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Who's Paying for College?

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

I was recently sitting down with a student and we were talking about money and how college was getting paid for. In a perfect world, her parents either make enough money or have a nest egg so that she could go to any school. In a perfect world, schools wouldn't cost $60,000 a year. But that's all in a perfect world, right?

We're not in a perfect world. Her mom doesn't have enough money to pay for those kind of schools. So we're looking at plans A, B, C and even D so that she can afford school.

The number one rule: No student loans. This student is not going to start life in debt.

So how do you go to ANY college nowadays without loans? Especially if your parents aren't contributing or only have a little to offer?

Let's talk about your options!

If you're graduating in the year of 2019, things are going to be a little different than the classes after you. So I will help you all the best I can and we will get as creative as possible!

First off, be flexible.

Plans change and so do financial situations. When planning for college, my parents originally had money for me to attend a private university. But then life happened and the stock market crashed. A lot of my money was in the stock market, so we ended up having to take out student loans to cover the gap.

Be Understanding.

You must be willing to have adult conversations since college costs "adult" money. I say "adult" money because it's more than a pair of jeans, concert tickets, or getting that cup of coffee every day of the year. You have to have open ears and really be willing to hear what your true financial state is, in case you didn't know before.

Be Responsible.

Your parents are not responsible for college. If they offer to pay, it is a blessing and a gift. So at the end of the day, you are responsible for figuring out where the money is coming from. What all does that entail?

  1. Research scholarships - ok, that seems obvious. I'll go into those more below.

  2. Job

  3. Savings Account

  4. Alternative paths

Research Scholarships

Most high school teachers and counselors should mention different type of scholarships that you might qualify for. Looking back on my time in high school, my counselor should have recommended me to apply for scholarships specific to students applying to not-for-profit (private/non-profit) universities since I was going to a private Christian University. But, they didn't. They also didn't tell me about scholarships specific for students going to religious universities.

No counselor should assume that your family can pay for college. I say this because of this story:

A close friend of mine growing up (we'll call her Jane), had her world change in junior high when her parent divorced. Her dad had a well paying job as a lawyer and was even offered a job as a judge. He made a deal with Jane, if she lived part-time with him and her brothers, then he would pay for college. She agreed. However, when it came time for the check, he didn't deliver. It was never written down. This family lived in a beautiful home, in a well-off community. So one might assume that college was easy for her to afford.

When it comes down to it, you can't assume. There is a scholarship for just about every category you can think of. You just have to keep using keywords and be willing to spend the time to search. The best one out there now, starting with the graduating class of 2020 and those graduating after is here. All you have to do is track your application process! You can start as early as your freshman year. **Not all schools are participating with this program, however, it is worth it to try!


I recommend having a conversation about how much money is really available to you for college. A conversation that I had with a student revolved around looking at the money she is making from her part-time job and where she is spending that money.

If she wants to attend college, she has to find a way to pay for it. If she can't find scholarships, then we are looking at plan B - her part-time jobs.

Savings Account

This is biased towards a student that isn't helping their parents pay for rent, food, or any other responsibilities. This is for students that are able to save money.

What I wish I knew - I wish I knew the difference between a savings account and a college savings account. A college savings account earns more interest and you can take money out tax free when spending it on higher education. You can learn more here.

I plan to start an account for the future soon. If I don't have any kids in the future, it will be money for my niece (and other future nieces/ nephews to split) for college. I want to plan for the future sooner, one dollar at a time.

Alternative Paths

Many students have been told a 4-year university is the only way to get a job in the future. But let's talk about the truth and what your path really looks like. You have options:

  1. Junior college

  2. Trade school

  3. Working

  4. Military

  5. Certifications

Junior college gives you two options: a) getting your AA and then moving on to your next phase of life and/ or b) transferring to a 4-year, allowing you to save money.

Trade school allows you to learn a skill and go straight to work in little as 6-months to two-years. Many of these industries allow you to work while in school. The trade industry has a lot of hiring opportunities because a lot of people are going to universities instead.

Working allows you time to save money or get a job at a company to pays for classes (tuition reimbursement). If you find a company or job you love, you might not need to go to college if it is not needed.

Military has an amazing program called the GI Bill. By serving, you "earn" a tuition fund. If you're willing to specialize in something like medicine, you can see about enlisting and then going to school then serving. Always talk to the branch to see how much you would get for you service/ specialty.

Certifications are an amazing and cheaper option. After my sister got her degree in psychology and spent time to get her teacher's credential her senior year, she realized that she didn't want to do anything related to either field. She then took classes through the University of California, Irvine to get certified for Human Relations (HR). She started working in the HR department and now works in payroll.

Be Proactive.

You have to be willing to take charge every single day if you want to make this happen. You have to be willing to not only fill out/ write the necessary items for scholarships but to look for them. You have to become creative with your own finances. Maybe that means not going out to lunch with your friends every Friday (like I did) or buying those concert tickets every spring (like some of my friends).

There is always money that goes unclaimed every year for scholarships and grants, so you can find money! I believe in you!



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