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What They Don’t Tell You About Paying For College

What They Don’t Tell You About Paying For College

June 07, 2018

It’s the season of BBQs, boats, swimming, vacations, and graduation parties. During high school, this was the best part of the year for me!  No responsibilities! Stay up late! Sleep in! Summer baseball season! Shenanigans with my friends! I have so many great memories from those few months each year.  


If I knew then what I know now, I would have devoted a few hours each week to thinking and talking about my next phase of life: college.  Like many high school age students, I just wanted to enjoy summer!  I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, or how I was going to pay for it, and I certainly didn’t want to think about it.

However, sometime in January of my Senior year, I had a long talk with my parents. That’s when I learned two very important things. 1) My parents couldn’t afford to help me (and all of my siblings) pay for college. 2) My baseball passion and talents would not necessarily pay for college tuition or allow me to go to any university I wanted.

After I got over the shock, I decided I would just figure out how to pay for it on my own.  I’m 18 and nearly a man, I can do this….right? And that’s when I learned how out of touch I was with how much things cost, like a four year University.  How in the world was I going to make this work?

Fast forward to today, and I can happily share that this naive, wide-eyed Senior version of me muddled his way through college, graduated with minimal student loans, and is now a passionate resource for college-bound students.

Philosophy of Joint Responsibility

Today, I am a Para Planner at MSMF Wealth Management and have been working with Mark Finke, CFPⓇ, the F in MSMF, for a few years now.  I am involved in most of his client meetings, many of which are focused on college planning. Recently, Mark and I noticed that even though we had much different college planning experiences, we shared a philosophy of joint responsibility for college funding between parents and the college-bound student.  We both felt it was important for the student to have some “skin in the game.”

Over the years, Mark and I have both seen examples of young adults in their early 20’s who behave financially more like they are in their 30’s.  They have a discipline in their budgeting and savings habits that are miles ahead of many of their peers. These seasoned veterans have already learned the value of saving during the theoretical lowest earning years of their working life; so now that they have big girl and big boy jobs, they are saving champions.

The long term benefit of teaching this fiscal responsibility to our children is so important.  We can use college financial planning as a tool to teach responsibility, budgeting, the value of money, the value of your time, etc.  We encourage our clients to teach the value of money to their college bound students by assigning at least a portion of the education expense to them.

How do we do this? We work with our clients to find an appropriate and agreed upon amount for the student to cover.  For example, we worked with one couple earlier this year and determined the student is to pay for 25% of the expense and the parents would pay the rest.  This requires the student to buy-in and participate in the financial aspect of college planning; not just picking the coolest looking campus or following their friend from school.

Once this is agreed on by everyone (except for sometimes the student!! haha) we take a look at all of the funding options one by one.  I remember when I was at this stage. I was overwhelmed by the lack of pooled information. That’s why Mark and I make it a point to go over each option with the parents and high school age students we work with; we want them to be able to tap into all the knowledge and resources we do.

Scholarships Galore

When it comes to student college funding, the largest piece of the puzzle for the student is scholarships.  This option is nearly all on the student’s shoulders. They have to apply, meet the requirements, and accept each one.   

The coolest part is that there is a scholarship for everyone.  I’ve found some fun and even wild scholarships:

  • “Stuck at Prom” - create and wear your Prom dress or tux made from duct tape.
  • Twin/Triplet Dorm Room Waiver - attend NE Oklahoma A&M with your twin or triplet.
  • Chick and Sophie Major Memorial Duck Calling - participate in a duck calling contest.
  • Zombie Apocalypse - create a plan for an apocalypse.
  • Create-A-Greeting-Card - uh, you create a greeting card for a contest.
  • Tall Pines Quilt Guild - demonstrate proficiency in sewing… or plan on pursuing a math education degree
  • Doodle 4 Google - design a doodle using Google’s letters contest
  • Tall Clubs International Foundation - must be a girl taller than 5’10” or a boy taller than 6’2”
  • College Skateboarding Educational Foundation - must have “decent grades” and a “real passion for skateboarding”
  • Esports Scholarships - be an avid gamer

Many scholarships require some sort of resume with an essay.  Others are contests. However, many go unapplied for. That’s right, you read that correctly. There is a long list of scholarships that don’t get awarded simply because no one applied. In fact, there are so many opportunities that you could even possibly pay for your entire college bill.  Don’t believe me? That’s what this woman did.  And this guy.

If I could talk to my Sophomore or Junior self, getting ready for summer fun, I would tell me to set aside a few hours each week to write essays, update my college resume, and meet with counselors and financial advisors.  Using that little amount of time would have given me opportunities to earn even more scholarship money. And there would still be so much time to enjoy myself!

So if you are a high school student and college is on the horizon, apply, apply, APPLY!

If you’re the parent of a high school student, feel free to send this your kid’s way!

As I said earlier, Mark and I have created a presentation designed for college-bound high school students and their parents.  It covers expectations vs. reality (so you don’t get blindsided like me) and highlights several college funding options and ideas.  If you or someone you know would benefit from sitting down with us, please give us a call. (314) 677-2550