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All Dressed Up and No Way to Pay

Financial Planning

September 2003

All Dressed Up and No Way to Pay

There you are, all dressed up in your graduation gown, marching down the aisle, and preparing to receive your high school diploma. As you sit there, you reflect on your struggles through the toughest 12 years of your life and you think of how great the next four years will be; no parents to tell you what to do, freedom to come and go from your dorm or apartment as you please, and all those great college parties! Of course, those parties are going to cost something; to have a great party, you have to spend a few bucks. That leads you to think about the cost of living at college in general and that leads you to think about what your college education will cost and…Oh, no, you think, mom and dad aren’t rich. They’re not going to have the money to put me through college. How am I going to pay for it! What about my education? What about all that freedom I want? Forget that stuff, what about the parties?

Ok, we admit that the preceding story is not very realistic. In the first place, most self-respecting high school seniors are not going to be thinking about financing their college education during their commencement ceremonies. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that graduation day is a day to celebrate and thinking about paying thousands of dollars for someone to give them homework isn’t a proper use of “graduation day” time.

Second, by the time graduation rolls around, most college bound students have already applied to their colleges of choice and have a fairly decent idea of where they are going and, hence, how they will pay their way. This isn’t always true, but high school guidance counselors being pushy like they are (it’s their job) do their best to help students apply for college admission and financing.

About the only thing we can almost guarantee as true in our story is the part about “partying” and since our liability insurance doesn’t extend to party planning, we’ll pass on discussing anything in that arena. Instead, we want to talk about a few ways to help you finance your college education, and at an average cost of $21,500 per year, that’s no small feat.

First of all, we realize that many high school seniors will look straight at their parents when the financing discussion starts with that look that says, “Mom, Dad, I think it’s time I leave alone so you can figure out how to meet your obligations to me.” Unfortunately, Mom and Dad don’t always have the capacity to pay for college, either out of their pockets or out of their child’s college fund. Many times, it’s up to you to pitch in and help with college expenses. Unfortunately, you may be forced to entirely finance your own education. The real question, then, is “ How are you going to meet your responsibility to yourself?”

Be Realistic

Be realistic about what your parents’ resources combined with your own resources can do. If you have plenty of resources don’t worry, but if your budget is limited, take a look at alternatives to going to good old State University and living in the dorm. What are those alternatives? Well, you may have a good community college or even a branch of State University in your hometown. Many community colleges offer programs that will get you through your freshman and sophomore years at a much lower cost than State University’s cost. Staying at home and taking courses at a local community college or branch campus of State University will save tremendously on housing and other living expenses. The tuition per semester hour at a community college is often lower than that of a four-year university. If you are able to work during this time, you might be able to sock away enough to help pay for your final years at State University.

Perhaps you can’t afford to go to school full-time and pay your living expenses. Many students are in this position. There’s nothing wrong with going to school part-time and working part-time. If necessary, work full-time and go to night school. Yes, these options will make your college career much longer, but you’ll reach your goal without going into debt.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Have you ever thought about applying for a scholarship, but decided you probably wouldn’t get it with your 3.1 grade point average? You can be honest; nobody’s reading your mind right now.

If you can honestly answer “no,” we congratulate you. If you can honestly answer “yes,” stop selling yourself short. While it’s true that most scholarships have grade point average requirements, they aren’t always as bad as you think. Many scholarships accept a grade point average of 3.0 or greater. Additionally, many scholarships are degree oriented. This means that you’re not competing with the world, only with those students who plan on earning the same degree your going after.

Sometimes, subjective factors can weigh in on who gets what scholarships. Say, for instance, you want to be a journalist and one of the criteria for a scholarship is a written essay. You may not have the best GPA of all the applicants, but if you meet the standards and write a really great essay, you may jump ahead of the competition on the basis of your essay. Just like a talented athlete, your innate talent in some other field could be your best ally in getting a scholarship.

The point is, go for everything that you reasonably believe might relate to your field of study. You have nothing to lose and a great deal of scholarship money to gain. There are many sources of information on the web and in print to help you start your search for scholarship money.

Be a Joiner

Some organizations actually provide college financing for their members. ROTC programs offer great benefits if you can get them. Of course, military service will be required after college graduation. If you are already in college and just need a little help to keep going, many fraternal organizations offer scholarship assistance to their members. Of course, just being a member will be a financial burden in itself, but if you are already a fraternity or sorority member, check into scholarships available from your national organization.

Many times, smaller scholarships are made available from local community organizations or professional societies representing your future career. Since both types of organizations have a vested interest in seeing you do well, they generally actively solicit applications. Your high school guidance counselor should have a list of local organizations seeking applicants.

Perhaps you’re not ready for college, but you know you will want an education later. Joining the U.S. military brings with it excellent college fund benefits. It’s true that you will have to balance the possibility of being caught in the middle of a war with the educational benefits of military service, but this option may be a good one even so. Often, the leadership capabilities and discipline you learn while in the military will enhance your college experience later on. It’s no secret that many college freshmen fail in their first year for lack of discipline and good study habits. A break from school coupled with good “real world” experience could get you over that hurdle.

Ask, “What Can My Government Do for Me?”

Many states have tuition assistance programs for state residents. Make certain you check into these.

Additionally, grants through the U.S. Department of Education can help pay for the cost of your college education. The availability of these funds is subject to the Department of Education’s regulations and formulae that greatly limit who gets the grants and how much they receive. There has been recent furor over just such rule changes.

Student loans guaranteed by the United States Government are also available to those who qualify. A good starting point in checking out options available through the U.S. Government is the U.S. Department of Education’s website at www.ed.gov/studentaid/student.html. Loans are available for both students and parents.

Never Give Up!

There’s an old saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” This is generally true, even if the way is very difficult. If you want to go to college, chances are there is a way, so check out all the possibilities. Perhaps you don’t have financial hurdles, but if you do, take advantage of the Internet and print resources available to help you finance your education. Ask your high school guidance counselors and college financial aid advisors for assistance, but don’t wait until after graduation. Now is the time to start searching for your ticket to and through your own college experience.

Have a great September and don’t forget to keep our service personnel throughout the world in your hearts and prayers. They are serving us and, don’t forget, many of them are working toward paying for their own college experience.

These articles are intended to provide general resources for the tax and accounting needs of small businesses and individuals. Service2Client LLC is the author, but is not engaged in rendering specific legal, accounting, financial or professional advice. Service2Client LLC makes no representation that the recommendations of Service2Client LLC will achieve any result. The NSAD has not reviewed any of the Service2Client LLC content. Readers are encouraged to contact their CPA regarding the topics in these articles.

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