1. Pay cash for your degree

Using your own money that you’ve budgeted for specific purposes is always the best and wisest approach to paying for anything. And that includes college. If you’re the parent of younger kids, now might be a great time to begin saving for their education. But if you’re getting closer to campus drop-off day and haven’t saved a dime, don’t panic. I have plenty of tips for you.


11. Get on a budget

Now this is one of those pieces of advice that might sound too obvious to mention—until you realize how few people budget. Trust me, it’s worth your time to be sure your child knows how to make and stick to a budget before they leave for college.

If they’ll list their monthly income and expenses and give every dollar a job to do, your child will begin to really take ownership of their college experience. They’ll also get some insight into just why you don’t want them to take the easy way out by getting school loans. When they see how much it really costs to pay for a month of college in terms of food, transportation, clothing and rent, they’ll probably take their schoolwork more seriously too.

Plus, pointing your kids toward a fun, easy-to-use app like EveryDollar might even make them want to budget.

Nick Niehaus – Scholarships

I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in December of 2009.

I had three scholarships, one from school, Bright Flight from the state of Missouri, and a National Merit scholarship from Boeing. My grandparents had a fund that helped pay some, my parents paid a portion and I paid the remainder with money I earned doing an internship with College Works Painting for all 4 years of school.

2) Apply for A LOT of Scholarships

Make applying for scholarships your part-time job. I’m not talking about applying for 5-20 scholarships. Apply to 1,000 or more. Even if you only have 80% of the qualities they’re looking for in an applicant, it doesn’t hurt to apply.

Look at local companies in your area when finding scholarships. Many of the smaller local scholarships aren’t marketed as widely and take a little more digging to find. Check the places your parents work as well since they will sometimes have one for employees’ families only.

Scholarships of a lower monetary value usually have fewer applicants since people think it’s not worth the effort. If a $500 scholarship only takes 20 minutes to apply for and you get it, that’s a great return on investment. Far more than you make spending that same time at a retail job.

The PSAT Matters For Scholarships

Most people think of the PSAT as the practice for the SAT. They also think that it doesn’t matter and may not even do preparation for it. Besides, it’s the SAT that matters, right?


The PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship qualifying test. That means if you don’t do well on this test, your chance for a National Merit Scholarship is gone. The top scores become National Merit Finalists and are awarded scholarships. The PSAT score cutoff for National Merit varies depending on which state you live in.

PSAT scores are also used as a qualifier for the National Hispanic Recognition Program which looks great on college applications.

Layton Cox – Working And House Hacking

My name is Layton Cox. I graduated from the University of Arizona with zero student loan debt in 2013.

I grew up in Texas, and ever since I was a little kid my parents stressed the importance of a college education. When I become a junior in high school, we traveled across the country to multiple college campuses to decide where I wanted to go to school. I dwindled the list down to two schools: University of Arizona and Texas Christian University.

University of Arizona gave me a $10,000/year academically based scholarship. This practically made my out-of-state tuition into in-state tuition. This was the deciding factor to what school I went to.

During my freshmen year, I took out a few loans from my father to pay for school expenses. I didn’t want to start working my first year into college, but I knew eventually I would have to pay him back.

My sophomore year, I convinced my father to pay the down payment on a house promising him that I would continue with the mortgage payments. This was during 2010. The real estate market, especially in Tucson, had fallen and was a fraction of what it was in 2007. We were able to buy a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom house about 4 miles from campus for around $100k. He paid $20k on the down payment and the rest was up to me.

My original goal for the house was to rent out the extra bedrooms to cover the cost of the mortgage and then just coast. However, being a landlord is not easy. I struggled to find reliable and trustworthy roommates. This was an emotional, physical, and economical strain.

Over the next two years I had to take up various other jobs to cover late rent, empty bedrooms, and the repeating empty summers (students don’t stay in town if they don’t have to, even less of them pay rent in the summer).

I worked as a pawn shop broker for a year, I worked as a mortgage banker for a while, I even worked in student government to collect a paycheck through the university as well. Eventually I started interning at the company I am at today.

In September of 2013 I sold my house for right around $150,000. After paying back my father’s security deposit and the small loans I took from him at the beginning of my collegiate career, I came on top about $30,000.

This is how I paid for college. Through a luckily timed real estate investment and a lot of long hours finding roommates and working in a pawn shop. I got lucky. If the real estate market had continued to go down instead of up, I would not be able to write this story today.

I would never ever recommend someone pay for college this way. It was a lot of work and sleepless nights. There were days when my mortgage payment would hit my account and I would have less than $5 to get me to the next payday. I became a big fan of canned tuna and ramen noodles. Luckily, I survived house hacking. I’m glad it worked out, but I would never do it again.

Now I’m still in Tucson. I work as an investment advisor (ironic huh?) and sunk that $30,000 into the down payment for my condo I’m living at now. I learned a lot outside of the classroom that has greatly helped me today, and the majority of it came from that damned house.

