Pay For College Without Loans

Plan A: A high school senior found her right-fit school, that is, it was the right size, the right lattes, the right ambiance, the right major, the right geography, the right mascot, and even a right financial aid package that left her struggling parents with an out-of-pocket expense of $14,500 at a $45,000-a-year school.

I say “struggling” parents because $14,500 was still hard to materialize, but they said they’d find a way, whatever that meant. But out of nowhere, a wrong-fit college sent the student a free application, and on a whim the student submitted it. The college came back with a student financial aid package that left the parents with a total out-of-pocket cost of $2,900.

A no-brainer, right? It’s now an easy decision to attend this college.

After the first semester, the student announces that she really doesn’t like her college and wants to be a student transfer. The parents are in a panic: the remaining three years of grants for college, worth a total of $75,000, are down the tubes. Ouch!

Almost spasmodically, the student applies to six private colleges in California, which are in the same league as the school she wants to leave, naively assuming that she would receive the same financial student aid package that she was forfeiting. Only one on her list of private colleges offers her a $5,000 grant, but the parents have to come up with another $42,000. Even when parents are relying more on grants to help pay for college, reality strikes. The dollar amount is simply too much.

Plan B: She can stay where she is and “gut it out,” meaning, she can stay in a liberal arts curriculum with the intent of developing her thinking, writing, and communication skills for any profession. This is not unrealistic, despite how idealistic it may look; it can be argued that college is for developing, nurturing, and maximizing communication skills. Any employer would agree with the previous statement, which parents wrongfully ignore.

Plan C: She can come home, lose her remaining three years of college grants and scholarships worth $75,000 (ouch!), and find a no-skills-necessary job in this downward economy. Good luck.

Plan D: She can transfer to a near-home community college and use a Stafford loan to pay for her second year of college, get her core courses out of the way, and do it all with no financial obligation from the parents in the second year of college. Then, with a degree from a community college, she can transfer to an in-state state college for a lot less money than what she would pay at any of the private colleges to which she applied.

Plan E: She can bypass local community colleges and transfer to an in-state state college where the parents’ out-of-pocket costs stay under $10,000.