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Dear Liz: I have some very important questions regarding my son who is going to be attending a private university next year. He is going to be a student athlete (he golfs), which does not help very much financially. We’re shocked at the cost and do not have enough saved. We were counting on selling our home and downsizing to pay for his education, but got caught up in the real estate downturn. We need some help and advice on how we can get access to the free money that I know is out there. We also have two other boys, 13 and 6. We will start immediately saving for their college.

Answer: The “free money” you know is out there may not be the answer to your problems.

Yes, there are scholarships your boy might get to help pay for his education. But if he receives any financial aid from the university, those scholarships may reduce the amount he gets in grants — another form of financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back.

If, on the other hand, he doesn’t get any grants, the scholarships could reduce the amount of loans he’d otherwise need to take out. He can start his search for scholarships at FastWeb.com.

You definitely should apply for financial aid from the university, if you haven’t already. (FinAid.org’s estimated family contribution calculator can give you a rough idea of how much you’ll be expected to chip in, although the school’s actual package may differ somewhat.)

Then take a hard look at what this education is going to cost you. You may not be able to afford it. If you would have to stint on your retirement, or your son would have to borrow more than the federal student loan limits ($5,500 for his freshman year), you probably need to look for other alternatives.

One option is for your son to live at home and attend a two-year college to get some of his requirements out of the way. Another is an in-state school, or one with a golf team that wants him badly enough to offer a better merit-based package of aid. FinAid.org offers resources and ideas for getting an affordable education, as does college expert Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s workbook, “Shrinking the Cost of College,” available on her website, TheCollegeSolution.com.

What you don’t want to do is bankrupt yourself, or consign yourself or your son to huge student loan debts. No education is worth a lifetime of debt, particularly when other options are available (and you have two other kids to educate).

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Categories : College, College Savings, Q&A

4 Comments

1

Quit worrying about college for your kid. He’s eighteen now and should be perfectly capable of figuring out life for himself. He can work full time and go to school part time, paying for it as he goes. He can work like crazy to get grants and scholarships. Regardless, it’s not your responsibility. Unless you can afford to throw money away anyways, you can’t afford to pay for his education.

2

A lot of families feel college education IS their responsibility, and they’re willing to make sacrifices to help make sure their children get one. Without a college degree, it’s going to be tough to even stay in the middle class int he 21st century, let alone get ahead economically. The important thing is that they get an education they can afford.

3

When I told my parents I wanted to go to an out of state Big Ten University (which ran around $25,000 per year) they told me they would support me 100%……as long as I joined the military and got a scholarship. They helped me out just as much as I needed, with rent and grocery money here and there, and of course free unlimited use of the washer and dryer on weekends, but that’s it. They told me that they weren’t going to give me $100,000 of their hard earned money, because I was 18 and I could do it myself. Without a scholarship (they didn’t care if it was ROTC money or a sports or academic scholarship….except that my grades weren’t that great and I didn’t play sports) they would happily support me living at home for 2 years then going to an in-state university. I chose the Army and, three years and a tour in Iraq later, I’m still happy I did.

The point is, there’s plenty of free money out there and it’s not on the parents to provide it. I would argue that it would do an injustice to the kid to provide a fully funded education because college is where we really learn how to fend for ourselves. It’s an environment where we can make dumb mistakes and not have long term consequences (sometimes) and where we learn to manage money by living off stovetop Ramen. There’s a ton of money out there to be had for college educations–let the kids prove they want an education by finding that money and earning their education–they’ll learn so much more.

4

You sound like a remarkable young woman. But that college money certainly wasn’t free–you paid for it by promising years of service and your willingness to put your life on the line.