Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Myth of the Debt Free Degree

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For this week’s post, I would like to introduce a first-time guest contributor Celest Horton, founder of How To Pay For College HQ.  Celest earned her college degree without taking on any student debt, and today she will share some of her secrets with you!

Student loan debt in the US is getting out of control.  Recent news reports have stated that the National Student Loan Debt is currently $1.1 Trillion and it continues to climb, translating into an average student loan debt per graduating student of $26,600.  With low starting salaries right out of college, it is often difficult for recent graduates to keep up with their student loan payments while also covering their basic day-to-day living expenses, which often results in new college graduates being forced to move back in with their parents to help make their ends meet without going further into debt.
The biggest problem attributing to this crisis is that most people just default to student loans to finance college not realizing that there is hope and options.  I am here to tell you that it is possible to pay for college without loans and I support a community at How to Pay for College HQ who are eager to learn how for themselves.  I was able to do it myself so I KNOW it is possible.  It takes some time, planning and positioning, but it can be done.
Here are 3 basic steps to get started towards that very goal: 

1. Dual Purpose Time in High School:
Research ways and encourage your student to take college classes or earn college credit while still in High School.

  • There is Dual and Concurrent Enrollment that allows students to earn High School and College credit simultaneously.
  • Early Enrollment allows students to take college courses independent of High School classes.
  • AP Courses (and passing the ensuing exam) also allows a way to earn College Credit while in High School at a fraction of the cost.

Now for Dual Enrollment and Early Enrollment there are fees to pay for the college credits, but they are at the Community College cost schedule and that is over an 82% cost savings over University classes – two classes (3 hours each for 6 total credits) can be taken for under $500 total.  Working a part time job, the student can help contribute to the tuition and will be far along toward the goal of earning their degree without loans!
Added Advantages:
  • You could earn an Associate's degree before graduating High School, which usually requires 60 to 64 credit hours, depending upon the state’s mandate for the course of study.
  • Eliminates duplication of coursework those first few years of college.
  • Potential to finish a Bachelor’s Degree in less than four years and ultimately save thousands of dollars on tuition.    
2. College Choice 
When it comes time to pick a college it is important to pick one that is financially smart.  Many people falsely believe that the school of choice will have a direct correlation to the success that their student will achieve in life and their overall lifetime earning potential.  The reality is that it really doesn’t matter from where the degree is earned.  The success of any individual is based upon their drive, ability to network and willingness to continually learn and grow. 
It is important when looking into colleges that the list be narrowed down to ones that can be paid for by the parents and student working together as a team.  By utilizing savings, grants, scholarships, and college Merit Aid a student should be able to attend a financially smart school choice without the use of loans. 

3. Actively Search Funding
Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Federal Aid), no matter what your family’s income status.  The first FAFSA should be completed the Base Year, which starts the January of the junior year in high school.  The FAFSA will need to be completed each year while your student is in college, leading to more opportunities until graduation for State or Federal funding as family circumstances can change.  One important circumstance that could change is having more than one child in college at the same time.  The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will suddenly be divided by how many siblings are in college, leading to many more opportunities for need based help.  I myself will have three kids in college at once and it’s reassuring to know that in that situation there will be hope for HELP.
Make sure to complete the FAFSA every year!   There are federal grants available and we don’t want to leave any money on the table.   Every dollar counts!
Focus on preparing for Standardized Tests (ACT or SAT) while maintaining good grades (High GPA & Class Rank) in school, all of which can be helpful when trying to be awarded Merit Aid from a college.  Merit Aid is money that a college has set aside to attract students that will make them look better for statistical purposes.  If there is something that a particular college likes about your student they will offer them Merit Aid to try and convince them to attend.  It is another form of free money that doesn’t need to be repaid and, for a good student, there is often a lot of potential for Merit Money because it is not based on need and only achievement.
Start looking for local scholarships where the entry pool is much smaller.  They may represent smaller dollar values, yet they do add up and often are renewable over four years.  Use online tools & books to help you find additional scholarships. Be mindful that there are some scams out there trying to get you to pay money for scholarship links. A few trusted and recommended sites to start your search are FastWeb and College Board’s Scholarship Search.   Mark your calendar with the application's deadlines and make sure that you are a good fit for the scholarship requirements.
Students and parents can often lose sleep over the concerns of how to pay for college.  As a society, our main goal should be to help position new college graduates to start their professional careers on a solid footing and without the weight of student loan debt.
Can you think of any other suggestions that would help a High School student reach their goal to pay for college without loans?  I would love you hear your thoughts and feedback.

