It's Off to College We Go! - Part 2
- 2007 23 Nov
Over the High School and Through the Home ... It's Off to College We Go!
Paying for College
Financing higher education is the home stretch of your journey from high school to college. Knowing the course in this area can help you finish strong and save dollars. One of the most common ways to cut costs is to attend a local community college. Some community colleges offer concurrent enrollment programs whereby students can receive both high school and college credit for the same course. As much as two years of undergraduate work can be completed at a community college, saving money on tuition, room, and board.
If you choose this route, beware of a few potential pitfalls. First, not all credits earned through a community college will transfer to your chosen four-year university. Second, too many credit hours earned though a community college may disqualify your pupil from scholarships, grants, and other money offered only to incoming freshmen. Ignorance of these potential snares may ultimately cost you more than you save.
You can bypass thousands of college dollars by taking the right tests in high school. The PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) is used as a college scholarship indicator as well as a qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The PSAT is taken in the fall of the student's junior year. A National Merit Scholar may receive a tuition waiver from his prospective college. Many universities offer handsome scholarships to those who score high enough to be named a commendable scholar, semi-finalist, or finalist.
Even if your high schooler's score does not qualify him for these awards, it can be used to identify weak areas before taking the SAT. Most colleges require scores from the ACT or SAT as part of the admission process. However, sufficiently high scores on these tests can also qualify your student for merit-based scholarships. The best time to take the ACT or SAT is the end of the high school junior year, although taking prior practice tests at home is recommended. Scores from tests taken in the fall of the senior year will still be received in time for college admission applications.
Two other tests can help you save money by testing out of college classes while still in high school. If your high schooler takes the Advanced Placement (AP) exams and scores high enough, he can apply these course credits toward freshman year at college. Approximately 23 subject exams are offered, costing $70 to $80 each and scored on a 1–5 scale. The CLEP (College Level Examination Program) may also give advanced standing or college credit. These exams cost $50 each and cover various subjects. Scores range from 20 to 80, and many colleges require students to score a 50 to 60 for advanced standing.
You can save time and money by understanding how the AP and CLEP exams differ. The greatest variance is in content. The CLEP is designed for any student with a proper understanding of the subject. AP exams are fashioned from the AP course outline, and achieving the desired score may be challenging without first taking an AP course. This can be overcome by using the AP outline along with your high school course or by obtaining an AP subject prep book from your local bookstore. A second difference is that while both tests have multiple-choice questions, most AP exams also include essay questions. Many colleges will award advanced standing through AP, but fewer will do so through CLEP. Finally, AP exams are offered only in May and only through local high schools. CLEP exams are offered on more than 2,900 college campuses and can be taken at any time. My son took three AP exams his senior year and achieved the desired score on only one. Although we spent $240 on three AP tests, by passing one test he saved $5,000 in college tuition. It is possible to test out of an entire year of courses through AP and CLEP tests.
Financial assistance in the form of merit scholarships, need-based scholarships, grants, work-study, and loans can be obtained through federal, state, and local programs, as well as from your prospective college. The U.S. Department of Education will award approximately 70 billion dollars in federal aid this year to help families afford the towering cost of higher education. Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in receiving federal financial aid. The initial FAFSA is submitted after January 1 and before June 30 during your student's high school senior year. Federal Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are both calculated from the information provided on the FAFSA.
Pell Grants are designed for undergraduate students who have not yet received a college degree. If you have an extreme need, you may also be eligible for a FSEOG. Neither grant needs to be repaid. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for other need-based financial aid programs.
Federal work-study is a campus-based program that provides on-campus jobs for students with demonstrated financial need. Typically the wage is minimum. A Stafford Loan is a loan to the student, while PLUS Loans are loans to the parents of dependent college children. Federal Perkins Loans are campus-based, low-interest loans available to undergraduate and graduate students. Not only is the FAFSA a requirement for all federal aid, but it is also mandatory for most state and college aid, and state deadlines for submitting FAFSA may be earlier than the federal deadline.
Individual states can provide great benefits. Every state offers money for college through various state-sponsored scholarship programs, grants, and prepaid tuition plans. In our home state of Oklahoma, for instance, the State Regents for Higher Education offers merit scholarships from $1,000 per year up to a full four-year college ride. Find the information relevant to your state by contacting the state higher education office.
Nearly every college has its own scholarship and grant programs. Some awards are determined by the FAFSA; others require separate application. Ask your prospective college for a financial aid brochure. After the freshman year, numerous departmental scholarships are also available for the asking.
Don't ignore smaller awards offered locally. "Smaller" can mean any amount between $100 and $10,000. To locate these scholarships, contact your local government representative, your public library, or search the Internet. You may not think to turn to organizations for help with college costs, even though they are some of the best sources. These magnanimous organizations include service groups such as the Elks Club and Boy Scouts of America. They also include foundations formed by corporations or individuals that give away roughly 7,000 scholarships annually worth $45 million. Professional organizations, trade unions, and military service organizations also fall under this category. Don't forget to inquire about scholarships offered by your church, employer, or trade organization.
Other places you may not think to look are military colleges and ROTC. All three branches of the Armed Services operate their own degree-granting academies where a student can receive a "free" academically superior college education in exchange for the opportunity to serve his country after graduation.
Athletic scholarships are another possibility. However, you and your child might want to consider the negative aspects of this avenue before he invests the colossal amount of time required to win an athletic scholarship. First, consider the possibility of physical injury that can take your student out of the running for an athletic scholarship. Second, remember your athlete is being compared to the best in the country. Be realistic about his chances of winning a full athletic scholarship. Finally, assuming your sportsman lands that full scholarship, consider the time commitment required for playing college sports. Remember, the purpose of an athletic scholarship is to get a free education—a purpose that will be defeated if he fails in college.
Ladies and gentlemen, we've now come to the end of our guided tour from career choice to major to college, from applications to activities to aid. I hope you've enjoyed your stroll and that it has helped to prepare you for the real promenade with your homeschool high schooler. Have a pleasant journey!
AP (Advanced Placement)
http://collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/about.html -- Time and location available through collegeboard.com. Sign up through your local high school.
CLEP Test (College-Level Examination Program)
www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/clep/about.html -- Find testing center, then contact testing center to arrange to sit for exam.
College Entrance Examination Board
• Tests (SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, AP, CLEP): how to study, what is included on the tests, and more
• Tips on how to prepare for college during high school
• College search
• Financial aid advice and scholarship search
• Tips on how to find and choose a college, and how to apply
• Tips on academic programs, how to plan for college, etc.
• Personality test
• Careers test and majors test
• College major descriptions, applicable careers, etc.
• Career descriptions, college majors, and education needed for career
• Some include average salary and outlook
• College search—set criteria
• Online "journal" of goals, resume, interests, information, schools, etc.
FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)
PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test)
SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)
Renee Janzen resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her four teenagers. Micah studies engineering at Baylor University, having earned 85% of his college expenses in scholarships. Grace is a homeschooled senior and a candidate for National Merit Scholar. Samuel aspires to be a pilot via the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Natalie is considering medicine, but really wants to be a mommy. Renee operates a home business teaching junior and senior high homeschoolers, advising homeschool families concerning college, and writing. You may contact Renee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Fall 2007. Used with permission. www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com