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A Year Off From College? It Doesn't Make $ense

Sep 24, 2014 08:58AM ● By Rick Spencer

College is expensive, but if you do plan ahead, it shouldn't cost a sack of Benjamins to attend.

My nephew was over for a visit this past weekend and I was disappointed with his answer when I asked him how classes were going at college this fall.

“I’m taking a semester or two off to earn some money,” he said. “I’m making $16.00 an hour, so I might just finish up part time.”

My response to him was – “Why?”

Why, when statistics show that the average male college graduate earns 66% more than the average male with just a high school diploma, would you ever want to stretch out a four-year college education over six or eight or even 10 years so that you could “work your way through college?”

If, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the average male college graduate (holding a bachelor’s degree) earns $66,200 per year and the average male with a high school diploma earns just $40,500 a year, why would you want to earn over $25,000 less for an extra two or four years or even six, and cost yourself as much as $150,000 in potential earnings?

The fact is, there is money available for just about anyone who wants to go to college, through a variety of grants and loans and scholarships, and all you have to do is seek out and find these funds.

To be sure, it’s not easy to find the sources of these funds. And applying for the kind of money that you aren’t required to pay back is sometimes tougher than scoring an “A” in Advanced Topics In Quantam Mechanics at Stanford. But if you polish your resume just right, and find the right college that’s looking for someone just like you to fill the seats in their classrooms, the money is out there.

College Is A Business

Students (and their parents) who hope to attend college, have to understand that college is a business. Every institution, both public and private, is selling a product – a very valuable, post-secondary education. This “product” is not cheap, but by the same token that very few people ever end up paying the exact same price for the same new car at the local auto dealer, very few people ever end up paying “sticker price” to go to college, either.

How much of a deal you get depends on a few questions. The first one is, “What do you bring to the picnic?” If colleges are competing against each other in an effort to lure in students, then colleges have to differentiate themselves from the pack and offer something unique. So what are your skills, your passions, your interests? Are you an athlete, a musician, a great writer, or a civic-minded volunteer who will join just about any cause? If so, colleges will want you, because you’re going to add something to the overall campus experience. Having a vibrant, exciting campus atmosphere makes it easier for your college to market itself to the next generation of prospective students.

Next question: What does your financial picture look like? Colleges use a complicated formula to figure out how much financial aid you are eligible for, and the amount you get can range from flat-out zero, to every last penny. It all depends on how good a job you do filling out those confusing financial aid forms they use to determine your financial aid award. So if you’re not an experienced accountant or a budding math whiz, you should probably think about asking an expert for some help when it comes time to fill out those forms. Simply re-positioning your assets the right way can make a big difference.

The Right Fit Is Critical

The right fit is also critical in finding the best deal. If you are a Methodist from the east coast and you want to go to a Catholic College in the Mid-West, you might get a better financial aid package because all schools try to have some level of diversity in their student body. Or if you want to study Biology and lots of seniors graduated from “Scientific University” with degrees in Biology last spring, Scientific U might offer you a better deal than your best friend the English major gets.

And even if the college of your choice doesn’t offer you a big juicy financial aid package, borrowing money for college is almost always a better choice than stretching out your education over so many years that your kids are your classmates by the time you graduate. Interest rates are fairly affordable now and you can stretch your loan pay-back period over 10-15 years, so why wait?

Whether you’re looking for loans, or grants and scholarships, your best bet is to do as much research as possible on your own, and consider getting help in the areas where you are not comfortable. Your high school guidance office is a good place to start and there’s always the internet, although I’m still looking for an “index” to the internet that doesn’t bury me with unsolicited advertising and misleading search results. There are also a variety of college search and college funding companies that have become popular in recent years, because they’ve got most of the answers written down already.

At College Funding Solutions, we offer a comprehensive college search and funding program that students can enroll in as early as their freshman year in high school. CFS guides prospective students through the entire process, from locating the right school for you, to choosing a major, to preparing for the SAT tests, to filling out your college applications and financial aid forms. They’ll recommend the right courses to take in high school, edit your application essays, and even appeal your financial aid package to get you a better deal. Since 1993, CFS has helped over 20,000 families navigate the tricky college search process and maximize their financial aid awards.

So start early, plan ahead, and think it through. A few hours of research could pay big dividends in the long run.

Rick Spencer is a certified College Funding Advisor associated with the American College Foundation and College Funding Solutions, Inc.
He has two daughters currently in college. Questions for Rick? You can reach him at


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