How do you find the right scholarships for your student?

  • Do a Google search, and be very specific. Google “summer scholarships” and add the year because it’s going to narrow the results. If you just search “summer scholarships” you’re going to get scholarships that aren’t even offered anymore.
  • Look at what your student is interested in. Say he volunteers. Search ‘volunteering scholarships’ and put the year in.
  • Also in Google there are tools you can use to go to any article that’s been published in the last month, the last year, whatever. I always choose the last year to find current information.
  • You know those big scholarship books that come out every year? I love those books. Yeah, it’s a little old-fashioned but they’re organized by your ethnicity, your interests, your hobbies, where you live. Those books are wonderful.


Tuition Assurance for students who receive federal and state aid (2021-2022)
Tuition Assurance* $19,500
C of O Work Program -6,244
Pell Grant (if eligible) 0 to -6,495
Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (if eligible) -4,000
Missouri State Grants (if eligible) -1,500
C of O Tuition Assurance Scholarship   0 to -13,256
Cash Cost to Student $0.00
Tuition Assurance for students who do not receive federal and state aid (2021-2022)
Tuition Assurance* $19,500
C of O Work Program -6,244
C of O Tuition Assurance Scholarship   -13,256
Cash Cost to Student $0.00

*Does not include room and board, books or Health/Technology/Services fees. Please see the Costs webpage for more information on these expenses.

Part-time students pay a fee of $310 per credit hour.

How did I save money as a broke college student?

I saved huge money by living at home. I didn’t have to ever worry about paying bills to survive.

I’ve thanked my parents for this by throwing surprise parties and even sending them to the Bahamas one year. This was huge. I would’ve been buried in debt if I moved away for college.

To save money and pay for tuition, I always held a job in college. I worked construction, started blogging, and even found work on campus (exam invigilator, those guys who catch you cheating!).

I firmly believe that all students should work because it helps you meet people, make money, and figure out how to manage your time so that you’re not on Facebook all day.

Was working in college easy?

Not at all. I often questioned myself and my stubbornness. Some days I was running on fumes and the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I would be debt-free at the end of this journey.

As I mentioned above, I was forced to manage my time ruthlessly and I did rely on coffee a bit too much. I tried to work at least 20 hours a week. I was able to work on the weekends and evenings (depending on how my schedule worked out).

Was working in college worth it?


If your program is too intense for work, you can always work during the summer months like mad!

You need to be realistic with yourself as a 19-year old. I thought that I would have no time to study and work. Then I soon figured out that priorities and coffee would trump all. So from 2006-2009, I didn’t watch any shows. Don’t ask me about anything from pop culture from that time period. The only show that I followed was The Office because it was on Thursdays after class.

6) Save In A 529 Plan

A 529 plan is a tax-free savings account.  After-tax dollars can be contributed and all of the earnings are tax-free as long as they’re used for approved educational expenses. Think of it as an educational Roth IRA but you don’t have to wait until you’re 59 ½ to access it.  

Looking back at all of the toys I received as a child, I wish about half of that had been saved and put into a 529 plan. Gifts as small as $50 would have time to triple over 18 years to $164.  Factor in larger numbers and you’re talking about some serious growth.

Some states even offer state tax benefits for contributing to a 529 plan.  If you don’t live in one of these states, it is worth checking out a highly rated plan in a different state to contribute to.  

If you hadn’t planned on saving money for your child to go to college, keep in mind that each family will be assigned an EFC amount based on a calculation from the government.

This is the Expected Family Contribution number that all college aid is based on. Use this calculator to see what yours will be.

So regardless of whether you saved, the government is going to expect you to be able to contribute that much before offering need-based help.

Related: How Much Money to Give for a High School Graduation

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Tuition Assurance

The Tuition Assurance is the cost to the College for providing an educational opportunity for each student. Most institutions pass along a portion of this cost as tuition; this is not the case at College of the Ozarks. This allows C of O students to graduate debt-free.

How can parents motivate students?

Of course students want to win money but many don’t want to do the work. Take the burden off—let them know you’re in it together. I dangled the University of Michigan carrot in front of my son’s nose a lot when he was applying because I kept saying “If you don’t win the scholarships, we can’t afford to send you. So how badly do you want to go?”

Also, have a really honest talk about money. Get them excited about where they want to go and be very clear: This is how much we have saved for college, this is how much we can afford to give you per month, and this is how much money you need to come up with on your own. You need to know your own student. Find what motivates them. Try everything. I advocate applicants invest 15 minutes a day. If you can work on scholarships 15 minutes a day, that’s 91 hours per year. Fifteen minutes is no big deal. How can you say no?

Work together! Take the pressure off of both of you. To me, when students win scholarships, the parents also win. That’s fewer loans you’re taking out. That’s less pressure.Ready to apply for scholarships? Check out these proven tips on how to start a scholarship essay


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