Trying to find a way to make college more affordable?  Looking for every angle, every left-handed scholarship for Lithuanians, every nickel under every cushion?  Is your spouse ready to channel William Shatner in a Priceline commercial when you meet your financial aid officer?

Well, I’ve added a little story as part of my recent college planning workshops that may be of interest to you.

It’s all about our dear friends – Ashley, Brad, Caitlin and Justin.  They finally go off to college and – lo and behold – they attend the same college, receive identical financial aid packages, obtain the same job after graduation AND hold the same part-time job until they find professional employment.

Uh, so what’s so interesting about that?  How are you saving me any money?  Aren’t they all, then, paying the same amount of tuition and earning the same amount of money?

Ah- ha!  (I might shout, if I shouted such things…)

Here are the rules:

  • We are going to look at where Ashley, Brad, Caitlin and Justin are after 6 years by subtracting tuition costs and adding salary.
  • They each receive the same financial aid package and are left with a $20,000 annual bill (Fall and Spring).
  • The College raises tuition by a standard 5% each year.
  • The local community college costs $100 per credit (with the same 5% rate of increase).
  • The wage at the local ice cream parlor is $10 an hour. (They all work there after graduation)
  • The entry level salary in their profession is $30,000, with an annual increase of 2%.
  • It takes 6 months, after graduation, to find a job within the profession.

ASHLEY: Takes the “standard” track.  4 years, 15 credits a semester.  Finds the professional job after 6 months and works there for the last 1 1/2 years of this study.  Tuition: -$86202.  Salary: $55,700.  NET: -$30,502

BRAD: Also full-time, but takes only 12 credits a semester.  5 years to graduate.  Only 1/2 year in a professional position.  Tuition: -$110512.  Salary: $25,4000.  NET: -$85,112.

CAITLIN: 1st year in school is a disaster.  Takes a year off to re-group and dish out ice cream.  Comes back the following year, but because of failures and a change in major needs 150 credits (and 5 full academic years) to graduate.  Therefore, does not start her professional job search until after the 6 year survey period.  Tuition: -$115487.  Salary: $20,800.  NET: -$94,237.

JUSTIN: Justin goes full time (15 credits per semester), but takes 1 extra credit each year.  He also takes 9 credits in the summer and “wintersession” at the local community college.  He finishes in 3 years, works at Do Me a Flavor for 6 months and is working in the profession for the last 2 1/2 years of the study.  Tuition: -$65,887.  Salary: $86,606.  NET: +$20,719. 

 Same tuition.  Same salary.  Same job opportunities.  And the difference – over 6 years – between Justin and Caitlin is well over $100,000. 

While my husband – Mr. Shatner over there – negotiates an extra $500 in our Citizenship Grant.


Now, it may not surprise you that – when I finish telling this little story – parents tend to really, really, really want their kid to grow up to be Justin.  But I have to caution them – and you.  If your “Justin” isn’t able to handle the commitment of year round education, he could easily fall right past Ashley and directly into Caitlin’s territory.   There is no magic answer.  Not everyone is Justin, nor should they be.

I would, however, suggest 2 very powerful “takeaways” from this little exercise.  First, how you do in college – what courses you get and what grades you receive – matters in so many ways, but one of those ways is financial.  And it can matter in a BIG (i.e. – $100,000) way.  Second, there are multiple ways to reduce costs in college AND – maybe just as importantly – there are multiple ways to ADD costs rather easily.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.