10th Grade

Thinking Ahead: How to Pay For College

Through all these discussions of college and career so far, there’s been an elephant in the room – and his name is college tuition. Pursuing a four-year degree – or even just an Associate’s – can set a young person up for success in the long term, but it comes at a high price.

Most homeschool families in are in a financial position in which they make too much money to qualify for need-based financial aid, but not enough money to fund their child’s full tuition cost. When the federal government determines how much aid a student qualifies for – using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is filed in the fall of your student’s senior year – they only take into account the family’s annual income. They do not consider how that income is used to pay for food, housing, and other basic needs.

Because of this, most homeschool students must put themselves through college. With college debt the new norm in our society, most college counselors consider loans a necessary evil for every student pursuing a degree. But entering the workforce with a load of debt – especially in an entry level position– means most students won’t be free from financial burden for many years to come. To reduce how much you borrow (or to avoid taking out loans at all!), consider these ways to save money for college long before your student gets to campus:

Scholarships and Aid

What’s the skinny on scholarships? Well, there are several different types. Some scholarships are institutional: they are awarded by the destination university. These may be based on academic achievement or may be specific to a student’s major, skill set, needs, or ethnicity. Other scholarships comes from outside the university; these are found through scholarship databases such as Fastweb or apps like Scholly. There are also scholarship opportunities directly through the departments that your student is applying to attend.

  • Merit-Based Aid

Academic scholarships are typically based on a student’s GPA and test scores. High achieving students make colleges look good, so universities reward these students with scholarship money. Some academic awards come directly from universities; others come from businesses and institutions to encourage more careers in a specific field of study. You may also receive an academic scholarship based on a standardized test, such as the National Merit scholarships determined by the PSAT. Academic awards are often the most lucrative of scholarships, which is why it’s worthwhile to practice, practice, practice on standardized tests!

  • Scholarships

Non-academic scholarships come in many forms. Some are specific to a career field or major of study; others are related to clubs or extracurricular interests. You can find scholarships based on family history or ethnicity, your hometown, or even the llama you’ve been raising in your backyard (yes, there is a scholarship for people who raise llamas and are part of the national association)! These scholarships are congregated in scholarship search engines like the aforementioned Fastweb. The easy part is finding the scholarships; the hard part is applying for them, writing the essays, and making time for what quickly becomes a part time job.

  • Federal Aid

We briefly touched on Federal Financial Aid, but here is an overview. Federal aid is any aid granted to a student from the government. This money may be in the form of a grant (usually Pell, a need-based grant), loans (Stafford loans, subsidized or unsubsidized) or work study (qualifying to work a campus job that pays for your tuition). The FAFSA form tells families what their student qualifies for in terms of government aid.  All of these options are considered “aid” – including loans.

Don’t forget about that summer job! Students who work in the summer – or even through the school year – enter college with a significant advantage. Not only have they saved money toward books or tuition, they have more work experience than many of their peers. This looks good after graduation as graduates compete for career positions.

Remember too that CLEP or AP testing and dual enrollment can save you both time AND money. CLEP and AP tests allow you to test out of classes you’d otherwise be paying to take on campus. Dual enrollment does the same, but gives you high school credit at the same time. Be sure to utilize these options in addition to scholarship searching to make your college dream both affordable and possible!

Questions? Email [email protected].