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#47023 - 09/20/11 03:44 PM How did you get your kid through college?
Joe Hurley Offline


Registered: 01/07/00
Posts: 2695
Loc: Pittsford, NY, USA
For the benefit of parents who are wondering how they will ever be able to afford a college education for their children, we are asking those of you who have "succeeded" in getting one or more kids through college to tell us how you did it. Was it savings? Loans? Budget shifting? Scholarships? College selection? All of the above? Just post a reply here.

Please be as detailed, or as general, as you want to be. You can tell your whole story, or just describe one thing that you or your kid did that helped in a meaningful way. I am certain that any tips you can provide to other parents, supported by your own experience, would be a great service to them.

Thanking you in advance.


#47024 - 09/21/11 10:02 AM Re: How did you get your kid through college? [Re: Joe Hurley]
2Kids Offline

Registered: 08/09/07
Posts: 2
I have two children. We encouraged them to get involved in many activites while growing up which was the first step to a free ride to college and being excepted to the college of choice. Girl Scouts (Gold Award Received), Boy Scouts (Eagle Award Received), Community Services activites, Ski Patrol, as well as participate in sports and school clubs (honor society) etc. This made for a fantastic activity resume which is a must!!

They both started applied for as many local scholarship as they could when they entered high school. Local scholarships have a smaller audience and smaller amounts of money per scholarship but you will be pleasently suprised when you add all the winnings together!

Both my children took advantage of as many college and advanced study classes for credit they could get in High School. One even went to the Community College during her final year of HS. They were accepted in the Community College Honor Society which in the end also earned them scholarship money towards their undergraduated degree as well as a transfer scholarship. This also helped them graduate early with the need for less money.

With the help of all the local scholarship, choosing a state school that just happened to have the best program for chosen major and the 529 plans my family would gift to instead of toys each holiday and Birthday, my children were able to go to college with little help from me and my husband. One child had $4000 in Subsidized Stafford loans when they graduated. Amazing when you look at the cost of college these days.

Edited by 2Kids (09/21/11 10:08 AM)

#47025 - 09/21/11 10:32 AM Re: How did you get your kid through college? [Re: Joe Hurley]
rsinj Offline

Registered: 11/16/03
Posts: 1158
I think this will be a good thread and some good suggestions and things to think about will come out of it. But, I don't believe it should be limited to parents who've succeeded. I think many folks here probably have good ideas and avenues they've taken in their college days which would be just as applicable today. I'll provide my personal experience as it was entirely off the beaten path when I did it 30 years ago (crap I feel old now!).

1. Have your child take college level courses at the first opportunity while in high school. I took one course at the local community college when I was 13 - it was maybe $10 a credit at the time. It was just some hobby class but that got me into the computer system with a transcript and I then took a "real" class at night each semester while never having gone through the formal admission process - just filled out a half page from a newspaper circular.

2. Look to graduate high school a year early. Most high schools these days are sub par. Thankfully I saw it first hand and was brash enough as a teenager to push the system. I took advanced classes and fought with my principal and school board just to get them to fund AP an after school activity. By senior year the school had nothing for me and suggested a year of shop classes. Even if the school did have a full slate of AP classes I could have taken as a senior, I think it would be better to just go to college - there's no guarantee that after a year of work the child won't have a bad exam or that the AP will be accepted for credit. Additionally usually AP will be accepted for a one semester class (calculus is the only one I know where you could get 2 semester credit if taking the advanced version) - why spend a year for one semester of credit? Real college credits are more valuable.

3. Go to a couple of your first choice schools early, go to their future student programs, get the admissions folks to know who you are. They will take note if your child is a high school freshman or sophomore and showing up for the program(s).

4. From #1 and #2 above push to get all college level coursework transferred in to the college. These days you need to do some legwork and know the rules as far as what a school will accept for transfer and how much you can transfer. When I set foot on campus as a 16 year old freshman I had 32 credits having never attended a class at the school. Officially I was already a sophomore. 2 years later, having spent only 4 semesters and a summer session on campus I graduated with my BS - when my freshman friends were beginning their junior year. The school changed their graduation rules/requirements as a result of what I did so it wouldn't be possible in the future...not sure how they changed it, but I was told by some friends.

5. Take summer classes at your local state university and/or community college. Again cheap credits and a way to get general ed requirements out of the way. Take the French class or electives - no schools will give any hassles transferring those. A good rule here - get the class(es) pre-approved by the faculty so there is no issue at the end of the summer when you want to transfer the credits in.

6. Know the graduation requirements immediately, stay on top of them, and plan courses from day 1 around them. Plan not to take 4 years to graduate - plan for 3 years (or less). The objective is simply to get the piece of paper. 5 or 10 years down the road nobody is going to really care what the GPA was or how the piece of paper was attained.

