How to pay for your kid’s college

It’s amazing to me that parents who are willing to be academic iconoclasts for homeschooling are suddenly the most conservative people in the world when it comes to college: everyone’s going. Like, the way to prove homeschooling works is your kid goes to college.

But I think it’s actually the opposite. If homeschooling really works then you don’t need to think a lot about college at all. Here’s why

1. Top schools give free rides without high test scores.
Harvard gives scholarships to every kid who is admitted and doesn’t have a ton of family money. So if your kid is really so great academically, he can go to an Ivy League college where the cost is irrelevant and also, test scrores are much less important as a differentiator because what matters is what you’re great at.

2. Have your kids take out loans and default.
One of the hottest things for investors to buy right now is college loans. I get this information from my brother, who is an economist, but he always complains that I misquote him. So I  also get this information from the Chronicle of Higher Education. That’s because students can’t declare bankruptcy, but they can’t pay the loans, so they are getting special allowances to pay as low as $15/mo. In the meantime, the government is guaranteeing that it will pay back the loan in x number of years. So if your kid can figure out how to sit on the loan and pay $15/ mo for forever, that would be a great way to go.

3. Your kid can get a cheap, online degree.
When I see an online degree on a resume here’s what I think: The person has good self-knowledge because they know academics isn’t their strength. The person is good at cutting corners and finding low-cost solutions to big problems. And the person doesn’t need external validation in order to feel smart and capable. These are all signs of someone who will do very well in the world of business.

4. Bunch your kids. 
Since you’re homeschooling, you have more leeway to decide when kids are ready for college. If you send all your kids to college at one time, you get way more aid than if you do one kid at a time, because aid is often determined based on the percentage of income your family is spending on college tuition. I got this idea from Forbes, which has a list to many other equally as over-the-top suggestions, like sending a kid to the military.

5. Your kid can be an escort.
College-aged women are, of course, the very valuable in the dating world. So why not use that to their advantage? The web site is a great place for women to find a guy who will fund their college in exchange for who-knows-what. And CNN has validated this tactic with a how-to piece for college girls masquerading as a trend piece in the news section.

I know, you’re gonna be up in arms that I’m even suggesting this. But what I’m really suggesting is that kids feel way too much pressure to pay for college, and the pressure continues after college, when they also have to for pay for food and rent and their loan payments.

So figure out a way to show everyone that homeschool works that does not involve a fancy college. Most kids don’t need that degree for their lives. It’s only their parents who think they need it to feel like they made the right decision for their kids.

28 replies
  1. jhwordsmith
    jhwordsmith says:

    Thanks for this, Penelope. I agree that kids do not need to start professional life with 20 years of debt staring them in the face. This can lead to making the wrong life choices for themselves as they weigh the merits of high-paying jobs and lives filled with passion.

    I had saved for my daughter’s college expenses, but it wasn’t enough (her school is currently at $54,000/year). She got some grants and a few tiny loans. And I had a choice: do I help her get through the school of her choice or not?

    To pay for her college, I decided to put myself on a track to work less and earn more. My rates went up and I worked less (so as to have family time with our second). Suddenly clients started paying me to think – which they were increasingly having to outsource. So I developed a commodity people are willing to pay the bigger bucks for.

    The good news is that thinking doesn’t take as much time and labour as lower-paying jobs do. Such is the way of the knowledge economy.

  2. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    You write amazing closing paragraphs, including this one of course, since it reminded me to mention this.

    Also, I think suggestion #2 is indescribably foolish. But I get how one might think this was a tenable idea.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks, Daniel. I care a lot about the last paragraph, so I’m happy you noticed. It’s a weird thing to spend so much time on a blog. I mean, clearly I make most of my money from my other blog, and this one, about homeschooling, is an act of love.

      I think I write this blog 50% so that I can have a community of people that I’m working with to figure out homeschooling, and I write 50% because I love writing and I care so much about getting a good last paragraph. You help me on both sides of that equation, Daniel. Thanks.


  3. karelys
    karelys says:

    Yes I know people will be up in arms but recently I went to a few interviews just because (didn’t intend to take a job really) and ended up with like 3 job offers.
    I got married early so it’s not like I have much experience dating but interviews is like dating.

    So if your kid is going to go around dating might as well get paid for it and be able to make clear rules and boundaries for what will go down.

  4. Anna Louise
    Anna Louise says:

    6. Have them take community college classes in high school. Live in a university town and have them live at home unless they get full ride elsewhere. Encourage them to develop a special skill while in high school that pays several times minimum wage.

