It's looking rough. You and your parents have had the College Money Talk. They wish they could just write a big check every semester to pay your college tuition, but that's just not how it is.
"You're going to have to help pay for it," your dad says gently but firmly.
You swallow hard. Maybe even break into a sweat. You sigh, and wonder, What does that mean?
To help you figure out how you and your family can work together to find the money you'll need, we talked to five students from various family backgrounds and financial situations.
Good Role Models
Natalie Hintz knew she wanted to go to college in a small, Christian environment. She did some research and discovered Crown College in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota. Her application was accepted, and she was confident God was calling her to attend Crown. But she knew it would mean some tight budgeting and she'd have to be willing to make some sacrifices.
During her senior year of high school, Natalie's parents explained that they would contribute $4,000 each semester to her college costs. She would be responsible for the rest.
Throughout high school, she'd worked many odd jobs and managed to save most of what she'd made, which amounted to about $5,000. That was a start, but not enough. So once Natalie got to college, she took on a part-time job. She was getting closer. But still not quite enough. During her first year, she ended up taking out $3,000 in student loans.
Natalie, now a sophomore at Crown, feels pretty good about the role she's played in helping to save and pay for college. She's worked hard, been careful about her day-to-day expenses and done her best to stick to a tight budget. She credits her parents for her ability to manage her finances well.
"My parents are good role models," she says. "My sister and I have been able to learn from them by seeing how they've handled their money. They have always taught us to be careful with what we've been blessed with."
Natalie advises college-bound students to talk often with financial aid officers at their college, and to find out as much as they possibly can. She also recommends taking the ACT and SAT very seriously, because good scores aren't only helpful for getting into the school of your choice. They also can make a difference when it comes to winning scholarships.
Paying for college isn't always easy. But Natalie says she knows Crown is where she's supposed to be. She also knows that her God is a big God who understands all her needs.
"Sometimes I worry," Natalie admits, "but I also know there have been huge ways God has provided."
Careful with Loans
Gregory Thornquest started good savings habits at the age of 10, and was able to buy a car at 16 with gift money he'd been given over the years. He didn't, however, plan for college.
"No one really pushed me to go to college, " says Gregory, now a senior at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. "And when I finally decided to go, I really wasn't aware of all the financial responsibilities."
Gregory became a Christian in high school, and knew he wanted to continue his education at a smaller school with a Christian environment. For him, that's meant taking out loans.
"Taking out loans was the last thing I wanted to do," he explains. "I wanted to take out the least amount possible, and I got loans strictly for tuition and books, just things I needed for school. I know people who get as much in loans as they can and spend the extra money on cars and stuff. You can get caught up in the idea that it's free money, but you have to realize that you'll end up paying for it for a long time."
Gregory, who has worked on campus during his college years, admits to feeling somewhat envious of students whose parents pay for everything. But he believes he is better off in the long run.