How to Afford College

State Schools

Going to college need not be expensive. First, you should not think that it must be expensive to be worthwhile. What you put into your learning determines whether or not it is worthwhile. So where are the bargains? Consider a state school in your state. If it has a good program in your field of interest, then it is a good choice. For example, according to US News & World Report, 10/4/93, some colleges in the top quartile, yet relatively cheap, are

Boston College (MA)
William and Mary (VA)
Rutgers (NJ)
SUNY at Binghampton (NY)
UC Santa Barbara (CA)
U of Ill at Urbana-Champaign (Ill)
U of Texas at Austin (TX)
U of Wisconsin at Madison (WI)

There are many other good, cheap schools. Do not believe that paying big tuition is a magic formula.

How much does a state school cost? According to the University of MD 1996 Schedule of Classes, tuition costs $4200 per year, or $16,800 for four years.

Get a Job

How can you pay the above tuition? Summer jobs are sufficient. Suppose you work for five summers at progressively higher wages, namely $5.25 per hour, then 6.66, 7.49, 8.17, and 9.17 (which represent minimum wage, then government grade 1 step 1, then grades 2, 3, and 4). At 12 weeks per year, you will make $17,600. You will have money left over.

Suppose you choose to live on campus. At the University of MD, you must pay $9500 per year, or $38,000. To afford this, you could work one day per weekend while attending college. Now your earnings are $29,400, almost enough to cover the cost.

Save Early

You infants who are reading this, pay attention. Put those shiny nickels your grandparents give you into the bank. You can have as much as $1300 interest income without being taxed. If you are 14 or over, you can have $4150 in income without being taxed. Better yet, get your parents to read this paragraph and shame them into putting away some money for you.

Help from the Government

The federal government offers an education tax credit of $5000 if the student attends for four years. Alternately, the student can use an education IRA. These options are phased out for upper middle class parents.

Student Loans

If you still have debt after these suggestions, then you need a student loan. Often, interest does not begin until you graduate. Suppose your debt is $38,000, but you earn $29,400 and get $5000 from the tax credit. You owe $3600. (I am ignoring taxes in this example. How cruel can the government be to tax impoverished students?) With your new professional level salary of $35,000 per year, you can pay off this debt in no time.


Full scholarships are available to people with superlative capabilities, such as geniuses and athletes. For the rest of us, partial scholarships are sometimes available. If you go to an expensive college, they likely pass out partial scholarships to anyone who asks. Why? Because it is good business. They charge a low price to people who would not purchase (attend) otherwise. They charge full price to people who are too rich to care. Most important, they will always charge enough to cover their costs. This may sound unscholarly of them, but this philosophy is taught routinely in their microeconomics department.

If you go to an inexpensive school, you are less likely to get a scholarship. They must charge enough to cover their costs, too. Ultimately, the inexpensive school ends up being cheapest because their full price is less than the expensive school's post scholarship (discounted) price.

Do not give up on finding a scholarship. Just realize the difference between a scholarship and a discount off of an inflated price.

Some scholarship information can be found on the internet at and

For further reading, see this article about tuition inflation.

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Copyright 1996 Alacrity Research