    • Jenn
      Jenn says:

      Community College in high school is the best deal going. I often complain how colleges have dumbed down the curriculum, but the easier instructors and more flexible admissions have been great for sending our high schoolers to CC.

      My oldest started CC the Spring of her “junior” year at 16 and has performed well. She should walk away this summer with two years under her belt at the time traditionally schooled kids graduate high school and all for a very discounted cost. Plus, with the education tax credit, it was like she was getting paid to go to school.
      I wonder what employers think of kids that graduate college at 19 or 20?

  5. Jana
    Jana says:

    My son is both going to college and starting professional life. He chose a state school at $6000 a year. He just found a job for 30 hours a week and because many of his classes are online-this works. And we home-schooled so he was done with Junior College ($2000 a year) in one year.

    I’m not saying what we did was perfect…just saying it’s possible to play the game-get the degree that many employers still think is important and also play the game your own way.

    He’s majoring in public speaking after never taking a speech class until last year at the community college. How’s that for being an unsocialized homeschooler!

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I graduated from a state college in 2003. I got some scholarships and worked, but I’m still paying back my student loans, and probably will be for another 5 years or so.

    I’m going to encourage my daughter to think long and hard about her college options.

  7. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    I’m thinking I’ll find another way for my kids to go to college besides whoring and robbing.

    • Crimson Wife
      Crimson Wife says:

      Only a liberal would sneer at joining the military to pay for college but be okay with selling one’s body. I, for one, would be very proud to have my daughters (or son) serve their country like their father did but would be appalled at them becoming “sugar babies”.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        My dad paid for college with the GI bill after his service as a Marine. His deep faith in socialism led him to serve our country, and he was repaid in kind.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “3. Your kid can get a cheap, online degree.”

    I would also think initiative and self-discipline.

  9. Matt
    Matt says:

    What ever happened to “Have your kid work and earn their own way through college.”?

    I’m the first to admit I don’t know what college costs right now. I graduated in 2005 which wasn’t that long ago.
    I lived with my parents, so I didn’t have living expenses; your kid can do this too. You can pay for the roof over their head.
    I commuted to school in a beater car that I paid for.
    I worked during weekends and worked two jobs in the summer. I was able to save enough during the summer to pay for the entire next semester plus some of the second.
    I never received a grant.
    I received a $500 scholarship. That’s all the help I got.
    I now have a BS in Electro Mechanical Engineering Technology from the Pennsylvania State University.
    I never needed any loans. The only assistance I got was my parents allowing me to live at home while I pursued my education. Forgo the parties; forgo the extra crap you don’t need. Live within your means and make it happen.

    Frankly, I think I’m a lazy shit. If I can pull this off, so can your college bound kid. It took me six years to get a four year degree, but I did it without any loans, without bankrupting my parents, and without screwing the government loan system (really? this is your solution?).
    I did it with my head held high.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The problem with working your way through college is that the biggest value to college right now is to give you access to internships. The best jobs require a track record of great internships, and the great internships go to college kids. So if you have to earn money during college, you can’t get those great internships because they pay in course credit rather than cash.


      • Matt
        Matt says:

        I respectfully disagree. I did not hold an internship, nor was it ever recommended by the college (there’s a new topic to focus on). I did, however, work for a company that was directly related to my field using the social and technical skills I learned on my own, or in high school. I gained experience while getting paid and I was not the only one doing it. My mentors were my bosses, and my “internship” was my job.
        I still do not feel as though I am an exception. It is possible to gain experience through employment rather than volunteering or earning course credit.
        This course credit is not college work at all. The credit given to interns demonstrates that working during school is more valuable than actual classroom work otherwise it would not be done. I don’t feel I got the short end of the stick because I took a job instead of an “internship”. I can only imagine I got the same experience since I’m now working side by side with other engineers who gave up their summers working for an internship for the same company we now work at.
        These same engineers volunteered their time to get college credit, to get a job to pay off the debt the encored to get that college credit they earned while volunteering for a job they could have been getting paid for.

  10. Bird
    Bird says:

    Have the courage of your convictions. If homeschooling’s done its job, they’ll know if they need to go and they’ll find a way to pay. If they can’t figure these two things out, they probably don’t belong in college (at least not yet.)

    I’m not at all sure mine will want to go; I suspect she’ll want to start a business. Fine with me; also fine if she wants to go. It’s not my decision (though of course I’ll be a resource.)

