5 Ways Parents Can Help Pay for College Without Spending a Cent

ways to pay for college

As a parent, there’s likely nothing more you want for your child than to see them succeed.

Although success often stems from receiving a higher education, the average cost of college today is pretty steep — about $33,000 a year for a private four-year institution to be exact. Not to mention, you likely have other financial goals to consider, such as retiring or paying off a mortgage.

Fortunately, you can help figure out ways to pay for college that won’t hurt your wallet. Find out how you can help finance your child’s education without spending a cent.

How to help your child pay for college without going broke

Here are some great ways to pay for college without actually putting any money on the table, according to parents and college graduates.

1. Help your child fill out the FAFSA

how to help your child pay for college

Image credit: Federal Student Aid

One of the first steps your child should take when applying for schools is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will let your child access federal financial aid that can be used to fund their college education.

Unfortunately, the process can be complicated; that might be why billions of dollars in financial aid went unclaimed last year. Helping your child fill out the form correctly can ensure they’ll get the most money (from grants to federal loans) possible. That’s what Jaime Leon and his wife did for both of their children who went to private colleges.

“When FAFSA time came, it was a parent-child team effort,” said Leon. “I can’t see how a high schooler by themselves could get through that. We guided them when they received their financial aid/loan offers and helped them to understand the bigger picture of how much they would owe at the end.”

Although the Leons did help pay for some tuition costs after their children brought home good grades, filling out the FAFSA helped cover the bulk of the costs.

2. Help your child choose a major that will lead to a high-paying job

do most parents pay for college

Parents have the experience and knowledge to help guide a child’s interests and choice of college to make sure a pricey education is worth it. That’s what Nathaniel Turner did for his son when they were researching potential majors and schools.

“My son’s academic experiences were specifically structured so he would choose a major with an exceptional return on investment (ROI),” said Turner. “He also selected the university whose degree offered the highest ROI.”

To do this, Turner went through a series of guiding steps with his son:

  • Tailored his academic development around meeting the qualifications of the top institutions
  • Projected college costs for the types of universities he wanted to attend
  • Stayed abreast of employment trends via sources like the World Economic Forum and PayScale
  • Visited U.S. News & World Report to examine things such average graduate salaries, EPS (endowment per student), and four-year graduation rates
  • Had his son apply to college and universities that reported the highest four-year graduation rates for African-American male engineers
  • Helped him open an IRA when he started his first job, so he would also know the value of long-term financial goals

Instead of wondering, “Should parents pay for college tuition?” help your child find a well-paying job upon graduation to pay off any student loan debt they incur along the way.

3. Help your child get a paid internship, side hustle, or part-time job

should parents pay for college tuition

There’s a reason summer jobs are a thing; they help your kids make their own money to pay for their own stuff.

Well, the same holds true while your child is in college too. Having your child earn an income while they’re still in school is one of the best ways to pay for college. It could help them pay down their loans or cover the cost of their tuition.

Although your child will be the one applying for jobs, you can certainly help guide them on how to get a job. This could include:

  • Reviewing how to craft a resume
  • Doing mock interviews before your child meets with an employer
  • Going through their wardrobe to choose a professional outfit

As a college student your child could look into:

  • Getting an on-campus job such as tutoring or working in the library
  • Stacking their school schedule with classes on certain days so that they can work on others
  • Taking on a side hustle such as becoming a DoorDash Dasher or tutoring

Even better, you could encourage your child to get a paid internship.

“My parents encouraged me to get a paying internship while in school,” said Gabriel Kirshtein. “This was great because I got credit for school, real-world experience, and started making money to help pay back my student loans. The internship even helped me land a full-time job when I graduated.”

4. Help your child earn college credits while in high school

earn college credits

Just because your child isn’t in college yet doesn’t mean they can’t start earning university credits.

“I had my son enroll in AP classes so he could take the AP test to earn college credits,” said Turner. “He had 33 hours worth before starting college.”

Taking AP exams is one of the best ways to pay for college. Each exam costs $94 to take and even less for low-income families. That’s huge savings compared to the $661 average cost of college credit at a four-year private for-profit university. The exams are scored from one to five, and many colleges will give credit for scores of three or higher.

But AP exams aren’t the only way your child can earn college credits in high school. They can secure some credits through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and a dual-enrollment program.

Having more credits before even setting foot on campus also means your child could graduate early and save more on housing, food, and overall tuition costs.

5. Help your child navigate private student loans

applying for private student loans

Although applying for federal aid and scholarships should be the first line of defense when looking for ways to pay for college, your child still might have a gap in financial coverage.

So, do most parents pay for college then? Well, not exactly. Parents still have the option of cosigning their child’s private student loans.

“We helped both of our children fill out the FAFSA and research scholarships first,” said Leon. “But we did end up having to cosign some private student loans to cover the remaining costs.”

Unlike federal student loans, which are issued and regulated by the government, private student loans are issued by independent lenders. That means their criteria for who can qualify for a loan is based on things such as a credit score and income. Many college students might not meet those requirements and therefore need a parent cosigner to qualify for the loan or potentially receive a better interest rate.

Cosigning can help your child get the money they need to pay for school without requiring you to spend any money upfront.

On the flip side, although your child is responsible for paying back the loan, you are on the hook if they can’t pay. Before cosigning a loan, it’s important to talk to your child about how the repayment process will work and the importance of staying on top of payments, so you’re not stuck paying back the loan later on.

Your lender might offer cosigner release once your child makes a certain number of payments. This would relieve you of that burden and is something you should talk about with potential lenders and your child before signing off on any loan.

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