How to Start Hacking College as a High School Freshman

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One of my many concerns about raising kids (we have 3) is how to eventually pay for college. Should my wife and I help our kids pay to go to college? Or should we ask our kids to cover their own college expenses?

Is a college degree even worth the cost in today’s economy?

I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to these questions. And going to college certainly isn’t for every kid. I know several of my high school buddies who lasted 6 months in college and never went back. They seem to all be doing just fine without a college degree.

As of now … all 3 of our kids will likely attend college. But my wife and I won’t force them to go if they want to pursue a different path in life.

And my wife and I plan to cover a good majority of their tuition costs. But we also feel it is important to make our kids have a little skin in the game and cover some of the costs.

Ultimately our goal is to have all 3 kids attend college, earn a degree in something they can get a job in, and graduate debt free. We want our kids to avoid student loan debt and we want to avoid debt ourselves.

We don’t have all the answers yet, but are putting together a checklist of sorts to help our kids pay for college.

How to Start Hacking College as a High School Freshman

College Tuition Hacking Checklist

Our oldest son is currently a freshman in high school. In less than 4 years he will graduate and then be off to college … if we all decide that is his path.

So given we are less than 4 years away from him going to college, we are very focused on figuring out how to pay for it.

That is why we are putting together a checklist.

Covering the cost of college won’t all come from one source. But rather our plan is to hack our way through covering these costs. What works for our oldest son may not work for our other 2 children.

Here is the plan so far …

#1 – 529 College Savings Plans

Way back when our oldest son was born, we started a 529 college savings plan for him. Over the years, we added a couple hundred bucks every month to the plan … up until about 2 years ago when we stopped.

To date … we have about $60,000 in this account to help pay for college. If we don’t use all these funds, then they can be passed down to our other 2 children.

We also started a 529 college savings plan for our second child. That currently has about a $30,000 balance.

So overall … we have about $90,000 saved up in 529 college savings plans for our 3 kids.

That won’t cover the entire cost of college for 3 kids … but at least it is a good start.

So the remainder of the funds will need to come from our sources.

#2 – Start Hacking College in Middle School

Back in 8th grade, our son took a couple steps towards hacking college … that we didn’t realize at the time.

They may not seem like a huge deal, but it has helped set him up in high school to take some additional steps to hack college.

Our son was able to earn high school credit in 2 different classes by taking a couple courses his 8th grade year.

He took Math I and Spanish I and passed both in 8th grade. That has allowed him to take Math II and Spanish II during his freshman year of high school.

You might be thinking … what’s the big deal? Well, it will allow him to graduate after his fall term his senior year … assuming he continues to get passing grades in his other classes.

But it also opens up 2 additional classes during his fall semester of his senior year to take dual enrollment classes at the local Community College.

Dual enrollment is another college hack that we plan to use to the full extent. Basically, the school district will pay for him to go take classes at the Community College in town to earn college credit.

These won’t be the only two dual enrollment classes he takes, but it will allow him to take more of them.

#3 – Hacking College – Fall Semester of Freshman Year High School

As I write this, our son is almost finished with his fall semester of his freshman year of high school.

He is currently taking AP World History … which is another college tuition hack.

Taking AP courses in high school and passing the AP Exam at the end of the year can earn students college credit. There are a bunch of factors that go into earning college credit – including the university you plan to attend and the grade your student gets on the exam.

A quick search of university’s in our area tells us getting a 3, 4, or 5 on this AP World History exam would earn our son college credit. So it isn’t as straight forward as what it might seem.

But looking at the 4-year college that is closest to where we live … getting a ‘3’ on the AP World History exam would earn our son 3 credit hours in a History course at the University.

BTW … I wrote a post earlier in the semester questioning if taking AP courses in high school is worth the extra workload.

At this point, I think our son can handle (and has handled) the workload of taking an AP course. It hasn’t been easy and I think these courses are not for every student. And it is not about him being super smart or anything like that. It seems like if he can manage his time and put in the work … he should be able to get a ‘B’ letter grade at worst and possibly an ‘A’.

#4 – Hacking College – Winter/Spring Semester Freshman Year High School

So what other actions can we take for our son to hack college tuition during his freshman year of high school?

We seem to being learning new things about hacking college every single day … so this is a work in progress for us right now.

The most important step our son can take the remainder of his freshman year of high school is to continue to work hard and pass all his classes. It will also be a focus for him to begin preparing for the AP World History Exam that he will take next May.

A good score on that exam could be his first chance at earning college credit and a nice cost savings towards future college tuition.

Here is a list of some other things we will be focusing on during the remainder of his freshman year of high school –

  • Plan out what AP Course(s) he will take as a sophomore – we have realized not every AP course is created equal when it comes to earning college credit.
  • Joining Clubs and Volunteering – We want him to start volunteering a little and joining some clubs (outside of athletics). We probably should have focused on this before he started high school.
  • Start Looking at Colleges – This will be a ways off, but we want to start exploring different options for college. My preference would be to continue on at the local Community College until he earns his Associates Degree and then transferring to a 4-year school to earn his Bachelor’s.
  • Explore Scholarship Opportunities – apparently there are a few opportunities for freshman … at least that is what his high school is telling us?
  • Get a Job – I think it is good for him to balance school, sports, and even a part-time job while in high school. He will be driving in another year, so a job can help with those costs. Or even better … we can get him started on a Roth IRA!

As you can see, there are a lot of actions he can take right now … even as a freshman … towards hacking college tuition.

But the real hacking will start in a few years … especially as a junior and senior.

#5 – Hacking College as a High School Junior and Senior

Our son will be eligible to take dual enrollment classes starting his junior year of high school and into his senior year. This is another big part of our plan for hacking college tuition.

Taking dual enrollment courses + finishing up at the same Community College after high school graduation = Associates Degree for very little cost.

That is the path we are leaning towards right now for him and he is on board. Honestly … that is the path I wish I would have gone down myself.

If we can get most of his basic college classes out of the way with dual enrollment and/or at Community College rates … then we can begin using our 529 college savings plans to start paying the tuition at the 4-year school.

What steps have we missed to hack college tuition as a high school freshman? I would love to hear feedback from others who have gone through the same experience?

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