What Does the “Freshman Scholarship” cover and is it enough?

We sometimes hear parents concerned about their teens earning freshman scholarships, meaning they want to make sure their college credit doesn’t disqualify them! Of course, it doesn’t, but lets we’ll look at what that freshman scholarship actually covers.

Inside Higher Education’s report, this morning (headline) “The average tuition discount at private nonprofit colleges hit another record high last year, according to a new National Association of College and University Business Officers study.”

This is pretty shocking by itself, but the real story went on to look at what I call “rack rate” vs what a freshman actually pays. In other words, it’s typical that a private college gives institutional awards to incoming students to entice enrollment.

I have heard of stories from parents that their teen received a full ride scholarship, so who can argue with that??? But, in truth, almost no one gets a full ride scholarship. What is more accurate, and a better discussion, is to calculate what your student is likely to pay. THAT’S common sense college planning. We want the real world and real numbers.

these colleges forego about $54.50 for every $100 charged for tuition

“NACUBO defines the institutional tuition discount rate measured in the study as “the total institutional grant aid awarded to first-time undergraduates as a percentage of the gross tuition and fee revenue the institution would collect if all students paid the sticker price.

In total, 82.5 percent of undergraduates at all surveyed colleges received institutional aid, which the NACUBO report notes “covered an average of 60.7 percent of published tuition and fees.”

That’s a lot of theoretical talks- let’s look at real numbers.

A private non-profit college that charges $55,000 per year tuition and $11,000 per year room and board. ($55,000 + $11,000 = $66,000 per year)

Using the data above, it’s possible that this college will cover 60% of that cost.

$66,000 x 60% = $39,600 WAIVED …. the family pays $26,400.


This is the part where we have to apply wisdom and logic to avoid catastrophic student loan debt.

In a lot of the cases, a family will argue that this price is “just about the same as our state’s tuition rate!” which is used as a reason to enroll.

EVEN IF your state’s tuition rate is $26,400 per year, there are more things to consider.

  • Private colleges may not accept dual enrollment – AT ALL- be sure to check!
  • Private colleges don’t often accept credit by exam CLEP, AP, DSST.
  • Private colleges may have a higher graduation rate than your state college.
  • Students can reduce costs by brining in college credit!
  • Students may be able to live at home and save on room and board.
  • Distance learning may be an option at both colleges.

The typical Homeschooling for College Credit family earns 30 credits in high school, so losing access to those credits means you’ll certainly need all 4 years (or longer) to earn a degree. A student who DOES get to bring in their college credit saves twice- they save on tuition and and they save on TIME. They graduate college sooner and get to work sooner.

There are a lot of things to consider before making the call, and a lot of questions aren’t easily quantified, but if you CAN do the math, I encourage you to do so and set up a comparison.

College ACollege B
rack rate tuition, room, board $66,000rack rate tuition, room, board $25,000
“freshman scholarship” per year $40,000scholarships $0
college credit from high school: 0college credit from high school: 30
net cost per year: $26,000net cost per year: $25,000
x 4 yearsx 3 years (student brought in credit)
$104,000$75,000

Common Sense College Planning

Do you have $104,000 sitting in an account ready to go? If yes, then the primary concern of cost is under control. You can easily choose between the two colleges, and the bigger question is how many years your teen wants to spend in college.

If, like most of us, you DON’T have that kind of cash sitting around, so the questions are different.

How do you come up with $104,000? Most people borrow it. A student loan for your kids, a 401(k) loan from Dad, a gift from grandma, a home equity loan, an extra credit card or two….trust me, when there is enough debt to go around, and when the college has your HEART they also take over your brain. But, if you’re not ready to sign away the next 20 years to loan payments, I can help. Let’s get to work!

There is a very high likelihood that you can use the following strategies at College B to bring the costs down even further.

  • Quickly complete a few more credits by exam. CLEP is free and if the college accepts CLEP, this is the easiest way to grab another 3-9 credits.
  • Find out College B has a transfer agreement with the local community college. In some states this is common, and often community college tuition will be a fraction of the cost. ($3,000 per year)
  • It is likely that College B allows 1/2 of this degree to be outsourced using the community college, CLEP, AP, or other credit types. Plan to do that! Whether you start from zero or from 60, everyone’s degree is the same at graduation.
  • Consider having your teen live at home during college and driving to class, or using a distance learning option. Removing the cost of room/board makes a big difference!
College ACollege B
rack rate tuition, room, board $66,000rack rate tuition, room, board $25,000
“freshman scholarship” per year $40,000scholarships $0
college credit from high school: 0college credit from high school: 30
net cost per year: $26,000net cost per year: $25,000
x 4 yearsx 3 years (student brought in credit)
$104,000$75,000
live at home/commute/distance learning/get out of campus housing.
saves $10,000 per year (x3) -$30,000
bring in at least 30 more credits (1 year) from CLEP, the community college or any other source they accept. -$15,000
$30,000 TOTAL –> breaks down to $10,000 per year

$10,000 per year is before the Federal Pell Grant (need based, up to $6,000 per year) and any outside scholarships your student pursues. Remember you can pursue scholarships EVERY YEAR that your teen is in college, not just before, so start writing those essays!

My favorite scholarship website: go apply for a dozen

A part time job for your teen (10 hours per week) can cover their own living expenses, gas, and entertainment for your student.

SOME companies, like Starbucks and Walmart, pay 100% of your student’s tuition on top of their regular wage. True. Even for part timers. Check it out.

PRO TIP: Sell your old curriculum! I paid for my #2 son’s Bachelor’s Degree Capstone entirely by by selling my old curriculum in the HS4CC Marketplace!

The bigger picture here is that everyone is up front and transparent and onboard with getting this done. Everyone is on the same team! Everyone is working together to get this credential paid for, hopefully without debt. You can do it!!

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Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit