With the media focusing on high levels of student debt and potential conflicts of interest between universities and student-loan companies, figuring out how to pay the college bills may be more stressful than usual this year.
So today I'm starting a series of columns in which I'll tell you how to steer clear of the controversy and keep your debt under control.
Don't break the bank. First, make an honest appraisal of how much your family can afford to pay. Let's face it: It probably doesn't make financial sense to take on $100,000 worth of debt for a pricey private school when you can go to a good public university for less than half the cost (see Kiplinger's list of the 100 best values in public colleges (opens in new tab)).
Start at a community college. Starting off at a community college and then transferring is a classic strategy for cutting costs. Now innovative programs are making this route even more attractive.
For instance, at the Universities at Shady Grove, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., students can earn a degree from any of eight Maryland public universities that teach classes at the site. Students pay the tuition charged by the school in which they're enrolled, with reduced fees.
Scope out scholarships. Don't count on your child to bail you out with a full ride. But many private schools are willing to cut their sticker price to attract the right students (see Kiplinger's 100 best values in private colleges (opens in new tab)). The trick is to apply to schools where your child's grades, SAT scores or outside activities make him attractive.
My family is proof that this really works. Each of my three children was awarded a merit-based scholarship, ranging from half to full tuition.
And not every scholarship is based solely on grades. One of my colleagues has a son attending Vanderbilt on a Navy ROTC scholarship. When I recently searched Scholarships.com (opens in new tab) to see if my high-school-senior son was eligible for last-minute awards, I found several essay contests with prizes ranging up to $2,500 -- enough to cover books or a computer.
Get a head start. By taking advantage of high-school AP courses, a student can enter college as a sophomore -- an instant savings of 25%.
Skip the four-year degree. "Some of the best job opportunities right now are for those with an associate degree or some kind of vocational training," says John Challenger, of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, an outplacement firm. Among the jobs on Challenger's list: interpreter/translator, sales personnel, support staff in the legal sector, personal trainers and transportation workers in the trucking and rail industries. Salaries in some occupations can top $100,000.
See Janet's college-financing series:
Does the IRS Audit Some Taxpayers More Than Others?
A study of IRS audits, from Stanford University researchers and the U.S. Treasury Department, looked at whether some taxpayers are audited more than others.
By Kelley R. Taylor • Published
Different Approach to Financial Planning Addresses ‘the Missing Middle’
Nontraditional financial planning model allows you to pay for the expenses you incur between now and retirement — the middle of your life — without losing the ability to build wealth.
By Brian Skrobonja, Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®) • Published
Student Loan Forgiveness Blocked For Now Due to Court Rulings
Biden's student loan debt forgiveness program is on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court can weigh in.
By Kelley R. Taylor • Published
529 Plan Contribution Deadlines
Many states have year-end deadlines for making 529 college savings plan contributions.
By Kelley R. Taylor • Last updated
3 Key Ways You Can Help a Child or Grandchild Pay for College
college Options such as 529 plans, education savings accounts and tax-free gifts can ensure you don’t carry a child’s student loan debt into your golden years.
By Tony Drake, CFP®, Investment Advisor Representative • Published
Borrowers Over 50 With Student Loan Debt
Paying for College Millions of borrowers 50 and older are struggling to repay loans for themselves and their children, some delaying retirement. There’s a trick, though, to help with repayment.
By Elaine Silvestrini • Published
How to Spend $1,000: Find Cheap (or Free) Online Courses to Build Career Skills
Smart Buying There's a huge array of skill-building online courses that can level up your career for under $1,000.
By Kim Clark • Published
PODCAST: Tax Breaks for College Finance with Kalman Chany
Paying for College Paying for (ever-pricier) college is a challenge that this consultant meets head on with highly specific guidance.
By David Muhlbaum • Published
Tax Breaks to Help You Pay for College
Paying for College Everyone knows education is pricey and getting pricier. But not everyone knows about the tax relief available at all stages.
By Sandra Block • Published
Chasing Athletic Scholarship Dreams Can Be a Costly Mistake
Paying for College Camps. Equipment. Travel to tournaments. Recruiting fees. It’s expensive to have a high school student-athlete in your home. But who doesn’t dream of a full-ride scholarship to your child’s dream school? Here’s an athletic scholarship reality check to help you make the right spending choices for your family.
By Erin Wood, CFP®, CRPC®, FBSⓇ • Published