How did you pay for college? Especially if you didn't have a lot of money…

posted 10 months ago in Parenting
Post # 91
560 posts
Busy bee
  • Wedding: September 2018

IMO, at 18, she needs to do community college first. No 18 year old these days needs to be sent states away to fend for themselves. I do know plenty who do it though, and it’s often a colossal failure. I used to work at a college as an academic advisor and saw it constantly.

If your financial situation permits, try Pell grants. She should definitely qualify for scholarships. See her school guidance counselor for a list. Most have them. 

Student loans are not the devil they are made out to be either.

Post # 92
235 posts
Helper bee
  • Wedding: May 2019

I see a lot of people saying that an in state public school would be less expensive. That is NOT TRUE. (At least, not necessarily). In my experience, a private liberal arts school may look like more money on paper, but they give significantly more financial aid than public schools. A private school has way more money to dole out and fewer students to give it to. With all of your daughter’s accomplishments, she should receive quite a bit.

That said, I did still have student loans. I think in this era, they’re a necessary evil. Just be sure that you get the best interest rate possible. My interest rates were somewhere around 6% and after 5 years, I’m almost done paying them off. On the flip side, my fiance went to an in state public school and his interest rate was around 12%! If he hadn’t refinanced, he would have been paying them off for at least another decade.

Post # 93
106 posts
Blushing bee

When I was in high school my dad had a lot of money and told me that I would never have to worry about paying for college. I didn’t work in high school and he didn’t want to work during college either because he wanted me to only focus on school. After my first year semester some things happened and he could no longer afford my schooling so I moved back home and paid for myself to go to community college. After my two years there, I decided I wanted to continue my education at one of the top universities in the state but FAFSA wouldn’t give me enough in loans to cover even half of it so my mom SO GENEROUSLY got a parent-plus loan out for me. It is through FAFSA but the loan is in her name and can never be transferred to me. Now that I am out of school, I just have the loan directly come out of my bank account and I pay it as if it was my own. 

My sister is just starting nursing school but for her college career so far she has just taken as many classes as she can afford on her own. Thankfully, the university she is going to is within driving distance so she can live at home to save money. 

If she had an in-state college that she loved then that would be obviously SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper BUT my cousin is also a senior in H.S. and wanted to go out of state. My aunt did some research and although I’m sure every state is different, if he worked at least 30 hours (I believe) for 3 months straight then he qualifies for in-state tuition. So he was just going to take a class or two so he could work and the following semester be able to get it cheaper. The downside to that is though that I don’t think you can live on campus if you only are taking a class or two. 

Almost every person I talk to that moved away to a large university right after H.S. says that they wished they would have stayed home and went to community college for a year or two first though. As long as you confirm that your credits will tranfer, it is SO much cheaper and easier. The classes end up being easier too so for me, it was a nice transition. I got to get the feel of college classes without as much pressure. The large university I went to excpected so much more from you so the community college classes were SO nice. Although, it sounds like your daughter will flourish anywhere which is so amazing. I feel weirdly proud of her even though I don’t know her or you haha

Going to a large university means you are going to have debt unless you are CRAZY RICH. The parent plus loan was the only option for me and I just made a deal with my mom that it would be my loan to pay back. It is so unfortunate. But, those are my personal experiences with all of it so hopefully as least some of this will be helpful for you. 

Post # 94
9548 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: March 2014 - Chicago, IL

I’m late to this thread. 

I agree with those that say an in-state, state school. Honestly, my biggest mistake was going to a private school. I do not believe it gave me any advantages that a state school would not have given me. It was absolutely not worth the $200k+ that it cost.

I was valedictorian of my HS and got 0 scholarships. I had some help from my family, but ended up taking a substantial amount of student loans out to pay for it. I 10000% believe my trajectory would have been the same, maybe better if I would have gone the state school route. I could have kept my same major, and actually, I might have gotten research experience that would have allowed me to go straight into my PhD instead of wasting 2 years on a master’s degree.

Now that I’m paying on my loans, I am full of ragerts.

Post # 95
25 posts

I agree with what everyone else said about picking an in-state school. Tuition is cheaper than out-of-state. There must be a good 4-year college where you live…? Even if it’s a couple hours drive away, she could always stay there for the year and find a part-time job while in college.

