial fit of their college choice, and what that will mean for their future cost, debt, etc. By working with your student to understand what you can afford and the choices your student will need to make about the level of debt and amount of savings, you can create a realistic list of colleges to apply to and set goals on how to get there. Picking a college is an emotional buying decision, so being proactive and having a realistic conversation as a family about what you can afford will help to manage those emotions, prevent heartache and make sure your student can graduate with manageable student loan debt without robbing your retirement.
A college funding professional can help you develop a plan to understand exactly what your costs will be, and how to lower those costs so you know exactly how much you'll need to save, and to ensure you don't saddle your student and family with loans they won't be able to handle. If you would like to speak with an advisor from our team, schedule a free call with our team today!
Mike Bink, AAMS®, CCFS®
Mike works with families to simplify the college funding process and is widely recognized as an expert in college planning. He is passionate about empowering families to become informed consumers of higher education so that they don't pay a penny more for college than they absolutely have to.