Homeschool Graduation

April 5, 2018

A Plan to Control the High Cost of College

We all know the cost of a four-year degree is high and going higher, but maybe you and your teen have conducted a thoughtful cost/benefit analysis and know this is the right path to take. How can you control the costs of college and help your child achieve their goal without a mountain of debt?

There are many ways, but they don't hold the glamour of four more years of mom and dad footing the bill. What they do require is planning, sacrifice, and work. But if my children can get a degree with minimal debt, then it will be worth our time to pursue these options. 

Dual Enrollment

According to Let's Homeschool High School, all fifty states offer dual enrollment available to homeschoolers. Early college could be a massive benefit to your homeschool student and save thousands of dollars in tuition, fees, and other expenses.

We often just talk about college expenses regarding tuition, but by having more hours under their belt, your child may enter college at a higher level. While some of those high-cost expenses are mandatory for incoming freshmen such as living on campus and meal plans, they become optional or are reduced once a student has accumulated more credit hours.

So entering college as a sophomore can save you in ways other than tuition, and dual enrollment is a great way to make that happen. Our state has a very generous program which allows high school students to take certain college courses at no cost. They will even cover the cost of some books. Do your research and find out what your state offers?

Homeschoolers have the distinct advantage of flexible schedules which allow them to use dual enrollment to its maximum benefit. They can adjust workloads to provide the time needed for the dual enrollment courses.

Conversely, high schools rarely promote dual enrollment because they would prefer students enroll in AP courses. It's a selfish stance since it helps boost their ranking as a school. Another positive of using dual enrollment in your college plan is articulation agreements.

What does this mean?

Amongst colleges and universities, there are often articulation agreements which let you know in advance which courses you take will be accepted at the university you wish to attend.

By searching a schools name and "transfer evaluation system", you're able to see what dual enrollment courses at a two-year college will be accepted by the four-year college. If your child is taking dual enrollment with the intention of transferring to another institution, it's wise to make sure their time is spent gaining credits accepted by their intended university.

CLEP vs. AP Testing

Another means of obtaining college credit for a fraction of the cost is by demonstrating subject knowledge through either CLEP or AP testing. There are differences between these tests to consider when determining the best option for your student.

Advanced Placement (AP) is governed by the College Board and courses are most typically offered through public and private high schools, though there are online options available for homeschoolers. However, this option can be somewhat more difficult to pursue as a homeschooler. The most important factor when choosing a course provider is accreditation.

The most important factor when choosing a course provider is accreditation.

If you want to add the AP designation to your child's transcript and have their grade weighed more heavily, it must be a course accredited by the College Board. Otherwise, it's simply a traditional high school course and will not be given any extra consideration on the basis of rigor.

AP tests can be taken by anyone without completing an AP course, but you must find a testing location willing to accept homeschool students. Many public and private high schools are not very open to having homeschool students test at their school.

A score of 3 out of a possible 5 is considered a qualifying score on an AP exam, but many colleges require a 4 or higher to receive credit. There are also schools that won't give course credit for a passing AP score, but simply allow a student to enroll in a higher level course.

The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) is also administered by the College Board. CLEP offers 33 exams for credit accepted at over 2,900 colleges and universities. The knowledge needed to pass these exams can be obtained through life experience or self-study.

Another benefit is that you register through the College Board to take the exam at a convenient testing location and the score is available immediately. However, fewer universities accept CLEP credit.

So which testing option should a student pursue? As with everything, it depends.

Do you expect your child to receive merit-based aid and scholarships based on tests and academic performance? If so, AP may be the right choice because an accredited course and a qualifying score would enhance the rigor of their high school transcript.

If it is more likely your child will attend a public two or four-year institution, then CLEP may be a more reasonable route. Personally, I believe CLEP seems to be an excellent option for many students. The tests can be taken anytime, you can prepare with any method, and the available exams cover core courses required of every college student.

Testing for college credit is an excellent way to save money on a college degree, but as with everything college-related, check with your intended institution to see what exams they accept for credit.

Testing for college credit is an excellent way to save money on a college degree, but as with everything college-related, check with your intended institution to see what exams they accept for credit.

Two-Year vs. Four-Year Colleges

Students and parents seem to become so enamored with the "college experience" that they lose any good financial judgment they possess. If pressed, I'm sure most parents wouldn't think that experience is worth the thousands of dollars in debt their child is likely to incur. So what to do?

