How Can Students Help Pay for College
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
May 14, 2021
With the price tag of a college education reaching higher levels every year, students will have a very hard time shouldering the entire cost burden all by themselves–unlike 30 years ago. However, students can help pay for college by putting in some work both ahead of college and during school.
When parents and students sit down for the college money conversation, parents need to set expectations for how much of the financial burden they expect their student to take on. Together, you can create a game plan to incorporate some or all of the ideas below.
Working a Job During High School
When students work in outside employment, they earn valuable life skills about the working world. With the cost of college what it is, they probably won’t be able to work enough hours to cover the 5-digit annual cost. (See our blog about how we used to work to pay off college 30 years ago for an example of what we mean.)
Every little bit helps. Families can set a dollar amount goal of employment earnings per year as part of the college fund budget. Maybe the student sets a goal of earning $2,000 per year to set aside for college. That goal might be a little bit aggressive at minimum wage, but as a family you can target a doable number for your budget goal.
You can also include birthday or holiday gift money is part of the fund? Working through this process and making spending and saving choices is a valuable lesson for your student to help pay for college.
Earning College Credit While in High School
Frequently called “dual enrollment” or “College Credit Plus” (as it is here in Ohio), high school students can earn transcripted college credit at local universities while in high school. Some high schools are even offering these college courses within the high school.
The best part is that these courses are free as long as the student passes the course! Coursework at private universities and for homeschooled students may have small costs. We have seen students graduating high school and entering college the next fall with college junior status. They are left with only two years of tuition, room and board to pay for and receive an undergrad degree for half price!
Working in College
Besides working in a traditional job during the college years, students also have the option of working in a work-study position or perhaps as a residential advisor for the university.
We dug deeper into work-study employment in a previous blog. Remember, work-study is only awarded in cases of need. Work-study has the advantage over traditional employment if your financial aid status will be impacted by income from a job outside of work-study. Be sure to carefully consider a student’s ability to manage their time.
A second option is becoming a RA, resident advisor or resident assistant, for the college. The RA is the peer leader for a residence hall. They build community and settle problems among the students. They are a personal touch point for students and can be a sort of 24-hour quasi-counselor. The work can be extremely rewarding as the RA supports and guides students away from home.
RAs are provided with compensation from the university in the form of a free or reduced room cost, a potentially free meal plan, or another similar stipend. The value is great, but carefully consider the cost in terms of crisis and time management abilities. Being a RA can be extremely rewarding, but for some, the challenge may not be a good fit.
The Big Picture when Thinking Student Compensation
We mentioned this in a previous blog, but it bears repeating! For every $10,000 in student loans, you pay approximately $100 per month after graduation. By working part-time during school and on breaks, you could contribute $2,500 per year towards your tuition. You lowered your student loan amount by $10,000! $100 per month means something to a 22-year-old getting their start in life!
The Biggest thing Students Can Do to Help Pay for College
The biggest thing students can control in this whole college money budget plan is their own school work. Students are the only ones who ultimately control their grades and test scores in high school. They may not understand the real impact these two things can have on the bottom line price of a college.
Consider Miami University and their merit scholarships. If you look at the chart, you can see that simply raising a student’s ACT test score from a 29 to a 32 can mean an additional $16,000 in scholarships! $16,000 is definitely more than a student could expect to earn from working! When students see how their hard work during high school can make a real impact on the price of college, the realization can be very motivating.
One Last Thing Students Can Tackle (and understand)…
…is the importance of a strong financial fit college list. By working with their parents to understand what they can afford and the choices they will need to make about the level of debt and amount of savings, students can create a realistic list of colleges to apply to and set goals on how to get there.
Originally published 5/2018