4 Things to Do if You Can't Afford Your Child's First Choice College


As a parent, you want to make your child's college dreams a reality. But what can you do if you can't afford your child's first choice college? Here are four realistic options for parents to consider as they determine the financial feasibility of their child's college plans.

First Choice Feasibility

Initially, your child's first choice college may not seem like a viable financial option. Even so, there are several steps parents can take to make their child's college choice more affordable.

#1: Discuss the Choice with Your Child

Parents who are paying for some or all of their child's education should understand the reasoning behind their child's first choice. Does the institution boast a highly ranked program in your child's prospective major? Will several of your child's close friends be attending that college? Or does the first choice college simply have a well-known name?

A Major Choice

Your child may have already settled on a major, such as business or entrepreneurship. Perhaps your child dreams of creating a successful start-up and wants an education that will support that dream.

Picking a prestigious school for its academics is understandable. However, other schools might have similar offerings and comparable quality—and a more reasonable price tag.

Social Ties

Perhaps several of your child's high school friends plan to attend the first choice school. Could that be your child's primary motivation for choosing that school?

College is an opportunity to make new friends.

Maintaining friendships is important, and today's technology gives us more ways to keep in touch than ever before. But college is a time to expand one's horizons—not just intellectually, but socially. If your child clings too closely to hometown friends, there will be fewer opportunities to widen his or her social circle.

Prestige and Reputation

Your child may believe that it will be easier to start a career with a diploma from Harvard or Yale, for example, than it would be with a degree from a lesser-known school. But a famous name is not the only ingredient for career success.

An impressive transcript and top-notch test scores will demonstrate your child's work ethic and ability to learn to potential employers. Regardless of which college your child ultimately attends, factors such as exemplary performance during an internship or glowing letters of recommendation from professors go far in determining career success after graduation.

#2: Explore Alternative Credit

If your child has legitimate reasons for wanting to attend a higher-priced school, consider ways to defray tuition costs. One practical option that might be overlooked is alternative credit.

College credit can be earned in several ways. For example, your child could take online courses to earn transferable credit. The cost for the online courses can be significantly lower than taking comparable courses at a public or private university. There are many advantages to this approach, including its flexibility.

Alternative college credit can make college more affordable.

Another option for earning alternative college credit is through standardized testing. Here are a few of the most recognized programs:

Before registering for any of these programs or tests, however, it's important to make sure that your child's college of choice will accept alternative transfer credit. There are multiple factors to consider when researching the credit transfer policy at your child's first choice school.

#3: Consider Community College

Community colleges are unsung heroes of higher education. With notably lower tuition than state schools or private universities, the unique learning environments offer students a foundation for a successful career.

Community college courses are an affordable option.

Students can complete certain basic requirements at a community college, saving their more expensive tuition costs for taking higher profile courses later at their institutions of choice. Some students transfer to a four-year institution for their junior and senior years, after graduating from community college with an associate's degree.

#4: Apply for Financial Aid and Scholarships

There are several financial aid options available, including:

There are advantages to applying for loans from the federal government, as opposed to a loan from a private institution such as a bank. For instance, federal student aid loans tend to have lower interest rates and more repayment options than private loans. Also, parents paying for student loans can deduct the loan interest on their taxes.

Parents might afford a first choice college with financial aid.

Submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first step in applying for federal financial aid for college, whether you're interested in federally funded student loans, grants, or work-study. You may be able to combine financial aid from several sources to create the combination of assistance that will make college affordable.

Bringing the Dream within Reach

Your child's first choice college goal may be more attainable than you realize.'s College Accelerator is a convenient, economical way for your child to earn college credit that's accepted at over 1,500 colleges and universities.

By Michelle Baumgartner
September 2018
k-12 parent tips

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