I'm fortunate to live less than ten miles to both two and four-year colleges. It's a blessing, but it was also a decision we made when choosing our home. We have six children, so having many college options readily available was an important factor for us.

I've been comparing the costs of the different alternatives and have found that 60 credit hours obtained from the two-year college would cost roughly $6,600 in tuition and fees. Contrast that with the four-year college option, which would cost almost $15,000 in tuition and fees for that same 60 hours of credit.

That savings of over $8,000 would go a long way towards reducing the overall cost of a degree. By having a plan and taking courses you know will transfer to your intended institution, you can significantly reduce your potential debt.

Work Colleges and Co-op Programs

Did you know there are work colleges who strive through scholarships and work programs to help students graduate with as little debt as possible? Three colleges are even tuition-free for qualified students. Most limit the number of work hours to between 8 and 15 per week, which should not be a problem for most students and is less than many would work at a part-time job. Their approach which combines work, learning, and service is unique and inspiring.

There are also traditional colleges and universities that offer cooperative learning programs that give students the opportunity to work for a company in their field, earn college credit, and get paid while doing so.

The income a student earns in a co-op program does not diminish their need-based financial aid, and they graduate with work experience directly related to their field of study. If you child knows what field they wish to enter, it would be beneficial to research the potential co-op opportunities at various colleges.

Scholarships and Grants

With the advent of the internet, finding and applying for scholarships has never been easier. The College Board even has a scholarship search function to assist you in finding scholarships for which you qualify.

It can seem like a lot of work to write an essay and complete all the questions and requirements for only a few hundred dollars. But if you can do that a few times over, the college pot starts to grow.

Additionally, you may qualify for need-based grants, but you won't know if you don't complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. However, the maximum federal grant available that few qualify for is less than $6,000 per year, so keep looking for those scholarship opportunities no matter how small.


Seriously! Stop believing you have no power in this situation and have to pay the sticker price. Colleges, and especially private schools, compete to get students in the seats. They are not entitled to your child's attendance. Many different circumstances can dictate the amount of leverage you have with a school, so first analyze your position.

If you live in Georgia, but your child wants to attend the University of Texas, good luck. These big name state institutions count on out-of-state students willing to pay the higher price. But if your child has a better offer to an equivalent school, the preferred school might match their offer. It happens.

So be honest. If you simply can't afford the cost, tell them. Schools have been known to make concessions.

Just Say No

No, I'm sorry you don't have to live on campus.

No, we can't afford a sorority.

No, having a car would be nice, but it's not in the budget.

Parents don't want to tell their children no, and what kid wouldn't want to drive up to their new dorm at a private college without a worry in the world about the cost?

But is that real life for most of us?

We need to be realistic about what we can afford and look at all options to reduce the ever-rising cost of a degree. It's all on the table.

Create a Plan

Maybe you started putting a few dollars in a 529 plan when your child was born and figure they'll get a scholarship, so you're good.

Maybe, but college expenses have risen at twice the rate of inflation. So no matter how much you've saved, it's purchasing power has decreased with each passing year.

Also, a lot of Americans are still paying their student loans and over half aren't saving anything for retirement. Therefore, most of us aren't in the position to just write a check.

So what do you need? A plan.

Everyone's plan will be different because we all have different children and different circumstances, but some of the necessary steps are the same.

  • Investigate dual enrollment options
  • Consider testing for college credit through CLEP or AP
  • Compare costs of different schools, including 2 and 4-year institutions
  • Make sure the credits will transfer; you don't want to waste time and money on classes that don't move you closer to a degree
  • Apply for scholarships
  • Get a job on or off campus
  • Reduce expenses
  • Have a plan and keep the goal in mind


If you believe college to be the next step for your child, then view it as a logic game. There are many ways to make a degree come together, and it's a challenge to do so while controlling costs.

They may not appreciate some of the decisions right now, but when they're 30 and want to buy a home, get married, or travel the world, they'll thank you for not letting them incur a lifetime of college debt payments.

Shop Class Rings


Author Bethany Ishee

Author Bio

Bethany is the mom of six always-homeschooled children whose eclectic style of homeschooling draws upon Classical to Unschooling and everything in between. While homeschooling her children, teaching at a Project Based Co-op, and writing about learning outside of school, she still tries to find time to read a book, drink coffee, and pay the bills. Your can find her thoughts on living without school at