It is 100% possible to have your child go to college without money. My parents did not pay a single cent of my college and living fees, even though they had to sign a paper for the rental place because I was a poor college student. My parents are dirt poor. The only reason why we aren’t on the streets is because of my aunt who very generously rents out a little house for us. Yes, I had debt, but I managed to pay it off within 1-2 years. Also accept only as much as you need for loans (they will give you an estimate of the costs) and you really don’t need as much as they give you. Find people to room with to save on living costs. Rent books, or buy and then resell them to students in the next class. Take a part-time job. There are student career centers on campus that have lists of jobs for students that are easy for entry level newbies to get into. Or get a paid internship in your field. These will help with small costs like groceries and give you some pocket money for entertainment.

Post # 96
1391 posts
Bumble bee

Your daughter sounds a lot like me at that age!  My parents had the money to pay for college, but they thought it was important that I pay my own way.  It was honestly one of the best experiences for me, because I took a lot of pride in earning it myself and frankly, I appreciated it so much more — for example, I took care of my books so I could sell them back, ate the food in my dorm that was included in my living plan, didn’t skip class, etc.  On the other hand, my roommate’s parents paid her way and she was far less responsible.  Granted, though, college wasn’t nearly expensive back when I did it (I graduated in undergrad in 2000 at it was like $7K per year and law school in 2003, which was $20K per year).  But this is how I did it:

Undergrad (University of Minnesota – public):

– Chose an in-state public university so my tutition costs were lower.  My other option was University of Wisconsin, which had a reciprocity agreement so I could have gone there for the price of MN tuition.  I’d look into that! 

– Applied for every possible merit-based scholarship I could find while in HS and landed one that helped a little ($2K per year I think).

– Worked a bunch of jobs year-round (I worked on campus for the athletics program and ticket office so I could get some hours in between classes and I was also a waitress … plus did extra jobs in the summer, like being a temp in an office).

– Graduated without needing to take out any loans.

Law School (William Mitchell College of Law – private):

– Got small a merit-based scholarship ($5K maybe?)

– Took out some student loans but also kept working so I didn’t have to have loans for the full amount of the cost.  My first year I worked part-time in the law school admissions office and my second and third years I was a law clerk for a firm and worked about 30 hrs per week.  

– Kept my cost of living down as much as possible until after I graduated.

– Made arragements to pay off my loans as quickly as I could to avoid getting hit with bigger bills down the road.

– This may not be applicable, but my government job has a loan-forgiveness program for people who work in public service for so many years …. not sure exactly how it works since it was started too late for me to qualify, but it’s worth looking into whether things like this exist on the other side of school.

Hope this helps!

 PS I think living on campus in the dorms and having that full college experience is really important.  My parents lived in MN and I went to a state school only 15 min away, but I still lived on campus and felt very independent.  On the other hand, when my computer freaked out and lost all my notes the night before finals, or I needed to do laundry because the laundramat machines were broken, they were close enough to help out.  

PSS  One other thing.  As a younger adult it didn’t occur to me how important it was to go to school where I eventually wanted to live.  I too got all excited about schools in far away places (during a MN winter it’s pretty easy to think law school in CA looks amazing–ha!) but here’s the thing.  While in school, you tend to meet people who will be connections down the road.  You tend to do internships in places that might eventually hire you full-time.  If you go to graduate school and are in a program that requires examinations for licensing (like the bar exam for lawyers), you learn things in school that are pertinent to that state’s exam but maybe not other state’s exams.  Etc. etc. etc.  So sure, I could have gone to law school in CA, but I never wanted to live there – I always intended to settle down close to my family for the long-haul.  Trying to come back to MN to find a job in a competative market after being away for years in school would have been REALLY hard.  Whereas being in MN for school, all those opportunities just sort of developed for me.  Plus, all the friends I made in college tended to stick around the area, and we are all still friends at age 40 with kids.  Just something to think about …

PSSS (can’t seem to stop!  LOL)  I disagree with the comments telling her to start off at community college.  She has a stellar academic record and can attend a well-ranked university.  She will not get a typical college experience at community college … at least at my university (which was a huge “Big10” school), the only real “college experience” was freshman year in the dorms – that’s where I met all my friends, got involved in campus activities, etc.  After freshman year, people tended to move off campus with the friends they met their first year.  I think it would be hard to transfer into a unversity as a sophomore or junior and actually make friends and feel connected to the school.  Plus, going to community college might actually hurt her career prospects in the long run depending on what she ends up doing professionally.  

