Sending a child to college is, for many families, a mindbogglingly expensive endeavor. Between tuition, room and board, books, and living expenses, it can be something that you end up paying for for decades after it's over. But there are some ways to save a lot of money if you think outside the box. Here are a few money-saving methods for any family.
Rethink Your Timeline. Don't feel pressured to send your child to a full four year college right out of high school. Although that's the preferred route, it may not be right for all students. If your child isn't sure what they want to do -- or if they even want to go to a university -- don't force them to start right away. It can be beneficial for them to spend a year or two working, volunteering, or taking classes at a community college before deciding. How can this save money? Changing or adding majors usually means paying for more classes or more semesters to finish. In addition, kids who aren't interested in higher education may be better off finding something that interests them more, before you spend the money on classes.
Start in High School. Find out if your high school offers free college classes with a local community college or university. Such high school programs are usually free, and the credits qualify for a college transcript. If your student can handle the schedule, getting a leg up on general education classes can save a ton of money.
Stay Local. Avoid room and board costs by keeping your college-aged kid close enough to live at home. For most parents, this means choosing the local university rather than a distant one, but don't discount the idea of moving yourselves closer to a chosen college. If you have the flexibility, you can continue to absorb the living costs of your student. At the very least, make sure you or your child qualifies for in-state tuition wherever you choose to send them.
Start Smaller. Vocational schools offer a faster route to either a better-paying job or to get into your chosen career field. Rather than start off with a traditional four year degree, why not begin with a certification or two year degree through a vocational school, and for a lot less money? This way, your child can get started in their career before finishing up that more expensive degree. There are lots of great reasons to do so: saving up money for school, finding out about the industry, working for an employer with tuition reimbursement, or even doing better in classes due to experience. Check out vocational school options in your area, like New Mexico Institute of Dental Assisting.
Work with Your Employer. If your employer doesn't offer tuition reimbursement as a fringe benefit, campaign to get it added. Employers can offer up to $5,250 of annual tuition reimbursement without it having to go on your taxable income. If your employer can't offer this benefit, consider changing employers to one that does -- such as state or local government agencies, for example -- for the duration of schooling. If you can't change employers, see if you can get your child or spouse on the payroll of a company that pays tuition.
By being willing to try something a little nontraditional, you can help ensure that your child gets the education they want without your family paying for it for the rest of their lives.