The acceptances to two of the three colleges of choice have already arrived. Each letter asked for a deposit. There’s only one problem. There’s no way to pay to go to either of these schools because of the recession.
Maybe one parent or even both recently got pink slips. Or it was impossible to get a loan. Or there’s no part-time job available for the prospective college student. Thanks to the recession, many high school students’ dreams as well as their future job prospects are in limbo. Two years ago, their families would have never dreamed it could happen.
The financial shortfall for most families means a much higher number than just the difference between buying new versus used textbooks. It also translates into hundreds of exhausted financial aid officers besieged by students whose circumstances have changed since they applied for admission last fall.
If you or a family member can’t come up with a way within just a few months to pay for a higher education, there are still some alternatives available if you’re willing to lower your expectations a bit and if you still want to get a college degree. Here are a few of them:
1. Forget the dorm. If a college or university that accepted you is within a reasonable commuting distance, forget the cost of the dorm at least for your freshman year and keep your room at home. You’ll save on both room and board.
2. Think two-year college. Community and junior colleges might not have been on the wish list, but most are excellent bargains, particularly when it comes to instate tuition. You will have to prove residency just as you would with any state school. However, most accept admissions until near the first day of classes. Make sure all the classes for which you register will transfer to a four-year school, however.
3. Ask for a deferral. If you think your family’s financial situation will turn around within a year, ask the college or university to grant a deferred admission. The disadvantage to this alternative is that if there is no change at home and you can’t find at least a part-time job for a year, that period of time is just plain gone as far as your education. And very picky schools with waiting lists are unlikely to grant deferrals.
4. Consider a part-time schedule. If the financial shortfall is limited only to tuition, take a look at whether you could afford to register for just a part-time schedule and go to school 12 months a year.
5. Consider an online college. The beauty of this alternative is that you can go to school – in some cases on a full-time basis – without ever leaving your home. If you enroll through a state school, you might be able to afford a full-time course load for at least a semester. With more limited funds, you can take just a course or two at a time. You might be able to work this out at one of the colleges that admitted you. Founded in order to cater to working adults who are at least 25 years old, schools such as the University of Phoenix are becoming popular with penny pinchers of all ages despite the cost of tuition because students want to be able to work while studying. This is especially true if the employer pays some of the cost.
6. Advanced placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. By the time the senior year in high school is underway, it’s too late for a student to consider this option. However, for sophomore and juniors, it’s a way to gain at least some college credits. How many hours of credit a college will grant you depends on the subject area and how high you score on each test.
7. College-school partnership. According to The Washington Post, this option could earn you college credit while you’re still arriving at your high school each day. High school students in the Fairfax County, Virginia public education system can start earning a bachelor’s degree before they get their high school diplomas. One student taking English and government classes through Northern Virginia Community College, a two-year school, is able to pay just $43 tuition for a composition course instead of $286 assessed students on the college’s campus. Her high school pays for her books. In nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, around 450 students are simultaneously enrolled in Montgomery College classes held at their high schools.