Posted in financial aid, Scholarships, Transfer Credit, working

Saving and Shaving: Debt-Free College

Debt free college, is it possible?  It is- but it won’t be easy!  Debt-free college isn’t a matter of just having a huge bank account, rich uncle or perfect SAT scores.  Average parents with almost no college savings can send their (large) homeschool families to college debt-free, but it takes planning and exceptional motivation!

Who has time?  You have to make time.  As a homeschool parent, you’re in a prime position to dedicate an extra two or three hours per week to your new “job” as a high school guidance counselor and college financial aid planner.  If you need an extra nudge, know that those extra three hours per week (150 hours per year) can save you $50,000 or more per child! This might be the most important (and best-paying) part-time job you’ve ever had.

Important Steps to Debt-Free College

Make a commitment to avoid loans.   Not to be glossed over, some may be tempted to think “yeah, we’ll do what we can, but if we have to borrow, we will.” That approach almost always undermines your determination to go hard at a goal.  If you absolutely set a conviction to borrow ZERO dollars, you’ll be amazed at how resourceful you can become.  Plus, you need to know it’s possible – it is.

Calculate the tuition.  For a bachelor’s degree, your teen will earn 120 college credits.  Credits cost money, so figure out what the college expects you to pay per credit.  If it’s $200 per credit (x120) you’re looking at $24,000.  If it’s $500 per credit (x120) you’re looking at $60,000.  If it’s $2000 per credit, you’re looking at one of the most expensive colleges in the country- and there are about 50 in that price range!

Inexpensive tuition does not always equal an inexpensive degree. Saving the most money is usually dependent upon how many credits you can transfer in- keep reading.

Homeschool for college credit.  Homeschooling parents can align their teen’s high school courses with college credit opportunities, many of which are free or very low cost. College credit earned in high school costs about $35 per credit – roughly $100 per class.  There are more and less expensive options, but by paying for 1 college credit course each semester of high school, a family may pay only $200-$300 (cash) per year in tuition.  The average family who homeschools for college credit will graduate a teen with 1 year of college already complete.  A few very motivated families have graduated teens with 2 or more years, and a few have aligned their entire high school education to result in a bachelor’s degree at high school graduation.  Remember that homeschooling for college credit isn’t successful without a motivated student too.

Exploit transfer policy to the max.  Whether in high school or out, before your teen sets foot on their campus, be sure you’ve shaved off the maximum number of allowable transfer credits.  A good number of colleges (about 25% of them) allow you to transfer in 75% of your degree before you start!  The majority of colleges (about half) allow you to transfer in half your degree, and the remaining 25% of colleges have tight transfer criteria or don’t allow transfer at all.  Schools with tight / limited transfer policy will always require you to spend the most money.  While I would encourage you to reconsider your college choice, if you’re determined to attend a limited transfer school anyway, your teen will need to focus on earning everything through scholarships (see below).

Why transfer?  Because whatever the rack rate tuition is for your target college, you can find transfer credit for less money.  There are 30 ways to earn college credit on this website, and all are significantly less money than what your target college will charge for tuition.  Max out the transfer policy first!   If you want to see what this looks like, be sure to check out our Cost Maps – maximizing transfer credit is my superpower.  Before you write a single check, you should have the maximum allowable transfer- only then can you see what you *really* have to pay for.

Rack rate: $100,000 – max transfer (50%) = $50,000 left to pay

Rack rate: $80,000 – max transfer (30%) = $56,000 left to pay

As you can see, the rack rate is part of the math, but it’s not the full picture.  Assuming you will take advantage of max transfer (and pay a fraction of the cost) you can sometimes attend a more expensive college for less money.  This is before scholarships!

Rack rate:  $80,000 – max transfer (75%) = $20,000 left to pay

Rack rate:  $80,000 – max transfer (90%) = $8,000 left to pay

The trick is finding a way to earn college credit as early as possible (high school) for as cheaply as possible and max the transfer policy as fully as possible.  Remember that credit earned in high school averages about $35 per credit.  After high school, you can still keep earning transfer credit, and you can use the community college if necessary (averages about $100/credit).  No matter how you slice it, you want to get your “left to pay” amount as low as possible.

The amount you have left to pay is your starting point for funding!

