Unless you’ve been building up a college fund since your child was very young, you probably don’t have the money available to cover the costs of tuition, room and board at a four-year university or college.
According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the typical four-year public college was $8,244 during the 2011-12 school year. And that was the price for in-state students. The cost for out-of-state students averaged $12,526.
Meantime, among private schools, the average cost for tuition and fees was $28,500. But 28% of private, four-year college students are enrolled in institutions charging $36,000 or more yearly in tuition and fees.
With the average U.S. household income standing at $51,914, it’s little wonder that American parents struggle with footing the bill for their child’s college education and some can’t afford to pay a single dollar for college costs.
While most students are eligible for some form of financial aid and even scholarships, they might still need financial support to cover the costs of housing, transportation, and everyday expenses throughout their college careers.
Search for Scholarships
Scholarships and grants can cover some of the high costs of a college degree program but these can be very competitive and take some time to track down.
Check with your child’s school of choice first to find out if your son or daughter is eligible to apply for any privately-funded scholarships from the school.
Do some online research at free scholarship search websites like FastWeb.com to see if you can find scholarships and grants for which your child may qualify.
Keep good track of deadlines and make sure you read all of the requirements thoroughly so that your child can get his or her application in and reviewed on time.
Consider “Tuition Free” Colleges
The emergency of “tuition free” colleges is one of the new trends that is very exciting in the world of higher education. It’s also a blessing to many families who simply can’t afford to pay $20,000 or more in college costs.
Tuition free colleges have taken a pledge to cover the full cost of a student’s tuition costs – picking up the tap completely and not requiring the student and his or her family to take out college loans.
Most colleges that charge no tuition or that cover tuition are engineering schools, liberal arts institutions, or military academies.
But the list of tuition free places of higher education is constantly growing. So do search online for one that fits your child’s needs and interest.
Review Tuition Costs at Technical Colleges or Junior Colleges
If you can’t afford a four-year college or university, consider the tuition costs of a technical college or a junior college in your area. Many vocational schools and technical colleges offer university “prep” programs where the student can matriculate into a four-year college after finishing their general education requirements at a technical or junior school.
Some students might find that they just need an associate’s degree to enter the field that they are interested in.
You might find that a two-year degree granting institution is much more affordable than a four-year college and would give your child a chance to further their education.
Even if the goal is to ultimately graduate from a four year institution, going to school the first two years at a less expensive junior college can save you and your child from tens of thousands of dollars in student loans or college-related debt.
After all, public two-year colleges charge, on average, $2,963 per year in tuition and fees, according to the College Board.
Get a Private Loan or Tap into Investment Accounts
You might be able to apply for a home equity loan and use the funds to pay for some or all of your child’s education.
Talk to your bank and mortgage lender about borrowing against the equity you’ve built up in your home for some extra funds.
At the very least, this money could be put towards a down payment on college expenses and your child might be able to work part-time to cover the remainder of the costs.
You could also tap into your own investment accounts such as an IRA or mutual fund, but this generally isn’t advisable as your child can borrow money for school but you can’t borrow money for retirement.
Also, tapping into your retirement money early could subject you to taxes and a 10% penalty from the IRS, so even if you’re considering using investment money to pay for college, only take this step as a drastic last resort.
Talk About Other Options
Lastly, even though your child may have his or her heart set on a particular school, now is the time to sit down and have a serious talk with him or her about the cost of college.
Discuss all options, such as the child working part-time while in school, or you co-signing a student loan with the understanding (and a written agreement!) that it’s his or her responsibility to make the payments on time.
Recognize that this is a tricky strategy, because ultimately if your child doesn’t pay, and you’ve co-signed you are legally on the hook for the loan and could damage your credit rating.
But the point is to explore all alternatives and to realistically deal with what is – not what either one of you is hoping for or had been dreaming about when it comes to going to college, and paying for it too.