So to summarize all of the above, you can cut costs by planning to do the undergrad degree in less than 4 years. Do it in 3, you've saved 25% right off the top as far as tuition and all other expenses.

Now, after undergrad, my view is that as a grad student there is absolutely no reason for any student to pay. Find the school that will give the teaching/research assistantship with full tuition. If that doesn't happen, then get a job with an employer who will pay the tuition to do it part-time.

My personal belief is that no parent should feel obligated to fund their child's college education. If they want to and have the means, that's wonderful. However they should not put themselves or their own finances at risk. As our country has still not fully grasped the concept "live within your means", both parents and kids need to be reminded as well. A college education is a product and it comes at a price. It is not something anyone is entitled to and many who can't afford the best shouldn't be taking on debts/loans to buy it when they may have little chance of being able to make the eventual payments. You know - something like all the adults who went and purchased homes they really couldn't afford just because a lender was willing to give them a loan.

Anyhow the above is what I did and my views.

#47026 - 09/22/11 09:55 AM Re: How did you get your kid through college? [Re: rsinj]
ckc Offline

Registered: 09/13/04
Posts: 59
When my children were first born, I was doing the bookkeeping for the local town, part time. They only paid me every three months. So this was money we weren't counting on in daily cash flow, and we put it into investments for the kids. At only $500 a quarter, it was amazing that my oldest had $70,000 when he was close to college. (Of course we also lucked out and bought Intel before it was heard of. Pure dumb luck).

My kids also were very active in both sports and music, and had 90+ averages (not top of the class, but upper percentage). I also encouraged them to run for class president, which my 2nd and 3rd did, and had class pres on their resumes for several years of high school. I think the leadership activities really appeal to the colleges. My kids did not do as much volunteer or community service as some, I think that would have helped more, and I'm encouraging my last child to get more of those types of activities on his resume. It appears alot of colleges offer scholarships specifically based on community service.

Grades are important, but I think being well-rounded is also a very good way to increase the chances for scholarships. My kids did the AP courses as well, but I have no problem with them going the full four years to college. College is a wonderful education socially as well as academically, alot of maturing happens in those four years. And lets face it, they have to work the rest of their lives.

My children also applied for work study on the FAFSA each year. This led to some wonderful connections for them within the college, and was a major reason they did well finding internships and future jobs. If they are awarded work study, get in there early and try to get the jobs within the department they are majoring in. My daughter was an assistant to a professor who ended up being a wonderful mentor for her. The time spent working was not strenuous to her schedule, and it supplied her with daily living cash.

As for money, my oldest has about $20,000 in debt. He had half of his college taken care of with scholarships the college gave him. He also was an RA for two years, which takes $10,000 a year off the bill! But he changed his major a few times, so he ended up there for 5 years, and we have no problem with the little bit of debt he has. He's currently well on his way to being a CPA. Our daughter also had half of her cost awarded as scholarships, and did the RA stint for three years, which helped tremendously. That, combined with our savings we started as babies, will leave her with no debt after her 4 years. Our third son is a high school senior, and I hope he will do as well since he has alot of leadership and activities on his resume, as well as a 90 average.

We have been fully funding our retirement through this, but have not paid our mortgage off as fast as we probably could of. But that interest is still deductible, and once child #3 is done, we can accelerate those payments. (Well, after all the weddings of course). \:\)

#47030 - 09/26/11 04:04 PM Re: How did you get your kid through college? [Re: ckc]
Joe Hurley Offline


Registered: 01/07/00
Posts: 2695
Loc: Pittsford, NY, USA
Excellent stories and suggestions so far. Thanks 2Kids, rsinj, and ckc!

I will add a story of my own. At the end of our son's freshman year at college, he purchased his own home about 2 miles from school for $80K. Over the last two and a half years he's had one or more college classmates living at his home and sharing the costs. His own living costs are coming out of his 529 plan (up to the room and board limits). I haven't really added things up yet but I am pretty sure that living off campus in his own home has been significantly less costly than on-campus room and board.

Back when he bought his house there was an $8,000 credit available for first-time homebuyers, which he received as a refund from the IRS and applied to his mortgage. So assuming his house has held its value, he has a nice chunk of equity. He is allowed to sell the home after 3 years and still keep his tax credit, which coincides nicely with his graduation next spring. He might decide to sell or just stay there depending on job, etc. after graduation.

The biggest problem with this plan is that the IRS audited him, not really believing that he was using the house as his real home. But he proved to the IRS that he was, so there was no audit adjustment.


