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Creative and smart ways to pay for your college education

During the summer, Steven Stack sets up his piano underneath the Space Needle and plays seven hours a day, seven days a week. He hoping to raise money for his college education. KOMO photo.

SEATTLE - During the summer, Steven Stack sets up his piano underneath the Space Needle and plays seven hours a day, seven days a week. He hoping to raise money for his college education.

“My first tip was a five-dollar bill and I was like whoa, I can actually make a dollar, “ said Stack said.

Stack attends college at the University of North Georgia, but for the past five summers, he has lived in Seattle with his Uncle, and decided to put his love of music to work.

“This is basically my summer job,” Stack said. “On a good day, the highest I ever made was $530. It is a little bit of money; it is a good chunk of change.”

Last year, Stack said he raised nearly $10,000 dollars to help pay for rent, text books, food and basic essentials to help get through the school year.

But while busking is a creative option to help pay for education, college financial expert Paula Bishop believes making smart choices when picking a school is a better option for families.

“You don’t want your kid to fall in love with a school that you can’t afford,” Bishop said.

The price of college, especially elite schools like Stanford, Harvard or MIT can now cost $70,000 per year, close a quarter million dollars for a degree.

“If your arm doesn’t hurt when writing that check for $70,000 then go for it,” Bishop said.

Bishop says some families should look at smaller or lesser known schools that offer “free money” called merit awards – aid based on your GPA and test scores.

“So if you are smart, some schools may give you a full ride, some might give you $30,000 or $20,000, and that really reduces the cost of college for you parents,” Bishop said. “The Stanfords and Harvards don’t offer these awards, because they don’t have to throw money at you, to entice you.”

According a U.S. News and World Report, some colleges are generous with merit aid. As an example, 48% of students at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA receive merit awards. And at the top of the list, North Greenville University in South Carolina offered 98% of its students with merit awards during the 2015-16 academic school year.

“I would say find schools that are generous in merit awards and go after those,” Bishop said. “Because if you get one right away as a freshman that is $10,000, it is really $40,000 because you then multiple it by four.”

Bishop says these are the three key factors when looking to pay for college:

  • 1) Know your budget, how much you can afford
  • 2) Begin saving early for college – ideally 40 percent of tuition
  • 3) Look for schools that offer “free money” merit awards and need based financial aid

For information on merit awards and aid, the Department of Education has mandated that all colleges and university have a calculator on their website that will predict eight awards from that school to your student.

KOMO News is helping you and your children get ready for the school year. Need more tips about going back to school? Check out our back-to-school page.

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