How to get a free college education

Free College Education

You hear it all over the news right now – day in and day out – about a FREE college education.  Yes, that SOUNDS terrific – no six figure or close to it debt that your child probably won’t be able to repay.  If your child goes to a state college and is awarded an “average” scholarship, the cost is close to $100,000 if your child takes six years to graduate, which is the trend right now.  It’s a scary proposition for our children and if you are here you want to try and do something about it.

Should it be free?

However, let’s think about something first.  How much are things that are FREE valued?  Does your child value their K-12 education now?  Do they do their best to learn as much as they can and be the best student they can be?  No?  Why is that?  Because school is seen a punishment that students can’t wait to get away from – it’s not viewed a privilege they should grateful for since they are forced to go and they don’t have to pay for it.  I’m not suggesting that a 6-year-old should pay for school but rather at that age, we, as a society, should give it to them as a gift.  That means that we shouldn’t require anything from them, like you wouldn’t do that for any gift you give.

However, at some point, education needs to stop being a gift and a privilege and honor to go.  Many countries have it set at 7th grade and only those who are serious and are academic go on while the rest of the students go to trade school or get jobs.  Anyway, that’s not what this blog post is about.  It’s about how to get that FREE education.  You can absolutely get it for free or very close to it – even if you don’t get a full scholarship for being a first-string player for Duke’s basketball program.

Ways to get money to help pay for college

Let me tell you what I’ve learned first-hand while looking at colleges for my oldest son. When Ian was a junior, we started talking with college admission.  Every college told him that he would qualify for their highest merit scholarships.  For all of the colleges we are looking at, that is over ½ off their initial price.  On top of that, there are multiple other scholarships that he qualifies for and even one college we are looking at there is a good chance he would be awarded a full scholarship because of his knowledge of the US Constitution.  So let’s break it down to how to get these scholarships.

  • Merit Scholarships – the most popular ones

Colleges give merit scholarships to incoming freshman, and occasionally to transfer students (although not nearly as large). The scholarship amounts and tiers are different in each college, but they are almost always based on a combination of your child’s GPA in high school and their SAT/ACT scores.  These scholarships are why your child needs to be serious about their grades starting in 9th grade – if not sooner.  If they don’t do well in just one class, it brings their GPA down.  The highest merits all expect at least a 3.5, if not higher, GPA.  The second portion of the merit scholarships are the college entrance exams.  Many students don’t study much if at all, thinking they will just wing it.  They may very well have a “good enough” score to get into a college they want and they just don’t want to spend the time studying something else that doesn’t have a grade attached to it.

How much are they worth?

However, let’s look at the math involved:The average student spends between 2-21 hours studying for the SAT and receives an average score of around 1000.  However, the most involved student spends between 14-48 hours studying and receives at least a 1360.  Almost 400 points doesn’t sound like a lot but it is.  For most colleges, that equates to about $6,000 per year for four years for a total of $24,000 total EXTRA MONEY you would receive if you had a higher score.  So if we just use the top numbers of 21 for an average student and 48 for an involved student that is an extra 27 hours of studying.  Now, divide the $24,000 of additional scholarship money available by the extra 27 hours and you just earned $888.88 EXTRA PER HOUR FOR STUDYING.

Seriously – do you know any teenager (or any adult for that matter) who makes about $900 an hour?  That is a fantastic number, however, to be truthful, its not really accurate as students who have that kind of drive are spending more time with their regular studies as well.  Let’s look at it another way – if they were at a job making $7.25 an hour, to earn that money before taxes, they would have to work 3,310 hours or 828 hours each of their high school years.  Would your child rather work that much or study so they can get a much better job later?Moral of this example – study, study, study and it will pay off.

  • Full-ride scholarships awarded for academics – harder to get but not impossible

    The merit scholarships tend to be awarded to everyone, but these will only cover a portion of the tuition.  However, most colleges and universities also have a few full-ride scholarships they award for academics.  One college we looked at gives up to eight scholarships each year to incoming students who believe the constitution is important have ideas on how to protect our rights.  Another university offers full-rides for students with SAT scores (or the equivalent ACT score) over 1400 combined in reading and math.  I also know that if Harvard accepts a student who lives in the county I do, the student gets a full-ride tuition.  For all of these, the students are awarded for the massive amounts of work they did prior to getting into college. Yes, the student needs to put in years of hard work and you, as a parent, needs to do whatever you can to support them, but think of what coming out of a good college without any debt would mean to their lives.

  • Private scholarships – tons of options available

Even before you receive your financial aid award package from your college, you can start looking for private scholarships.  With millions of them to find on the Internet, it is pretty easy to get a list going.  I hear, time-and-time again that but, once more, you need to put in the time to get the benefit.  If you spend 100 hours and get just (1) $1000 scholarship, you earned $10/hour.  If you spend that much time, I can’t imagine that you would only get 1 scholarship – more like $5000 worth of scholarships.  Now you earned $50 per hour and are tax-free if they are used for tuition, books, or other items needed for the class.

There is no easy-peasy way your child will just walk into a great school for free and come out with a bright future by doing the minimum amount of work now.  The best thing you can do is invest in your child now and the dividends will be enormous.  Make your child’s education a priority – but not in a way that they will resent and hate you.  Rather, if you start with young children and make it fun and interesting you will have students who will be the best they can be for their whole lives.  If your children are older – already in their tweens/teens – the most important thing you can do is to show them why THEY should care about their education.  Once they realize it is in their best interest and care about what happens, the possibilities for them are endless.

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