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Dear Olga: Strategies to Pay for College

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Dear Olga,

I have a child in junior high. What are some things or strategies we can implement so he will be able to attend college without student loans?

Thank you,



Dear Scott,

College tuition costs have been growing at a rapid rate over the decades. It seems any time I read about the statistics, the numbers get scarier each time. US News reported at the end of 2018 that in-state tuition for public universities has grown 243% in the last 40 years! The good news is there is still time to prepare.

To be fully prepared for college tuition when your son graduates high school, it's important to understand what exactly you're preparing for first. On the left, there is a list of yearly average college costs.

An important part I want to point out is that the total college costs are not just tuition. The yearly totals here include room and board, book and supplies, and transportation. You'll notice there's even padding added for other costs and there will surely be unexpected costs, but this gives you an idea of what you can expect.

Personally, this is one of my favorite financial puzzles, because you can reverse engineer it and work backward. You can do some research on schools that your son may consider that are local or maybe schools he is already considering, find out what these costs are like each year. This gives you an idea of what you can expect a four-year college to cost. Once you have this number, divide this amount by the number of years you have left to go and you get the idea of what you need to save starting today to be fully prepared.

Consider starting a 529 account, if you haven't started one already. A 529 account is a savings plan that provides some tax and financial aid benefits. These accounts tend to vary state-to-state because they are tied into the tax code. To find out more I would find out what the account structures and benefits are in your state.

Also, consider having a conversation with your son about expectations, this is something that helped me prepare to pay for college. When I started preparing to take the SATs and looking at colleges, my mom wanted me to have realistic expectations about what kind of support I could expect from my parents. My family moved to American when I was 9 years old, because of this my parents didn't have a full understanding of college costs until it was closer to becoming a reality and our reality was that help was going to be limited.

Having this conversation with my mom allowed me to set realistic expectations when making a list of colleges that I wanted to attend. Many students want to go to Harvard, but it wasn't realistic for me unless I was prepared to drown in debt after graduation. Having this awareness made me look at what was out there to supplement my parents' help, money from my after-school jobs and the student loans I eventually took out.

Some things that you can look into to help pay for college:

  • Grants

  • Scholarships

  • Work-study programs

Perhaps your son will also be in a position to save for college himself. Maybe from a part-time job in high school or maybe starting a college savings account where he puts aside any extra holiday or birthday money. Here is an article from that could give your son some ideas on how he can help.

One more piece of advice, consider teaching your son some basic budgeting skills as he prepares to go off to college. Even if it's as far as going over a budget template. Being able to budget any additional income in college can make a difference many people underestimate.

When I was graduating from high school, a friend of mine asked me how she can budget her income from a job that was full-time during the summer and part-time for the rest of the year. She wanted to have her salary stretch without having to worry about picking up any extra shifts so she can focus on her studies. We talked about the basics of budgeting and how to save money for future expenses.

Fast forward 5 years later and she had saved the entirety of her student loans! She was able to pay off her student loans the day after graduation, something not many people can say they were able to accomplish these days.

If you have student loans that you'd like to refinance before attending graduate or doctorate programs, check out this article "Best Student Loan Refinance Based on In-Depth Reviews" from the Consumer Advocate.

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to prepare for college costs. If you'd like more guidance, I would be happy to have a quick call with you, here's a link to my calendar 🗓

Best of luck!



If you have a money question, submit it here for a chance to be featured in the "Dear Olga" column!

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