In keeping with my philosophy of approaching college financing as a life-long educational and character-building project in its own right, I believe there are eleven steps to success that should begin very early.  In our family, we have viewed college, education, and character building in a holistic way. College without education means very little, and an education without character means even less.  

In most cases, the following are all things Bonnie and I have either done, or asked our kids to do, in an effort to make college more affordable.  As I write this two of our children have graduated (one is working on a masters degree), one is presently in college working on her bachelors, and one is a junior in our home school high school. You’ll notice each of the eleven steps reflects our college>education>character-building philosophy model in at least one of three ways:  First, we start early in the child’s life; second, the entire family is involved in the process; and third, ultimately, success or failure rests on the one who stands to benefit most from the college experience—the child.

As you read through these eleven steps, carefully compare each to the culture and lifestyle of your family. You may find that some of them will be a good fit in your situation. 

1) Start saving early.  We believe it is important to start the college savings discussions early.  By the time our kids are eight- or ten-years old they had already heard us talking about the importance of college, and the need to save for it. 

We explain early that Mom and Dad believe each child should partner in his or her own education. While this involves much more than money (i.e. doing well in the earlier grades, etc.), saving is certainly part of the formula. Frankly, I don’t think that it matters a whole lot how different families choose to handle the details. Some families require a certain percentage of total costs to be paid for by the student. Others have other approaches. To me, the most important thing is that the student is involved. 

In our family, the parents pay for all tuition expenses and the kids are responsible for room and board. Of course, there are a few safety nets built into our plan. For instance, to encourage the kids to earn scholarship money we let them apply the first year of any scholarship to their room and board expenses. And, since they go to a university here in Nashville, they are always welcome to live at home if their funds run low. Of course, the campus activities and social life make this a less than desirable alternative. 

As many of you know, we apply the 10/45/45 Rule in our family. Simply put: The first 10 percent goes to God, 45 percent is for immediate gratification (spend money), and the other 45 percent is deferred gratification (college). By the time our kids reach about 10 or 12-years old they have begun their college savings program.

2) Take the college entrance exams as often as possible. Scores on your children’s ACT and SAT tests may have a direct bearing on their eligibility for academic scholarship money. We have learned that it makes sense to take these tests several times during the high school years. Often, the first time or two a child takes one of these tests she is unnerved, anxious—not at her best.  By taking it several times, generally the scores go up and improve the possibility of getting a better academic scholarship.

3) Be a good student—make good grades. Remember, the occupation of a high school student is high school. It behooves that student to make the best possible grades since they will impact scholarship awards.