#47123 - 12/03/11 04:44 PM Re: How did you get your kid through college? [Re: Joe Hurley]
poordaddy2 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 12/26/06
Posts: 22
Loc: Orland Park
I could write a novel on what it took me to put 3 kids through college, and also had all 3 in college at the same time. So what does it take?

1) Frugal living and savings pennies from the time we were married, going camping instead of airline flights to Hawaii, etc....yes, if you have kids and care about them there are sacrifices to get them off to a good start in life. We told all 3 of them it's a "family event", not individual.

2) When the kids were young I set up a college matching account for their baby sitting/lawn mowing jobs, so for each 1$ they gave me I matched it 100%. This got them to save, and also that college was important.

3)We told each child that they would have to get a job in high school and also in college (even if only 10 hrs per week) and every August they paid the college $3000 toward their college tuition. Kids need to have skin in the game as well so they watch their spending and you need to instill good money/spending habits early on.

4) we applied and took our FAFSA loans for each child. We told each child that they would come out of college with a $10,000 loan. Again, more skin in the game for them.

5) Here's one you dont here alot about and that's HELP your child find out what they want to major in and do in life, nothing is more wastefull then spending a 5th year to get a bachelor degree (that's $20-30k saved right there), so starting in early high school start to poke around at what interests them, take them to your work, their Uncles/Aunts work, etc. Kids these days seem to have no opportunities to try stuff and see what they might want to work in. If the have no clue what they want to do in life after they graduate from highschool seems pretty wasteful to send them off to a $40,000/yr college, instead go to a community college and live at home to figure it out first.

6)Dont let your Child tell you where they are going to College if there is a cheaper and better school as an alternative. It's a family decision. Ric Edlemen's Truth about Money book has a good chapter that tries to give parents a "back-bone" and tell your child you're not spending $50,000 a year for a degree that has little payback. It's not a comfortable discussion, and yes your child will hate you for a few months (they eventually get over it) but your the parent, and it's your money. One of my kids wanted to go out of state to another Big-ten college (for an extra $10,000 per yr) just to get away from some friends she no longer liked, and I just said "no you're not" you can get the same education in-state for a lot cheaper, and guess what, everything turned out fine. For those really tight on money also consider 2 yrs at your local community college and then transfer to the big U. you'll save huge $$$ this way, and I know lots of families doing this now.

7) Take out a 529 plan somewhere and fund it! Also claim your state tax deduction too. Invest conservatively since this is money you NEED to have, even if you have 10-15 yrs of time, I would stay under 60% stock mutual funds, and if you're within 3-5 yrs stay will all bond type or even CD or principle protection type funds. Try and get a head of college inflation, but dont loose your principle either.

8) Since college inflation can be 4-15% per year (I've track Illinois state school inflation over the past 10 yrs) also consider the 529 pre-paid tuition plans, I was too late for this, and they dont seem to ba as good of a deal as they used to be but they should be considered. Just remember that junior now has to go to a state school.

9) When you child moves into an apartment, give them a price range or max amount that they can rent (we used $500), otherwise they'll want to pick the Ritz. Give them a rent and food allowance, make them pay for their own fun too. Take this monthly allowance out of your 529 plan and keep a running log and keep all reciepts for any IRS audit. Your kid will whine of course being on a budget or not getting a nice fancy apartment like their rich friends, but tell them that college kids are supposed to be poor and broke, builds character as my Dad alway said.

10) Read! Read! Read! The most important thing is to stay informed, this web site of Joe's saved my butt, so I am forever indebted to you! thanks Joe & his supporting staff. Once a month I log in and catch up on the message board and any new postings. I subscribe to several financial magazines and use the internet alot.

11) By reading and staying informed, I was able to take 2 years so far of the American Opportunityu Tax credit as well, another timely gold mine for me, save me another couple of $1000's on my taxes. So getting my kids through college has been difficult, I feel like an Accountant and spend more than enough time reading and book keeping with the 529 withdraws, and keep expense logs, reciepts, and trying every angle to route college expenses through my 529 plans or the AOTC tax credit while it last through 2012.

that's it for a high level summary. good luck to everyone out there.

#47124 - 12/04/11 11:07 AM Re: How did you get your kid through college? [Re: poordaddy2]
rsinj Offline

Registered: 11/16/03
Posts: 1158
poordaddy - big thumbs up on 5, 6, and 8. We did 8, and now, as we're approaching end of 10th grade, though there is more than enough to fully fund 4 years of college, ironically, we are looking at alternatives where we wouldn't even touch the pre-paid money - just take it all back and give it to our daughter so she has all of that money coming out of college and being fully debt free.

