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Get a College Education You Can Afford

Written by Liz Weston on June 27, 2011 in Credit  |   No comments

Get a College Education You Can Afford Liz Weston, Excerpt from The 10 Commandments of Money The time to discuss college expenses is not when your child is holding an acceptance letter from her “dream” school—the one that will consign you both to a lifetime…

Get a College Education You Can Afford

The time to discuss college expenses is not when your child is holding an acceptance letter from her “dream” school—the one that will consign you both to a lifetime of loan payments. It’s far better to have these discussions in advance, and to talk about alternatives, than to have your child set her heart on a school, get accepted and then hear, “I’m sorry, we can’t afford that.” (But saying no, even at the last minute, is certainly preferably to miring yourself and your child in un-payable debt.)

Ideally, you’ll start talking about what you can afford to pay for school before she starts her search for schools. By her sophomore year in high school, you should have a fairly good idea of your resources as well as her talents and strengths and can begin looking for the right college match that will give her a good education without sinking you both financially.
You can get some idea of how much you’ll be pay for a college education, and how much financial aid you’re likely to get, by using FinAid.org’s Expected Family Contribution calculator. What you’re actually offered, however, will depend on the school, its resources and how much they want your child.
Many elite schools, for example, have committed to eliminating or limiting loans in student aid packages for low- and middle-income students. Some have eliminated or capped tuition costs as well. So it’s entirely possible that a public school education could wind up costing more than what you would pay to have your child attend an elite private school.
The aid your child gets also can depend on what he brings to the table. If he’s a talented soccer player and the school needs competitive players, he’s likely to get a more attractive package than if the school doesn’t have a team at all. Unfortunately, it’s tough to know in advance what a school will offer, and that makes managing expectations difficult. But your child needs to understand that while you’ll do the best you can, some colleges may be out of reach.
You may want to discuss some alternatives for making college affordable. Such as:
  • Starting with a two-year school. Many students save money by getting requirements out of the way at an inexpensive junior or community college, than transferring to a four-year school.
  • Helping pay their own way. Working part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer can allow a student to pay much of her own living expenses.
  • Rushing through in three years. Some schools offer the option of getting a bachelor’s degree in three years instead of four. This option typically doesn’t save much tuition, since students typically attend summer sessions to pack in the needed credits, but it does save on living costs. Therefore, it could be a good choice for a motivated student, particularly one who wants to get on to graduate school.

Adapted from The 10 Commandments of Money by Liz Weston


Liz Weston is the most-read personal finance columnist on the Internet, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. She’s an award-winning, nationally-syndicated personal finance columnist who can make the most complex money topics understandable to the average reader.

The New York Times called her latest book, “The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy,” a “wonderful basic personal finance book…[with] enough counterintuitive ideas to keep even people who know a bit about personal finance reading further.” Her earlier book, “Your Credit Score: Your Money and What’s at Stake; How to Improve the 3-Digit Number that Shapes Your Financial Future,” is a national best-seller and was recently published in a third edition.

Liz’s columns run twice a week on MSN Money while her question-and-answer column “Money Talk” appears in newspapers throughout the country, including the Los Angeles Times, the Palm Beach Post, the Portland Oregonian, Stars & Stripes and others.
She also writes a money column, “My Two Cents,” for AARP the Magazine, the largest-circulation magazine in the world with 22 million subscribers.

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