Celest Horton is the founder of How to Pay for College HQ, which offers weekly podcasts posted every Wednesday as well as helpful hints regarding FASFA and many other resources.  Celest graduated from college debt free and is making great strides to help her four children and other students across the country do the same.  Follow Celest on Twitter at @celesthorton.

You can check out my guest podcast with Celest HERE.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The College Cost Talk

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I’m pleased to have back a very special guest Wendy David-Gaines, blogger and author for Parents of College-bound Students (POCS).  Today she will be hitting on a crucial issue – the college affordability talk between parents and their college/grad school-bound students.  Take it away, Wendy!

There are two dreaded topics parents must discuss with their children that strike fear into both of them. These are the famous birds and bees convo and the college cost talk.

When teens are preparing for higher education, it’s time to chat seriously about money. However, parents can’t expect a meaningful talk about college finance if students don’t understand the concept of affordability.

Before tackling the issues of money management, budgeting and banking, parents and students need to share their views about how paying for college will impact their future finances. Here are four major points to consider during the college affordability cost talk:

For what it’s worth Unless a degree is earned in a timely manner, costs are going to escalate. Affordability is tied to commitment and dedication to complete college no matter the source of college finance. The money often comes from federal and state financial aid, institutional funds, scholarship awards from private sources and cash contributed by the family. Parents and others may help but students must be vested in the process or they lack incentive to do their best.

Truth in lending Most families must borrow to purchase big ticket items like houses, cars and higher education. The problem is when debt accumulates to the point of financial inability to repay. Although there are education loans for students and others for parents to take out for their child’s education, there is no loan for retirement. Before borrowing, both parents and students may project expected monthly repayments to see what they can each afford.

Theory of relativity As strange as it may seem, many high earners cry poverty. That’s because affordability is not about how much money a person has but how much is left after paying expenses. Parents may suggest their student project their future wages and compare it with their desired lifestyle to keep their college and beyond goals realistic.

Declaration of independence True financial independence is achieved when adult children are self-supporting. Parents must be frank with their children about how much financial support they are willing to contribute now and in the future. Like sponsors of grants, scholarships and loans, parents should also disclose strings attached and under what circumstances, if any, funds are to be repaid. This way, before acceptance, students will be able to decide if they can afford their parent’s terms.

The college cost talk is most effective in the context of affordability. It’s important for parents and students to consider their own positions, communicate their views and continue the dialogue.

Wendy David-Gaines, aka POCSmom, provides information and insights about the parent role in the college process to make it less stressful and more fun for the college-bound and their families. She is founder of, author of Parents Of College Students survival stories, and Long Island mother of two children who have graduated from college with self-supporting jobs. She is the Long Island College Prep Examiner for

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

From Community College to Law School?

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Can a community college student thrive in law school?  Well, California is about to find out.  Recent California legislation, which is entitled the Community Colleges Pathway to Law School Initiative, has partnered twenty-four community colleges with six in-state law schools and their undergraduate campuses to offer a smoother pathway to law school.  Students’ community school credits will be transferable.  Furthermore, they will receive counseling, tutoring, mentoring, networking opportunities, access to law school faculty, financial aid counseling and LSAT preparation.  Additionally, when the students go to apply to law school, their application fees will be waived for the six law schools.
This sounds like a pretty sweet deal.  Community college is far more affordable than an undergraduate degree, and the application waiver makes for a nice bonus.  Not to mention, all of the opportunities that are provided to these students, such as the LSAT prep and networking opportunities, exceeds what most undergraduate students typically receive (unless they go about it themselves, expending their own time and/or money).
So, what’s the catch?  Law school admittance is still not guaranteed.  These students are applying to top California law schools and competing with students across the country.  And, as the success level of this program hasn’t been tested, could they potentially be setting up community school graduates for a rude awakening?  What are they missing by not following the traditional route?  Arguably, undergraduate courses and schedules are more tedious than that of a community college.  Considering that the difficulty of law school courses and schedules is double, if not triple, of that required for undergraduate classes, skipping this crucial step could be quite shocking.  Further, if the reason for attending a community college over an undergraduate education was due to financial hardship, what will happen when they have to shell out some $100,000 to pay for tuition?  Will community college courses be sufficiently competitive for scholarship opportunities with the schools and/or outside scholarship programs?  Maybe not.  And, in today’s legal job market, a debt that significant could drown any person.
What are your thoughts?  Would you bypass a college degree for a community college education?