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Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Complete Guide to Paying for College: Q&A with Author Leah Ingram

I've now hit that phase of life - my first child is starting to look at colleges. When I started this blog, she was in 2nd grade. Yes, it goes quickly. Yes, we've been saving money for college, but is it enough? The financials are overwhelming!

I was excited to that my friend and colleague Leah Ingram just published The Complete Guide to Paying for College. Leah writes about useful and practical ways to save and spend money. She's the kind of person who has your back. She's put one kid through school and another is currently enrolled. She knows her stuff.

In addition to reading the book (which I'm doing now), I wanted to do a Q and A with Leah, to give you more info on paying for college and give you some hints about what's in the book.

There's a ton of books out there on paying for college. Why is yours different?

I believe that The Complete Guide to Paying for College is different than other books out there because it focuses exclusively on middle-class families. Pew Research says 51 percent of American families are considered to be middle class. I don't put income limits on my definition of the middle class, because in some places earning six figures still leaves you in the middle class. Rather I like to describe it this way. We are the families that never earned enough to fully fund a 529 college savings plan but we make too much to qualify for traditional need-based financial aid. At the same time we don't make enough to pay for college out of pocket. Given that we need to find creative ways to pay for college, and that's what I believe the book provides.

In your book, you talk about
reciprocity, where a states allows students from another state to attend at in-state tuition levels. Is there any California families should know about saving money by attending California schools, or reciprocity?

One of the biggest misconceptions I've discovered from writing The Complete Guide to Paying for College is that parents assume that state colleges and universities are always the cheapest option. Sometimes they're not, especially if you apply to a private college or university that is below your child's academic profile. Schools are always looking to raise their profile by attracting smart kids so that's how to get merit aid and make private college cheaper than state schools. (This kind of answers your last question, too.)

That said there are reciprocity agreements that California families can take advantage of to allow their children to go to school out of state but still pay in-state tuition. There are two local ones: Western Undergraduate Exchange and the "Califoregon" program. A third worth noting, if your child is chomping at the bit to attend college in New England, is the University of Maine Flagship Match Program. This allows your child to attend the University of Maine but pay no more than he or she would to attend University of California Berkeley. In other words, you'll get in-state tuition even though you'll be attending the University of Maine.

Why should students think of going to college in another country? 

It is amazing how much cheaper college is in other countries. Many European countries offer free college degrees, even to Americans, and just going north of the border to Canada can save tens of thousands of dollars on college tuition. I profile one American family in my book that is saving more than $30,000 a year because their son is attending the University of British Columbia.

How can alumni connections help you save money in college?

There are two ways that alumni connections can help you save money before and during college. One, an alumni may be able to get you an application fee waiver so you can apply to school for free. Some schools are charging close to $100 for applications these days so this kind of savings doesn't hurt. Two, some colleges offer alumni or legacy scholarships if a member of your family attended that college. I recommend searching on a college website for phrases like "alumni grant" or "legacy scholarship" or some combination thereof to see if the school offers any kind of financial aid just for family members.

You talk about how parents should consider going back to work at a college. Can you talk about why?

There is a great reason to consider working at a college or university - the job often comes with tuition benefits. And working in higher education isn't just about teaching college classes. Every college or university has departments with "regular" staff in it, meaning those that don't require an advanced degree to be employed, like college professors need to teach. These departments often parallel what you might find in the corporate world: marketing, finance, human resources, and more. If you're a parent who is out of work or on the job market, this employment option may be one that makes the most financial sense overall, for the family, the student, and your budget.

I just did a quick search for schools in your area and found links for more information about the tuition benefits of working at Stanford and the University of San Francisco. It seems that tuition benefits for employees at University of California schools are on a campus-by-campus basis. I could not find the benefit at Berkeley but I did at UC Davis (which I realize is not in the Bay Area but wanted to add it as a point of comparison).

Thank you to Leah for answering our questions! You can find The Complete Guide to Paying for College online.

Some other things you'll find in the book:

  • Free or practically free colleges
  • How to apply to college for free
  • Freebies and discounts for college students
  • How to save on college supplies

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