    Consider not trying to have this both ways. It undercuts pretty much every other smart thing you say.

  11. Karen
    Karen says:

    Option #2 is not as straightforward as you are making it seem. If you have big loans and only pay $15/month on them they will keep growing as the loans are not interest free. When the government forgives them 25 years down the road you will have to pay taxes on the final amount as it will count as a gift. You will still owe a huge chunk of change to the government.

  12. Julianna
    Julianna says:

    my fantastic financial advisor told me I only need to save for 2 years of college. we make good money, that’s easy enough. then we pay for the third with money we make during the college years and kids are on the hook for one year which they can pay for in any way they want (loans, grants, FA, work-study during the 4 years)

    I’m not sure why you obviously stress about this? You make 15k per speech as you often point out. How hard is it to automatically move money from your savings to the kids’ 529 each month. It’s far less than one day’s work for both kids?

    Unless you are just thinking about this now and not when you should have, when they were babies.

    instead you think scamming the govt or hooking is a good option? things dont need to be this complicated

  13. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    A few facts might be helpful:

    “1. Top schools give full rides without test scores. ”
    Reality: Test optional does not apply to homeschoolers. Nearly all selective schools that are test optional require the SAT or ACT from homeschoolers. Even for public and private school students the list of selective schools that do not require the SAT or ACT is not very large. You mentioned Harvard. It requires test scores and only accepted 6% of applicants last year. Harvard and other top schools have nearly all their admitted students scoring near the top of the tests and they reject many students who have perfect test scores.

    “2. Have your kids take out loans and default.”
    Many people have a moral problem with stealing from their fellow citizens. Setting that aside for a minute, for practical reasons this is also a mess. Student loan debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. If your child has interest in taking out a loan to buy a house, finance a car, open a business, or attend graduate school this is a horrible idea. Defaulting on federal loans give the government the right to garnish wages, social security and tax refunds. Paying down a little tiny bit a month doesn’t reduce your balance and interest will just keep piling on.

    Better ways to save on the cost of college:
    1. Work hard and earn merit aid. Develop your talents.
    2. Create a careful college list. Research which schools provide more scholarships and aid and apply there. Find schools where you have something good to offer.
    3. Earn college credits while in high school through AP, CLEP and dual enrollment.
    4. Community college to state university remains the most financially attractive option for many students.

    • Crimson Wife
      Crimson Wife says:

      I do know some homeschool graduates who got around the requirement to take the SAT or ACT by first graduating from a community college. The good grades from the CC allowed the students to transfer into a highly selective university without ever having to take an admissions test.

  14. Jane
    Jane says:

    Most kids don’t need college? Really? Are you sure you want to stick with that statement?

    Frankly, I think the more educated population we have, the better. And I am grateful for the doctors, nurses, engineers and scientists who make our lives better. They couldn’t have done it without a college degree, though.

    • Crimson Wife
      Crimson Wife says:

      There is actually no evidence that R.N.’s with a bachelor’s degree have better patient outcomes than R.N.’s with just an associates. The old diploma nursing programs that have been eliminated had just as high a pass rate on the licensing exam as A.S.N. and B.S.N. programs did. “Degree creep” is a big problem when it raises costs without providing substantial improvements in outcome.

      • Elizard
        Elizard says:

        While you are correct in the research stating that a more advanced nursing degree doesn’t affect patient outcomes, it does affect the salary of the nurse and her advancement opportunities. Associate Degree nurses cannot (usually) move up into management positions or other “off the floor” positions without first attaining their BSN. Working for a hospital that pays for classes, though, allows you to start with the ADN degree and then work and take classes for free for the BSN (or higher degree).

        Nursing is a field that is difficult to get internships in (though you can usually get a senior year something or other) but having experience working as a tech (paid position) while you are in school will help you get a job when you have that RN after your name.

  15. LuckyStars
    LuckyStars says:

    Thank you for being bold enough to list seeking-arrangement as an option although I would recommend sugardaddie instead from personal experience. I was 19 trying to afford college and not able to work for very complicated reasons but what I did have was looks and personality. I stumbled across the sugardaddie site and met someone who bought me a car, paid all of my tuition and had a lot of fun in the process. I also learned a lot about business because he was an entrepreneur, this was a good experience overall way better than the typical mundane college job. Also, people never seem to acknowledge that not everyone is smart enough to finish college while working. I would not have been able to get a degree without all of the support that I received from him (tutors, laptop, car etc) all paid for without having to waste my time working.

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