With tuition increases every year, paying for college can be a real concern. For one-income families with more than one child (i.e., the majority of homeschool families), the fear of not being able to afford a college education can be quite real.
After helping my children into college and working with many other students, I’m convinced there still exists a college experience for any student who wants it, within any budget, and under most common circumstances. More importantly, however, I’ve found there is plenty of college money available to those who want it. Bigger still, a lot of that money is free.
The trick to making the money appear is: a) knowing where to look for it, and b) knowing specifically how to qualify for it.
As someone who has graduated teens who’ve gone on to college debt-free, I’d like to share some of the tips that saved us tons of money. Of course there’s so much more to going college debt-free, but these concepts should get you into the debt-free mindset for when the time comes.
My first and most valuable tip for finding college money is to start the work early. By early, I mean in 9th or 10th grade, if not sooner. Many organizations and programs start doling out money early, and there are grants and scholarships of all kinds available throughout the high school years. Plus, by starting early, you’ll have the benefit of a huge file of all that information you collect over the years, so you’ll never be caught missing deadlines, lacking requirements, or having trouble finding information again later. Consider it a part-time job that you and your student work on periodically. That’s how we did it, and it worked!
Tell Everyone You know
I always recommend telling everyone you know that you’re looking for college assistance. By putting this on the radar of friends, family members, employers and other acquaintances, you start building a team of support around you and your child. During the time your student is in high school, this team can be keeping their eyes and ears open for opportunities like scholarships and grants, interning programs and awards, and pass on to you a lot of information you’d never get anywhere else. Supporters are usually glad to help you in this way, and often become especially invested in your child as you share periodic updates on what your child is doing in high school, and what his or her goals are after graduation. Don’t dismiss the idea of chatting up the local high schools, either. Guidance counselors and other personnel are sometimes enormously helpful to homeschool families at scholarship time.
It’s Sometimes Okay to Be Broke
This next tip falls into the “for what it’s worth” category. Oftentimes, families try to boost their income during the high school years, with parents taking part-time jobs, and students finding ways to earn money themselves. While this is commendable and can sometimes help the situation, it can also backfire, too. Remember that certain programs target lower income families or those with an inability to pay. Given this formula, students may actually become ineligible for programs if they’ve built a nest egg during high school. While I never discourage anyone from saving for college, it can be useful to consider the cost-benefit of doing such a thing. Putting a student’s grades at risk from working too many hours, for instance, to be later disappointed by an inadequate aid package is highly discouraging. Stressing parents out unnecessarily while causing the family to become ineligible for certain programs is also clearly counter productive.
Overcome Your Desire for Privacy
When it comes time to apply for aid and scholarships, you might as well kiss any desire for privacy good bye. The sheer number of applications you’ll be completing is nothing short of mind boggling, and with those applications comes the complete stripping away of any desire to shield the world from knowing every intimate detail of your personal lives. The desire to find college money requires disclosing anything and everything these organizations want to know. I still highly recommend teaching your teen about identity theft and protecting his or her privacy in every other situation, but on this one, you’ll need to explain (and yourself must learn to accept) this is one exception for which there is no other choice.
Be Sure the Student Transcript Reflects Everything They Want to See
Minimum requirements for college entrance and college money, financial aid programs and scholarship programs, and other sources of college assistance will vary from student to student, from state to state (if you plan on applying for state aid), and from college to college. By knowing specific requirements for these programs early on (go back to my first tip), you can guarantee your student is eligible by making sure any course requirements are met, any GPA requirements are met, any community service or leadership requirements are met, and any other eligibility requirements are met, before your student turns that tassel. It pains me to see students who could’ve qualified for something great, but were ineligible because they forgot take a simple class in an earlier grade. It double-pains me when parents end up costing their students money because they were unwilling to put the time in earlier on to make sure the student remained on track for later assistance. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing a 4-year high school plan to cover all these bases.
If you’ve found these tips helpful, follow me for more information like this in the future (SUBSCRIBE on the home page if you’d like to be notified).
I work with many families to develop college-ready high school plans that gain them access to colleges, and often tens of thousands of dollars of money later on. If this is a service you’d like to explore, contact me for a private consultation.
To your success,
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Dr. Marie-Claire Moreau is a college professor who traded in her tenure to become a homeschool mom 20+ years ago. A homeschool pioneer and the founder of many groups and organizations, she works to advance home education, and is an outspoken supporter of education reform coast to coast. Her book, Suddenly Homeschooling: A Quick Start Guide to Legally Homeschool in Two Weeks, is industry-acclaimed for illustrating how homeschooling can rescue children and families from the public school system, and how anyone can begin homeschooling within a limited time-frame, with no teaching background whatsoever. A writer, a homeschool leader, and a women’s life coach, Marie-Claire mentors in a variety of areas that impact health, education and lifestyle. A conference speaker, she has appeared at FPEA, H.E.R.I., Home Education Council of America, The Luminous Mind, Vintage Homeschool Moms, iHomeschool Network, and many other events. Her articles have appeared in and on Holistic Parenting, CONNECT,Homefires, Homemaking Cottage, Kiwi, Circle of Moms, and hundreds of sites and blogs nationwide. Marie-Claire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.