How to Afford College for Your Kiddos

By Kathy Bazan, Business Recovery Center Consultant

As small business owners, we often don’t have the luxury of time to research how we can help our kids afford college. This is why many small business owners relied on the easy-to-get Parents PLUS Loans (or other even more predatory loans) to pay for college and found themselves six figures in debt after four years of their kids’ college. As the parent of two offspring who graduated from college, let me share what worked for us!

  • Start planning the day your child enters 7th. grade.
    • Check with your school counselors and ask for a list of the classes required to apply for the best public university system in your state, for the state college system, an Ivy League School, and a very easy college which admits anyone who is breathing. Make a chart of those requirements and what is needed to prepare for those classes. For instance, most colleges require at least 2 years of a foreign language. Hold off on starting the language until your child enters 9th grade when those classes count for college admission. If you start a language in 7th. grade, your child would be taking Spanish 1 and be in Spanish 3—a much more difficult class—in 9th. grade to qualify for college.
    • Start public service projects and track hours on a spreadsheet. My daughter and I volunteered at a cat rescue shelter every Friday night for 2-3 hours each week. By the time she applied for college, she accumulated over 1,000 hours of public service which entitled her to more scholarships and reduced her debt load. Combined with her good grades, she was accepted to each of the five colleges to which she applied because she had more public service hours than her peers.
  • Starting in 9th. grade, your offspring’s grades are examined by colleges to which your offspring applies.
    • On Scholarships.com, you can start researching scholarships. If your child is too young to apply, start a spreadsheet of when the scholarship accepts applications, the deadline, contact info, and any pertinent info. Color code your chart to indicate when your child should apply. Writing essays is an art form—practice, practice, practice. One of my daughter’s friends won over $17,000 in scholarships from this site so it can be done!
    • Instill the mantra, “Every A you get today is a college loan you don’t have to take out tomorrow.” I know this because I attended UCLA with so many academic scholarships that I graduated with only $3,400 of college loan debt.
    • Ask the Financial Aid Dept. of the colleges you and your offspring selected for a list of scholarships available for that campus. Often, alumni establish scholarships and grants for which you can apply.
      • Apply for scholarships even if you think you don’t qualify. A friend applied for the Black Journalism Scholarship at Humboldt State and won it even though he is White. Why? No one else applied.
    • As the parent, it is likely that you will need to file the FAFSA or CSS (for private colleges which don’t accept federal aid). Both forms delve into your financial situation. From your application, the college is sent an assessment of how much they think you can afford to contribute to your child’s college costs. The college then sends you a financial aid offer of this amount of scholarships/grants and that amount of loans.
      • You can ask for a reconsideration by the college’s financial aid department.
        • Ask for a reassessment of your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Example: The 2021-2022 FAFSA which you can file this coming October will ask for information from your 2019 tax return. If 2020 was not as profitable a year, you can ask for a federal aid appeal so that you can use your 2020 numbers which could qualify you for more student aid.
        • If the college offered financial aid to a student who decided to attend a different college, that money is then offered to those who ask for a reconsideration. You might get a few move scholarships or grants to reduce your debt load.
      • Ask about the Federal Pell Grant. Designed to pay for college expenses for students seeking an undergraduate degree, the program can provide additional funds for college.
      • Ask about work-study jobs. These are usually on campus jobs but not always.
      • When your offspring is in college, apply for the $2500 American Opportunity Tax Credit on your IRS tax return.
      • If you consider loans to close the financial aid gap, be careful. The less information (tax returns, P & Ls) the lender asks from you, the more predatory the loan. In general, loans which your students take out have more protection for your students whereas loans that parents take out are often subject to high interest rates and predatory practices. Recently, the Parents PLUS Loans have come under scrutiny because as the New York Times articles states the loans, “…are made without regard to the ability of borrowers to repay, and have fewer protections when they can’t.” Check with your lawyer, banker, or wealth manager before you sign up for any college loans to make sure that you are applying for the safest loans.

Other options to consider:

  • Suggest that your student attend a community college for two years to satisfy the breadth requirements for admission to a university.
    • Community college is often less expensive than a university.
    • Graduating from community college means automatic admission to a state college or university.
    • Having an associate degree supplants a GED on the student’s résumé and allows your student to get a better part-time job which can defray college expenses.
  • Remember that it only the last college from which your student graduates which appears on their college diploma. Ian graduated high school, graduated from community college, was admitted to California State Long Beach, and then transferred to UCLA for his senior year. His diploma states that he graduated from UCLA and does not mention his education elsewhere. He has the benefit of graduated from a top tier college while having saved money by paying for tuition at less expensive colleges for three years. As a result, he has very little debt!

If you have questions, please reach out to me at brcconsultant@TualatinChamber.com or (503) 692-0780.
My consultations with you are at no cost and are confidential. Since 2014, I have counseled small business owners on gaining access to capital, marketing, and other topics.

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