College Finance 101: A Money-Saving Crash Course for Parents

Lesson 4: Think outside the box when exploring your options

cut-costIn the closing portion of this crash course, we encourage parents and students to be resourceful in their thinking. To help, we offer a final collection of creative tips to help you whittle away at the high cost of college. If there’s anything we’ve neglected to mention, we hope you’ll share some of your own suggestions in the “Comments” section.

Lesson 4: Creative Thinking

Invest in test prep. Would you invest $2,000 in SAT prep classes for your high school child? Although the cost sounds over the top, some parents are doing just that and see it as a less expensive option, and it is, compared with just one year of college tuition. “My friends in Texas put their daughter in a two-year, $2,000 SAT prep program, because they wanted to position her to get the highest SAT scores,” says Angela Redekop. “Sure enough, she got a free ride to college.” High SAT scores often translate into scholarship offers and generous financial aid. But black students score lower on the SAT and ACT than any other racial group, including Native Americans. When you consider that higher scores could mean lower college costs, SAT prep courses are a worthy investment.

Look for campuses seeking to diversify their student body. Last year 19-year-old Chad Zimmerman, then a high school senior in Montclair, New Jersey, applied to nine colleges. “Chad managed the whole process,” his mother, Karin, recalls. “He chose schools with the aim of majoring in environmental science, and he also wanted to play lacrosse.” When acceptance letters started pouring in, Chad ogled team stats while his parents eyed financial aid offers. One school’s aid package stood out. Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, New York, offered the most aid, “Even more than a state college,” Karin says. “That’s why we chose it.”

The Zimmermans feel that Chad’s generous aid is a result of Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ diversity objectives. Though the campus is only 8% minority, Michael and Karin felt that the right choice for their pocketbook was the right choice for Chad. Such campuses may offer more liberal financial aid to African American students.

Look for more than just loans. Target schools that have eliminated loans from their financial aid packages. Some of the top schools in the country have eliminated loans or taken steps to significantly limit the loans low-income students would need to take out. To lower costs, consider limiting your child’s choices to such schools. Go to Project on Student Debt.org for a list.

Choose a state school, even if it’s not in your state. Public colleges cost less money, but if your child wants to attend a public school in another state, you’ll be charged hefty out-of-state rates. If your child has a good GPA and high SAT scores, or is otherwise an attractive student, try asking the school to waive the out-of-state rates.

Go to an elite school—for two years. Take advantage of the community college option for your child’s first two years. After he or she graduates, your student can transfer to a four-year school and graduate with a bachelor’s that has the name of the senior college on it. Some community colleges have honors programs and are actively recruiting strong students.

These are just a few of the cost-saving options out there. Others–such as co-op programs, attending college in Canada, and writing essays for scholarships–may also be feasible. College is an investment that’s worth every penny, but clearly you don’t need to spend all of them.

Robin White Goode is the co-author of this story.

In the series:

Lesson 1: Tax Tips

Lesson 2: Loans

Lesson 3: Housing

Full Lesson Plan

ACROSS THE WEB