Julie’s Note: The following is a guest post by Cheri Frame. Cheri is a mother of college-aged children and when I read about her family’s non-traditional approach to paying for college, I asked her if she would write about it for The Family CEO. She graciously agreed. You can read more about it at Cheri’s website, Credits Before College.
Sometimes your toes have to get pinched before you decide to take off your shoes and run the race your own way. Some can line up at the starting line decked out in expensive name brand shoes and after miles of running, their shoes won’t even look like they’ve been in a race. Then there are those of us who line up wearing the same old shoes we always wear knowing if we embark on the same journey our feet are going to feel the pain! The goal of finishing is the same, but we need an alternative route if we want to avoid permanent damage.
Paying for college left me feeling like I could not finish the race when all I had to wear were some pretty worn sneakers. Returning home after teaching overseas at a missionary school for one year, left our savings depleted. So having three kids, four years apart and being a single-income family forced us to be creative when it came to helping our kids afford college degrees. To date, two have recently finished college, graduating from a 4-year university, earning their accredited degrees for under $6,000 each. Neither applied for or received any scholarships, nor were they awarded any financial aid.
How’d we do it? By investing time in research and planning long before they were of college-age. When my oldest was in 6th grade, I heard about Credit-by-Exam. Essentially, students can earn college credit by testing out of introductory-level college courses. Two nationally-recognized CBE programs are the College Level Exam Program offered by the College Board and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests offered by Prometric. The exams cost about $100 each and are accepted at 2,900 colleges nationwide. This saved us thousands of dollars in tuition.
We also took advantage of our state’s dual enrollment program which allows 11th and 12th grade students to attend college full-time for free. Not every state offers this, but we are fortunate to live in a state where tuition and books are covered.
This was not a plan we just stumbled upon. I spent hours upon hours understanding our options and discovering how the system works. Avoiding debt to create opportunities was our goal. Now, my oldest is half way through earning his Master’s Degree, paying for it as he goes along. My middle is just graduating this year, so she is deciding on a direction and a summer adventure. Without a mortgage, kids or student loans, these are the years to pursue their dreams. “Have Backpack, Will Travel” is their motto!
If you want to consider these options, here are a few tips:
1. Plan early. When your kids are in middle school is a good time to know your options.
2. You can use the FAFSA 4caster to get an early start on understanding the Financial Aid process and get an early estimate of your eligibility for federal student aid.
3. Teach your teens Financial Literacy. Have them earn money, create a budget, and help them understand the costs of living. If they know how much it will cost them to own a car and live in an apartment, they might be more on board when you suggest alternatives to the traditional college path that could land them in debt that will likely take a decade to pay off.
4. Shop around for courses. If you can earn those same credits more cheaply through community college, summer courses, or credit-by-exam, then do it!
Cheri is a homeschool parent who has been offering extremely valuable workshops to families for five years. She keeps up a blog and website sharing resources and ideas www.CreditsBeforeCollege.com