There are so many forms of aid available these days, and tons of private scholaships.  You just have to do your research to find them!

Post # 97
10199 posts
Sugar Beekeeper
  • Wedding: November 2010

desertgypsy :  

If there is any possible alternative, I beseech you to do everything you can to keep Dirty Delete from taking out student loans.  They have been the bane of my very existence for my entire adult life, and that’s a very long time.

For what I thought get I was doing, a state school wouldn’t work.  I listened to horrendously bad advice and borrowed a lot of money.

Additionally, I worked full time.  I worked through undergrad, I worked through grad school, and I worked through law school. That part turned out fine.

Unfortunately, because the schools were proprietary, I needed loans to cover tuition.

I honestly rank taking out student loans up there with marrying my ex on my list of Stupid Things I Wish I Hadn’t Done list.

Post # 98
9555 posts
Buzzing Beekeeper
  • Wedding: City, State

No advice cause I didn’t go to college but I just wanted to say you’re a great mom who has raised great, happy, kids so don’t get down on yourself over this. Where there is a will, there is a way. 

ETA: Could she do her basics at maybe a community college while saving up for the big college?

Post # 99
1142 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: October 2016

As many others have mentioned: consider public/in-state schools, but don’t rule out the private schools either. A lot of private schools are able to offer significant financial aid packages that larger public schools can’t. 

FAFSA is a must. CollegeBoard website is a good tool. Apply for any scholarship she could even remotely qualify for – check local and state-wide ones as well as any of the bigger “national” level kinds – google is your friend here! Aside from the tuition/fees/room and board, books and supplies are hella expensive – she should definitely be working to pay for at least those, plus some spending money while in school. 

I went to a private school and received an academic scholarship good for my 4 years there (based on my HS GPA), I also received a need-based grant (free money basically), I took out loans and my parents paid some too. 

Darling Husband went to the same school, didn’t fill out the FAFSA every year and took out a BOATLOAD of private loans – huge mistake. He graduated 7 years ago with over $100k in student loan debt. He  worked like crazy to be able to get it down to its current total of $30k, but it meant living at home for much longer than he wanted, it put off our home-buying plans and engagement longer than he wanted, all due to the debt. He could’ve received the same degree at any one of our state schools for at least 1/2 the cost. 

I’d have her consider her job prospects upon graduating – expected entry-level salary, where would she live, how much would her daily expenses be? Run the numbers – if she takes out X amount in loans, how much is she paying a month? Is that realistic for the career path she wants? Or will it mean she has to live at home to keep her budget intact? 

Post # 100
2617 posts
Sugar bee
  • Wedding: April 2017 - Valleybrook Country Club

I work in banking and I will tell you that the default rate on student loans is high. I would use them as a last resort or for a small portion if possible, but definitely not as the only source of payment. 

Take a look at local redit unions, many offer scholarships/grants in the begining of the year. They’re usually small amounts, but every dollar counts!

Also do research on grants. Look at local schools, chairties, and organizations that give a grant to kids who fall into certain criteria such as a one parent household, or a nursing student, or a soccer player. Many times these grants are in honor of someone and if she shares something in common, she could be eligible.

Post # 102
2360 posts
Buzzing bee

trishthedish23 :  The loan rates have to do with the type of loan, rather than the type of school. It sounds like even though he went to public school and you went to private, you have federal loans and he has private loans. A 12% loan has to be a private loan, because the unsubsidized federal loans cap out at a little over 6% (with the unsubsidized ones being 5%, and Plus loans for parents/grad studnets being under 8%). 

anothernewbee16 :  Well, I went to community college and it hasn’t hurt my career propsects one bit. I was offered a full time job with benefits before graduation and now I’m doing a (fully funded) phd at an ivy league. I transferred to UCLA, so I did still get to go to a “well ranked university”, though I got into several that were more prestigious and chose UCLA because they offered me a full ride and then some. Transfer students typically only list the school they graduated from on their resume, so unless I tell people I went to CC first they wouldn’t know.

