How To Go To College For Free

My son has a birthday coming up soon. He will be nine. The last nine years have gone by fast. That’s an understatement, of course. Any parent knows that statement is an understatement. Parents of college students tell me that the next nine years will go by even faster, though it does not seem possible. I trust them, though, and I am bracing.

TN Governor Bill Haslam explains Tennessee Promise

TN Governor Bill Haslam explains Tennessee Promise.

I am also looking into the College Nebula. Here’s what I have found out so far:

  • If you are a Tennessee resident, you can send your child to college for free through TN Promise, a program started by Governor Haslam a few years ago. You might want to inquire in your state for a similar program. Start with your homeschool support group and a Google search.
  • Community college is not glamorous, but it might be the only thing your family can afford and so it is better than no college at all. In Sevier County, where I live, high school graduates can attend community college for free. If your long-term plan is a four-year degree, you should contact the four-year institution where your child plans to transfer and check with them about accepting credits from community colleges. An example from my backyard: Vanderbilt University will not take credits from Walters State Community College, but the University of Tennessee in Knoxville will. In fact, UT even has articulation agreements with Walters State for specific majors, i.e. all your freshman and sophomore courses are lined up on a list for you to follow to make sure you will be fully transferable come junior year.
  • If you plan on sending your child to expensive colleges, you should definitely start saving. We all want scholarship money, but the truth is we might not all get it. Or we might get some, but not a “free ride.” Having savings is a must. Some people like 529 plans, but there’s a problem: what if your child does not want to go to college? You will get penalized when you withdraw that money for purposes other than college, to the tune of 10% of the amount. They consider it a tax. So have savings, but maybe not in a 529 plan.
  • If your child is already in high school and you have no savings, you might want to find a late stage college planning advisor in your area. They can do a lot for you: file your FAFSA, re-organize all your assets so that they don’t stack up against your child when the Financial Aid committee looks at the overall family picture, find scholarship money at out-of-state colleges for your child’s major etc.
  • Susan Wise Bauer told me where a child goes to college is not that important. What matters is to graduate that child without debt. She went on to say that she has a lot of friends who attended expensive colleges and now their lives are burdened by debt. They cannot make choices according to what they want because of all the debt they have incurred. Their lives are governed by that debt. So think about your daughter who might want to homeschool her children one day. If she has $75,000 or more in college loans, she has to go to work to pay it back. It’s “Bye-bye dream of homeschooling my little ones!” for her.
  • Definitely have a plan to graduate your child from college in four years. None of this “I’m changing my major” business in the middle of their sophomore year. Don’t declare a major if you are not 100% sure. Shadow a professional before you decide what to do. Another option: take care of the prerequisites in a less expensive four-year institution or a community college. Even better: look into dual-enrollment courses while your child is in high school. That way, they can graduate at 18 with a high school diploma and an associate degree.

These are just some thoughts to get your started on your college planning for your homeschoolers. High school graduation will be here before you know it and, hopefully, we will be ready in every possible way.


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