Paying for College

Smart Ways to Pay for College

You don't have to break the bank to get a quality education. Here are five ways to keep costs under control.

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).

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). 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 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:

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
The Berkshire Hathaway Portfolio: All 41 Warren Buffett Stocks Ranked
stocks

The Berkshire Hathaway Portfolio: All 41 Warren Buffett Stocks Ranked

The Berkshire Hathaway portfolio is a diverse set of blue chips, and increasingly, lesser-known growth bets. Here's a look at every stock picked by Wa…
November 16, 2021
Resist the Impulse to Buy These 14 Holiday Gifts
shopping

Resist the Impulse to Buy These 14 Holiday Gifts

Don't let those holiday sale promotions persuade you into buying something now that will be much cheaper later.
November 18, 2021

Recommended

The Return of Student Loan Payments
Paying for College

The Return of Student Loan Payments

A pandemic reprieve on student loan payments ends in January. If you still need financial help, there are steps you can take.
November 22, 2021
How to Balance Saving for Retirement and Your Kids’ Education
college

How to Balance Saving for Retirement and Your Kids’ Education

Achieving your goals takes patience and time – but starting early will give you a big edge. And while it may feel unnatural, put yourself (and your re…
October 29, 2021
Thoughts Before Funding a 529 College Savings Plan
college

Thoughts Before Funding a 529 College Savings Plan

Watching your college savings grow tax-free with a 529 college savings plan feels great, but failing to follow the rules could come with penalties and…
October 23, 2021
Saving for College? Everything You Need to Know About 529 Plans
529 Plans

Saving for College? Everything You Need to Know About 529 Plans

529 plans offer considerable convenience and potential tax savings when putting money aside for education. That said, there are still a range of rules…
October 22, 2021