To your point about missing out on college life, I think it really depends on the school. I didn’t personally have a lot of interest in having the typical experience, but I had a number of friends who were also transfer students and who did choose to live in the dorms for their junior/senior years. Also, close to a third of graduating students are transfers in the UC system, so there were lots of other new students coming in as juniors who weren’t settled into cliques. I found it easy to make friends there. 

That’s not to say that I think it’s the best path for everyone, but I think it’s important to clear up some misconceptions. Community college gets an undeservedly bad rap.

ETA: 4 year colleges do typically have a lot of perks and facilities that CCs do not, so I’d always recommend students apply to those (and all the aid available) first, but tell them not to despair if the finances make them out of reach. It’s totally possible to get an affordable education from a highly-ranked school without going as a freshman. IMO the challenges of going to CC are not the ones you describe – my biggest problems were misinformed counselors, apathetic teachers (though I also had great ones), and low morale among the students. I was also embarrassed at the time to tell people I was going to CC because a lot of people are judgey and assume that means you couldn’t get into a better school or aren’t ambitious, though in retrospect I had nothing to be embarrassed about. I think the biggest risk is that those things will turn less motivated students off and lead to dropouts. Once I transferred I didn’t have any issues. 

Post # 103
1 posts

Hey op, I couldn’t read through all of this right now so sorry if this doesn’t apply but check out WUE, Western Undergraduate Exchange.  It’s a program that allows students in Western states to go out of state to public colleges for reduced tuition (sometimes same price as an in state student pays).  There are some great small public colleges in CA that are small and comparable to private colleges (UC Merced for example). 

I am a high school counselor and always hear everyone say community college because of money but I suggest she apply all over, sometimes you’d be surprised and community college isn’t always the cheaper route.  Some of my students can go to a 4 year school for the same price after scholarships and aid is factored in. I am a product of community college so not downing it but I get her wanting a 4 year college experience especially after she has worked so hard. Good luck! 


Post # 104
20 posts
  • Wedding: May 2022

Hi! I want to start out by saying that you sound like a great mom and you should be so proud about raising such an accomplished young woman.

I completely disagree with the advice to only consider community college or an in state public school. Sure, apply. For an AVERAGE student, these schools will be cheaper, but a top student is MORE likely to get full scholarships at private schools out of state, as they have more money and want to attract students throughout the country. Basically, the top students at SOME private schools end up having their tuition completely paid for. What does this mean? I think it means that your daughter should apply to her dream schools, and other good schools where she would be a top candidate, but BEFORE she applies, you and her should talk about how even if she gets in, it would only be feasible for her to go if she gets $X in scholarships. Which might be tough, to get into your dream school and decide not to go for financial reasons, so make sure you are up front before she decides to apply. 

You might qualify for need based grants as well, but these would often be loans and would not cover everything. Her goal should be a full tuition academic scholarship.

About me: my family was lower middle class growing up, and I have 3 older brothers. My family explained to me that they could not and would not pay for any of my college. Not having loans was my highest priority. I was a top student, I had a perfect SAT score and above a 4.0 GPA, did lots of extracurriculars, the whole shebang. I applied for a mix of in state schools, Ivy League, and out of state schools. I ended up getting a full academic scholarship (tuition and books and living expenses) from a great out of state school that recruited me, and I went there indtesd of an amazing school (my dream school) which was still $45,000 a year after scholarships. I got only small scholarships at the in state schools, so for me, it would have been more expensive for me to go there. I do sometimes wonder what my life would’ve been like if I went to my dream school, but it’s so nice not having to worry about loans, unlike my peers. I am saving a lot of money for a house and in my 401k.


So your daughter should apply for a mix of schools, ESPECIALLY the one that is recruiting her, and see how much they will end up costing. Ignore those calculators; they are not accurate for top students.

Post # 105
1024 posts
Bumble bee
  • Wedding: June 2012

We have some fancy liberal arts schools here too, to the tune of $50k/yr. and we are an educated family, pretty much everyone has masters or more.

and there is no way in hell I’d pay for those schools. Not worth it IMO. Sure it’s a great experience but not to the tune of $200k. Now if my kid got into Berkeley or Stanford, hell yeah I’d write out that check. Cuz it’s worth it. But a good private liberal arts school? Nope, he can get his butt to the U of M then. 

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