I think another key to making this work, and to get the kids thinking in the right frame of mind, is to begin talking to them about it early. #6 doesn't have to come down to having backbone if the kids have been brainwashed (by the parents of course) early on. We began discussing "what do you want to do" and college probably 2 or 3 years ago. Now, as daughter's friends are juniors/seniors in high school and chatting about the far away expensive schools they're going to, daughter is a pro - even telling her guidance counselor what "her" (our) plan is. So, brainwashing works - I think your #5 and #6 are probably the most important things we can do as parents to get them off on the right foot. A teenager may be old/mature enough to go and be living out from under your roof, but, they really are not all knowing that they are capable of making $100k and $200k financial decisions - no matter how brilliant we believe they are. And, it's not the kind of decision/mistake they could easily recover from if they do get it wrong - it could easily be the biggest mistake of their lives.

#47172 - 12/29/11 04:17 PM Re: How did you get your kid through college? [Re: Joe Hurley]
csaag Offline

Registered: 09/27/01
Posts: 24
Son is starting college next fall.

My #1 piece of advice is to start preparing early. Take school seriously from high school freshman year. If you know you're child has what it takes academically, make sure they put in the work in the later elementary years to prepare for H.S.

#2 is to work on the grades. Investing time in school work is much more important than a minimum wage part time job - at least as far as college costs goes. Strive for an 'A' in every course, take AP courses (a 'B' in one is as good as an A in a non AP course) and get involved in extra-curriculars.

It helps if your child has a feel for what area he/she wants to study. It doesn't have to be down to a specific job title. Look at schools with good programs for that area that offer merit scholarships. Don't be afraid to shoot for the Ivy's - there's books out there on the types of things you need to do to get accepted. If you're accepted then they pay pretty much full tuition. Don't expect they'll get accepted, just don't be afraid to try one. I've found a lot of other private schools charge tuition in the same ballpark as the Ivy's w/o nearly the same endownments.

Make sure you visit the schools you have an interest in and it doesn't hurt to send their admissions department questions.

The 529 guaranteed tuition plans have been helpful to us - especially with the economy. If you haven't started one, look into getting one opened up in the grandparents name as it won't count against your financial aid application. Although you may want to talk to them about their will if you're putting a lot of your money into it.

As parents, don't feel the obligation to ruin yourself finacially to fund your child(s) education. You could end up being a burden to them in your later years and ruin your quality of life.

I'm not against a child taking a reasonable amount of debt. But if you co-sign for it, get a cheap term life insurance policy for your child.

We went thru some sacrifice to send our son to a very good High School as we knew he 'had it' academically. It paid off as he's going to graduate number 1 or 2 in his class and has already received one full tuition scholarship offer. He's applied to 7 or 8 and in the end we'll probably have 3 to choose from - we're hoping he earn a full or near full ride at a 2nd school and the 3d is a state school doesn't have the $$$ for full scholarships, but has a respected program in his area and he can commute from. In the end, the room and board from the 1st two will prob match the tuition & commuting expenses from the 3rd one. The 529 plan shoudl cover about 75% of the remaining costs and I'll probably have him take out a loan for the rest if no other funding options come along.

Our daughter is 4 years younger and simply not the student he is. I doubt it will change much, so we'll push to get her involved in extra-curriculars more and work on her to maintain a B avg. I think we'll focus on starting at a local community college and look into transfering. We have a 529 for her also and , of course, will file a FAFSA when the time comes

#47180 - 12/30/11 11:08 PM Re: How did you get your kid through college? [Re: Joe Hurley]
4kids2 Offline

Registered: 12/30/11
Posts: 1
My first kid just graduated from a local private college with BS & MS degrees. He took about 5 years of studies to obtain these two degrees.

His total college expenses were about $91,000. How did we cover this $91,000? The breakdown:

Grants $8000
Scholarships $32000
529 Savings $30000
Student Loans $15000
Family $6000

Lessons learned:

1) He took 7 AP courses and 2 SUPA classes in high school. He had almost 50 college credit hours entering the college. However, all these credits did not help him graduate sooner.
2) He spent first two years in a local community college. I believed that's why his total expenses were $91,000, not $150,000.
3) I have 4 kids and I put all their savings in the UTMA/UGMA 529 saving plans. That's why he still able to get $8000 from governments.
4) His 529 savings is about half of his younger brother's savings. All because I traded stocks and lost a lot in his savings (before I put them into 529 plans.)
5) I got good size educational tax credits in last two years because he took out the student loans.

#47187 - 01/03/12 11:12 AM Re: How did you get your kid through college? [Re: 4kids2]
Joe Hurley Offline


Registered: 01/07/00
Posts: 2695
Loc: Pittsford, NY, USA
Great ideas! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and advice. Would love to hear from even more parents.


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