Apply for scholarships.  Like any good extremist, I don’t mean applying for “a” scholarship, I mean applying for scholarships like it’s your job.  Every week. Every. Single. Week.  From now until your teen is walking across the stage and being handed their degree.  My good friend and scholarship guru Jocelyn Paonita Pearson is exceptionally skilled at teaching parents how to win with scholarships. She runs a company called The Scholarship System. If you’d like to hear what she’s all about, I highly recommend listening to her being interviewed on  Higher Ed Parthenon podcast (episode #22).  She has skills!! In short, no matter what your tuition balance after maxing out your transfer, you can probably cover it with scholarships.

Apply for financial aid.  I realize that this seems like it should happen “before” you apply for scholarships, but I want you to focus all of your effort on lowering your “left to pay” portion by getting it down to zero or close to it before you’ve ever filled out a single financial aid form.  Since high school students are not eligible for federal financial aid anyway, most of the credit earned toward your transfer max happens in high school or before enrollment.  In other words, Mom and Dad’s homework starts in high school!

The typical time to apply is October of their senior (12th grade) year.  You’ll begin by filling out the FAFSA. It’s an online form that everyone fills out and is used by all colleges.  The application is then sent to your selected colleges (assuming you have selected colleges) and a “package” is created by each college.  The package may include scholarships issued by the college based on SAT scores or other academic merits, and it may include a Pell Grant (up to $6,000) based on financial need – but the rest of the “package” is loans!  So when people say they don’t qualify for financial aid, they’re wrong- everyone qualifies for student loans (short of having a criminal history).

Refuse the loans.  Believe it or not, student loans are so common, that your college will create a “budget” for your student that not only includes tuition, but also their “living expenses” for the year.  When they’ve computed this (inflated) total, they’ll happily provide an opportunity to take a student loan to cover all the costs (real or imagined).  Refuse the loans! Debt free means no acquiring debt to pay for college, and if you accept the loans, you are taking on debt.  You can, however, accept any grants or scholarships that the college has to offer- these do not need to be repaid, they are gifts. You can also participate in a work-study or college-sponsored internship program (instead of a paycheck, the wage goes toward tuition or college credit).

Working, it’s what adults do.  If you’ve resourcefully planned your teen’s high school years, and you’ve maxed out their transfer credit allowance, and are applying for scholarships every week, I hope your balance left to pay is zero, but if it’s not, it’s time to go to work.  Work isn’t a punishment, it’s the entire point of earning a degree- to launch a career!

If your teen is studying to become a chef, they should work weekends in a restaurant.  Future nurses should work weekends as a CNA.  Computer specialists should work the help desk, and future anythings can work weekends as temporary anythings.  In short, working is for everyone.  If you can find a way to tie it into a future career, all the better.  If not, do it anyway.  A teen working weekends (15 hours) at minimum wage can contribute almost $5,000 per year toward tuition.  A summer working full time (at minimum wage) can generate another $3,000.  If your teen chooses carefully, some employers will pay a portion of their tuition too! 

recipeRecipe for Debt Free College

From the kitchen of Chef Jennifer Cook-DeRosa

Amount Ingredient
5 minutes Commitment
5 minutes Tuition calculation
3 years Homeschool for College Credit
Method of Preparation

 1.  Blend your commitment and tuition calculation in a large bowl.

2.  Homeschool for college credit while resourcefully planning and correcting for time, talent, and temperament.

3.  Bake for 3 years.

4.  During the final year of baking, apply for scholarships and financial aid.  Be sure to refuse the loans, or they’ll ruin your recipe!

5.  Adjust for seasoning to taste with a little bit of hard work.



Posted in Scholarships, Tuition

Get a Grip on Scholarships

Scholarships sound wonderful, and in some cases they are.  Several good friends have used scholarships to fund the entire education of their teens.  Others were enticed into deep debt chasing small awards at very expensive schools.

A scholarship is a financial award that doesn’t have to be repaid.  Your teen may receive one for academic merit or test scores because they live in a certain geographic area, because they excel in a sport, possess a talent,  are pursuing a certain major, or because the college they are attending has a fund to either entice or subsidize a student’s enrollment.  

Because there feels like a lot of ways a person “could” earn a scholarship, and we’ve all heard that there are “millions of dollars that go unclaimed every year” we want to be sure our teens don’t leave any money on the table.  And if you register your email address and pay the low price of $99, I’ll tell you all about it….. (NO!)

While it is true that some scholarship opportunities go unclaimed each year, far more common are the scholarships that have thousands of applicants for just one shot at $1,000.

Where does the myth of unclaimed scholarships come from?

According to Marvin Carmichael, past Chairman of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), this notion that billions of dollars of scholarships go unclaimed year has been around for a long time, but it is most definitely a myth. If a university does not award all its scholarship money one year, Carmichael explains, it is because of weird timing issues or highly restrictive eligibility requirements.

CAUTION #1  The Marketing Funnel

The overwhelming majority of scholarship sites are dot-com businesses that exist for the purpose of selling you recycled information already on the web.  These are not scholarship experts, these are internet marketers.  In fact, some of these businesses own dozens of websites with similar names, and they link you back and forth between each other.  The purpose is to capture your email address and give you breadcrumbs of information.  Either through a chain of scheduled emails or links, you’ll be given more free help.  At some point, you’ll be offered a free downloadable ebook. (more breadcrumbs) and possibly sent links to products for you to buy (more ebooks) or a subscription to premium content.  In marketing, this is called a “paywall.”  A paywall is where they want to take you.  Once at the wall, you’ll pay a fee, and gain access to their ultra-premium content.  This can be live webinars, video classes, emails, books, etc.  Congratulations, you’ve fallen for the oldest trick in the book – repackaged for the tech times we live in.  You’ve fallen into a marketing funnel, and the one and only purpose of you being there is to buy something (more than once).

Marketers know that by getting you in the marketing funnel, they have a 1-3% chance of “converting” you to a paying customer.  So, thousands of dollars are spent enticing you to click on something that gets you into the funnel.  Ever see Facebook ads in your newsfeed?  Those are to get you in a marketing funnel.

As you can imagine, it’s a lot of work orchestrating a marketing funnel.  (It’s 100% legal) So, that doesn’t leave much time to generate quality content.  That’s ok, these businessmen can access a huge database of open-copyright content that is available to them to reprint without permission as often as they want.  Oh, did I mention that the likelihood of your teen actually getting a scholarship through one of these sources is 0%?

SOLUTION: Do not google “How to find Scholarships.”  There are better ways, and we’ll discuss them below.

CAUTION #2 The Sports Scholarship

Unlike the marketing funnel, sports scholarships aren’t scams.  They are, however, an excellent way to end up in a world of hurt and deep debt.

All NCAA Division Sports Scholarship information is transparent and open to the public (you) to look at.  So, hoping for a scholarship is less helpful than learning about how they work and how much money they (don’t) award.   Fewer than 2% of public high school students receive sports scholarships, so when you filter down to homeschooled students, there is even less information to go on.  Admittedly, we are a much smaller pool of applicants!  Still, some students (like my 2016 high school graduate son) may be eligible for a sports scholarship.

There are 6 sports in which a “full ride” scholarship exists:  football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, tennis and women’s gymnastics.  If your teen is in one of those sports, I urge you to dive deeper than what we’ll cover here.  I recently watched and recommend a documentary called Schooled.  It reveals some of the challenges and limitations surrounding full scholarships in those sports.   Even if your teen plays one of those sports, if they don’t get picked up by a Division I school, your chances of getting a full ride are almost zero.  The “pot” of billions is distributed like this: Division II schools will get 4.37% of the pot, Division III schools will get 3.18%, and Division I colleges will get the rest.  (That’s 92.45%)

Now, if your sport isn’t on that short list, there IS NO MONEY for a full-ride sports scholarship. I know you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  Sports that are NCAA, but not one of the 6,  are given a pool of money to be split each year – at the coach’s discretion- between all / any of the athletes on the team in that sport.

To use the sport I’m most familiar with, Men’s Swimming and Diving, in 2016, the average team consisted of 20 swim (AND) dive members.  Only the top 9 swim (OR) dive members received part of the money pool.  Those that received any money, averaged $8,000 per year (renewable at the coach’s discretion).  The colleges that participate in college-level swimming and diving, however, average $35,000 per year tuition ($11,000 per year room and board).  In other words, best case scenario would have a student swimming “on scholarship” to receive $32,000 off of their $184,000 degree.  That’s NOT a deal, even for the top swimmer OR diver on the team.

Does this mean your teen shouldn’t pursue athletics?  Not at all!  This means you (the parent) shouldn’t chase athletic scholarships.  Most colleges have athletics, and your teen can play athletics in college without the burden of taking on debt to pursue a “scholarship.”

Please, spend 6 minutes and watch this Divison I athlete’s WATER POLO debt disaster  (stay with it until the end!):

CAUTION #3 Blinded by the (spot)Light

Is there a difference between receiving a stipend, a government grant, an institutional waiver, an endowment payment, an allocation or a scholarship?   I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t the money.

A “scholarship” is a precious word in our culture.  If your teen receives a scholarship, the amount of the award doesn’t much matter- it strokes our ego just the same.  A scholarship validates 18 years of hard work as a homeschool parent, and we get to post about it on Facebook.   Ok, maybe not you.  Maybe it’s just my observation that so many parents are quick to tell me how they (oops, I mean their) teen earned a “scholarship” for this or that, which certainly makes them an expert in the thing they are selling you.light

I don’t want to undercut the victory of a teen that earns a scholarship, but my role is to help you be the best guidance counselor for your teen, and that requires you to ask some hard questions before the celebration.

  1.  Is this scholarship a one-time (non-renewable) award, or does it renew every year?
  2. If this scholarship renews, how many years can you renew it?
  3. What are the requirements to keep it active?  Grade point average? Financial limits? Residency restrictions? Graduate in X number of years?
  4. What is the total cost of my teen’s education AFTER I subtract this scholarship?
  5. Do I have enough money to fund the remaining cost of my teen’s education?
  6. Does this scholarship allow my teen to use it at the college of her choice? Or is it tied to attending a specific college?
  7. Does accepting this scholarship put my family in a position that is difficult financially or in some other way?

Strange questions?  Maybe, but the truth is that scholarships can sometimes create a strain on the family.  If you put each scholarship into the calculator and use math instead of emotion, you’ll be more likely to make a wise choice.

Strategies for Managing Costs

If you’re down to the wire, you’re probably ready for some solutions at this point.  I have a few, and most involve making your own solution to the college-funding problem.  I solve this problem from only one direction – the direction that assumes zero student loan debt.  For those willing to borrow, many of these tips won’t make the cut.  Afterall, your teen can borrow all the money they need, and when they max their cap, you can borrow the rest.  Since 2004, the phrase “improved financial aid programs” is code for “we’re letting everyone borrow what they need.”  Problem solved, right?  With no financial incentive to keep tuition prices low, we’ve observed a staggering increase in the cost of college.  While this is good news for borrowers, it means that those who want to pay cash, or at least remove debt from the equation, have to be exceptionally resourceful.

  1.  If you’re in a state that offers free dual enrollment – USE IT!  Earning even 1 or 2 free classes will help reduce total cost.
  2. If you’re in a state that guarantees community college credits will transfer into your state’s public 4-year colleges – USE IT!  The guaranteed transfer assures that those credits paid for at a community college rate (under $100 per credit)  will count at a college that charges 4-5-6 times that amount!
  3. If you’re in a state that guarantees an Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree will transfer into your state’s public 4-year college- USE IT!  The value of this maneuver can save the average family at least $35,000 or more.
  4. If you’re in a state that guarantees an AA or AS transfers as a full block of credit, use CLEP, DSST, or AP exams to accelerate the process and save cost.  When locked into a full block transfer, the receiving 4-year college can’t deny credit by exam transfer.
  5. In all 50 states, the cost of attending your state’s private university as an in-state student is lower than attending a neighboring state’s university as an out of state student.
  6. Sometimes, a college offers a special tuition rate for distance learning classes. Check if your teen can save money (or will spend extra money) choosing one over the other.
  7. Shop “degree” instead of “college.”  In most fields, where you went to college (brand name) is less relevant than the degree, major, or content of courses you take.
  8. If your teen has to pay-as-they-go and graduates a year or two later, then so be it!  Coming out of college debt-free will have a greater return on investment than coming out of college with a $35,000 student loan payment.
  9. In high school, point your teen toward working for one of the thousands of companies that offer scholarships to their workers or full tuition reimbursement.
  10. For parents- if you have multiple children lined up for college, consider taking a position with a college or university.  Even janitors and cooks can send their kids to college for free if they work full-time for a university.  While not all universities offer this benefit, most do!    In addition, employees at Tuition Exchange colleges can send their teens to ANY college in the program, not just where they work.

    My other posts/strategies you may be interested in:

  11. University of the People  (a free accredited college)
  12. Guaranteed Scholarships (legitimate scholarships for EVERYONE that qualifies)
  13. Sources of Free College Credits (great to use at Thomas Edison State College)
  14. 100 Employer / Employee Scholarships (great companies for your teen!)
  15. We just saved $96,780  (A member shares how they did it)loan



Posted in financial aid, High School, Resources, Scholarships, working

100 Employer / Employee Scholarships


Parents:  check with Human Resources immediately!  Scholarship application deadlines are sometimes a year in advance.

Who qualifies?

It depends.  In some cases, a parent’s dependents are eligible to apply, but in other cases, the teen must be an employee.  If you or your teen already work for one of these companies, simply contact your Human Resources department and ask for more information.

My teen wants a job that isn’t on this list

Working is great, no matter how you slice it, but rather than browsing and hoping to find your teen’s employer, be proactive and talk to them about seeking employment at a company that offers educational benefits through scholarships or tuition reimbursement.  That’s being smart and planning ahead.  A summer job isn’t supposed to be a permanent career that’s deep and rewarding. It’s a nice way to earn some spending money, learn responsibility, develop a work ethic……. and possibly earn a scholarship!

What’s the difference between tuition reimbursement and a scholarship?

Tuition reimbursement generally requires continued employment with the company while you go to school.  When you’ve finished a course, the company writes you a check to reimburse you for the tuition you paid.  Tuition reimbursement can sometimes pay for a full degree, but often has a service requirement or other obligation in exchange for the educational benefit.

Scholarships are awards given to a student for achievement.  Often, these are one-time awards.  Scholarship amounts vary by employer, but it’s not unusual to see scholarship awards for $500 – $2,500.  Typically, a scholarship is a one-time award without further obligation.

I’m seeing a few names that are also on a tuition reimbursement list.

That’s right!  Many companies consider investing in an employee’s education as a very important part of their mission.  According to the Society for Human Resource Management (the largest HR organization in the world), as many as 91% of large companies maintained or increased their educational benefits since 2014.  In contrast, as few as 4% offer any kind of student loan forgiveness program.  In short:  plan to find these benefits before you start college and resort to borrowing.  Among millennials, as many as 1/3 reports falling behind on their student loan payments.  Ouch!

Tuition Reimbursement Companies

  1. A&W
  2. Abbott Laboratories
  3. Adobe Systems
  4. ADP
  5. Aetna
  6. Alcoa
  8. American Airlines
  9. American Cancer Society
  10. AT&T
  11. Baxter International
  12. Biogen Idec
  13. BMW Group
  14. Bosch
  15. Build A Bear
  16. Burger King
  17. California Grape Grower
  18. California State University Bakersfield
  19. Capital One Financial
  20. Carmax
  21. CenterPoint Energy
  22. Chevron
  23. Chobani
  24. Citigroup
  25. Community Bankers Assoc. of Illinois
  26. ConocoPhillips
  27. Costco
  28. CPS Energy
  29. Cracker Barrel
  30. CVS Pharmacy
  31. Darden Restaurants
  32. DirecTV
  33. Dish Network
  34. Dominion Resources
  35. Duke Energy Corporation
  36. DuPont
  37. Edison International
  38. Express Scripts
  39. Exxon
  40. GameStop
  41. General Electric
  42. General Mills
  43. Genzyme
  44. H&R Block, Inc.
  45. Harley Davidson
  46. Hewlett- Packard (HP)
  47. Home Depot
  48. Humana
  49. Hyundai Motors
  50. IBM
  51. Intel
  52. J Crew
  53. JetBlue Airways
  54. Kentucky Fried Chicken
  55. L.L. Bean
  56. Land O’ Lakes
  57. Long John Silver’s
  58. Lowe’s
  59. Marathon Petroleum
  60. Mayo Clinic
  61. McDonald’s Corporation
  62. Meijer
  63. Morgan Stanley
  64. Mutual of Omaha
  65. National Roofing Contractors Assoc.
  66. Nordstrom, Inc.
  67. Nucor
  68. Oshkosh
  69. Pacific Gas & Electric
  70. PepsiCo
  71. Pfizer Inc.
  72. Phillips 66
  73. Pizza Hut
  74. Rockwell Collins
  75. Roller Skating Association
  76. SAS
  77. Servco – HI
  78. Southwest Airlines
  79. Starbucks
  80. State Farm
  81. Subway Restaurant
  82. Sunoco
  83. Taco Bell
  84. Texas Instruments
  85. Tj Maxx
  86. Uline
  87. Union Pacific
  88. United Technologies
  89. US Bank
  90. USDA
  91. Valero Energy
  92. Verizon
  93. Vermont Grocers Assoc. Member
  94. Wakefield Healthcare Center
  95. Wal-Mart
  96. Walgreens
  97. Walt Disney
  98. Wells Fargo
  99. Whole Foods
  100. Yum!