What If I Can’t Afford to Send Them to College?

by | Sep 28, 2015 | Catholic Living, Mailbag, Parenting | 93 comments

Mailbag time! It’s the million dollar question for big Catholic families: How can we keep having them, if we don’t know whether we can afford them?

– question –

Hi Kendra,

I feel a little silly emailing someone I have never met such a personal question, but I’ve been reading your blog for almost a year now and really appreciate you sharing your experiences and advice.

I am a stereotypical cradle Catholic, as they say. I grew up going to church on Sundays, etc, but never really dove into the teachings of the Church until fairly recently. It’s been a slow growing process for me. I had never even heard about NFP or St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body until maybe 3 years ago. However, it’s taken me that long to mull over all that information (which is just so radical from everything you learn growing up, right?) and talking about it with my husband, to say, “Okay, I think we should try NFP.”

We have two small children. Almost all our friends/family have no more than two children. Everyone is telling me that we should not have more than two. BUT with NFP I expect that we’ll be open to more children. As someone who never thought they would have ANY kids, I can’t deny that the idea of having more than two feels overwhelming. The thing that overwhelms me the most, is the increased expenses. Specifically, paying for college. This is something that is very important to me, and I want to be able to provide this for my children should they choose to go to college. My husband and I are pretty frugal people. We don’t have fancy stuff. We don’t do fancy things. So, I suppose my question is, how do larger families afford the larger number of children? Is saving for college something that larger families are generally able to do? I kind of feel like I’m entering foreign territory so any advice would be appreciated!

Thank you!

– answer –

Hey C,

This is a concern a lot of people have, I know. I think coming to terms with it requires a combination of virtues.

  1. Planning ahead
  2. Having the right priorities
  3. Living frugally
  4. Trusting in God

All of them. We met an old timer after Mass once and he told us how he had a bunch of kids on a city worker salary, and he always just figured that if God wanted them to go to college, God would figure it out. And, apparently most of them did. So, that’s our backup plan. But we’re also putting money away each month, as much as we can. We’re focusing on instilling in our children the virtues that would allow them to be successful in school and hopefully qualify for scholarships. We’re encouraging our older kids to look for ways to earn money, and they each have an investment account of their own, to which they contribute.

College expenses aside, one more kid really isn’t all that expensive. We mostly eat at home, so one more mouth doesn’t add up to all that much more in food bill, although I know they will eat more as they get older (I now have a teenager!), they wear hand-me-down clothes, and we’ve really had to get creative on Christmas and birthday gifts, because we have all the toys we could possibly ever need. All of those “how much it costs to raise a child” infographics are nonsense. Kids just don’t need all that STUFF.

I think Jenny at Mama Needs Coffee wrote about this really well:

On Debt and Openness to Life

We do have a responsibility to gauge whether we can “afford” emotionally, physically, and financially to have another child. But I also think that if there’s any question, we should err on the side of reckless generosity. You really can’t put a price on another snuggly baby’s smiles, another sibling for your children, another wedding to dance at, another grandchild’s drawings on the fridge, another person at your deathbed. All of that is so much more important than money. If I look at each of my children and I think, “Well, what if I couldn’t afford to send you to college? Would I wish I’d never had you?” of course, the answer is a resounding “No.” If MY own parents hadn’t been able to afford to send ME to college, would I wish I had never been born? No, I wouldn’t.

And now I’m just going to go out on a limb here, and guess that there’s more to your worry than just money. