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 working

Teen Jobs with Tuition Programs

I often speak about our family’s move across the country to access a free tuition program through my husband’s employer, but these kinds of benefits are sometimes available to our teens too.  Your teen’s part-time job in high school or college can have big rewards.

Tuition programs vary dramatically, there really isn’t a “one size fits all” way they work- but to give you a very simple explanation, there are companies that will pay for your teen’s tuition (full or part) while they work as employees.  This is different from a scholarship, which is often a one time gift and the scholarship provider doesn’t expect anything in return.

Tuition programs usually require a relationship between the employee and employer.

Tuition programs may require working a specific number of hours per week, a commitment to work after the tuition payment is made, etc., but make no mistake, this is REAL MONEY that can help your family obtain a debt-free college degree.  My husband’s bachelor’s degree and master’s degree were funded by his employer (two different ones) and my oldest son’s current employer is paying his tuition.

Our North Carolina Homeschooling for College Credit moderator shared the announcement about McDonald’s yesterday.  They’ve expanded their tuition program, so this is a great opportunity to put these kinds of benefits in one place for you to access.  Most teens will work part-time during high school, and there are dozens of companies that will allow your teen to continue working part-time during college – all while receiving tuition benefits.

You may remember the study from Boston University last year that followed the GPA of students who worked a shift or two per week during college.  They had higher GPAs across the board.  Of course, working too much correlated with lower GPAs, so we’re talking about part-time jobs that fit in and around school work – not a job that squeezes it out.

Reducing college costs by as much as possible is a bit of a hobby of mine!  If your goal is to reduce your teen’s student loan debt to ZERO, make time to investigate my previous posts:

100 Employer / Employee Scholarships


Thanks to posting this great fast-food summary:


This tuition-reimbursement offer is for available to both full-timers and part-timers after one year on the job.

Employees get tuition, books, and fees reimbursed by Chipotle — up to the IRS limit of $5,250 per calendar year.

Chipotle also has a partnership through Guild Education that lets you earn up to 38 and 44 credit hours through on-the-job training.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

For hourly team members and shift supervisors with at least six months of service, KFC offers the REACH Educational Grant Program.

The program provides college tuition assistance via grants of $2,000 and $2,500. Grant recipients can attend any accredited two-year or four-year college or a trade/vocational school.

Managers, meanwhile, can receive grants of up to $3,000 through KFC’s REACH initiative.

Winners are selected by a competitive application process and may reapply each year.

Pizza Hut

Through a partnership with Excelsior College, Pizza Hut offers the Life Unboxed EDU program.

Excelsior offers tuition discounts of 45% on undergraduate studies and 15% on graduate studies for Pizza Hut employees.

Similar to Chipotle, Pizza Hut’s tuition assistance offer also allows you to earn up to 63 credits for on-the-job training.


The Starbucks College Achievement Plan is perhaps the most generous of any restaurant tuition assistance plan. You basically get a free education through a partnership with Arizona State University!

Full tuition reimbursement is available for every year of college, culminating in you earning a bachelor’s degree.

The specific details of the plan are available here.

Taco Bell

Just like Chipotle, Taco Bell has teamed up with Guild Education for certain education benefits.

Employees get tuition, books and fees reimbursed up to the IRS limit of $5,250 per calendar year. There’s also the opportunity to earn college credit for on-the-job training.


Thanks to the corporate tax savings under the new tax law, McDonald’s says it’s committed to increasing college tuition benefits for employees to the tune of $150 million over five years.

Eligible employees receive upto $2,500/year, managers, meanwhile, will have access to $3,000.  There are no lifetime caps on this perk, and the super-sized benefit takes effect May 1, 2018 and will be retroactive to January 1, 2018.

Employees will be required to be with McDonald’s for 90 days before being allowed to take advantage of this benefit.  Employees who want tuition assistance will only need to put in 15 hours minimum a week instead of the previous requirement for 20 hours a week.

Posted in Blue Collar, High School, working

Blue Collar Homeschool


Today’s post features a homeschooling site (and Facebook group) run by a friend of mine and a long time friend to Homeschooling for College Credit- Cindy LaJoy.  Her page is called Blue Collar Homeschool, and I’m so excited to share it with all of you.

But wait, doesn’t the notion of “blue collar” conflict with earning college credit?  Heck no! In fact, injecting college credit into a homeschool program doesn’t mean you only focus on a certain type of education.  One thing I’ve learned by meeting thousands of parents my Facebook page is that trying to “define” what successful homeschooling looks like is a fool’s errand.

First, let me introduce you to Cindy and her homeschool family:

“We are “Team LaJoy”!  We believe that the family that works together AND plays together, stays together!  All of our kids have experienced public education, either in the United States or in orphanage schools overseas.  All love learning at home, and the cindyability to work at their own pace.  In our homeschool we have done a wide variety of experiential and traditional learning, with our kids doing such things as studying interior design, purchasing and refurbishing a home that was bank owned, learning about Profit and Loss statements as they help with our businesses, traveling the Lewis and Clark trail, building sheds, pottery, flying planes, and volunteering at the animal shelter, the library, the food bank, the homeless shelter and our local nursing home.  We have been out in the world, as well as dedicated to class around our kitchen table! “

Cindy is one of those fantastically enthusiastic people with a lot of passion.  When we first spoke, she told me her children had challenges.  The topic of our conversation wasn’t homeschooling,  but I underestimated HER challenges.  Her children include a mix of Dysgraphia, English as a Second Language, Central Auditory Processing Disorder, Gifted and Talented, suspected Dyscalculia, Sensory Processing Disorder, Developmental Delay, Executive Function Disorders, and Speech Impairments.

Moving into high school with our kids and thinking about their futures, it was easy to see that there was an underserved group, and that was families like us…families who had kids not destined for college, who had access to few resources that truly “fit” their child’s needs.  Few homeschool online groups speak to those parents of kids whose career aspirations do not include a degree, leaving us feeling inadequately equipped, and as if we are somehow underachievers.   I began to develop a passion for helping our kids see the wide variety of career possibilities, not at the sake of eliminating college, but for seeing there were even more choices.”

If I can take a moment to distract you from Cindy’s specific story, I want to caution you against making the mistake that professional guidance counselors make all the time. They “track” students into paths based on early test scores and grades.  In my own past, I was “guided” into food service from the moment I set foot in high school. My test scores were average, clearly not “college material.”  After learning about Advanced Placement (AP) I had to get special permission to take an AP course in 10th grade (which required my parent’s signature to go against professional advice).   My point is that it’s easy to default into the old idea that underachievers go to vocational school and “smart” kids go to college.  We have an entire population of kids with part of a college degree who are unemployable because they can read Latin but can’t put together an Ikea bookshelf.

We need “smart” kids in trades too!

If you’ve never heard of Mike Rowe, he’s the champion of blue collar.  His own liberal arts education (BA in Communications from Towson University) and career as an opera singer make him an unlikely advocate for the trades, but you might know him better as the host of Dirty Jobs.

My ALL TIME FAVORITE youtube interview is Dirty Job’s Mike Rowe on the High Cost of College (full interview below).  Mike Rowe explains how he thinks we’ve gotten off course by encouraging every child to attend a 4-year college.

 “if we’re lending money that we don’t have, to kids who really have no hope of paying it back, in order to train them for jobs that clearly don’t exist, I might suggest that we’ve gone around the bend a little bit.”  -Mike Rowe

If you want to incorporate some blue-collar classes into your curriculum, or maybe even help your teen select a career in one of the trades, I’m going to list a combination of resources that Cindy pulled together as well as a few of my own.  (and some of them are even for college credit!)

Apprenticeship in the USA

Considering a Gap Year? List of resources

High School Curriculum – electives

Research any career using REAL DATA

Vocational Schools and Training Resources



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!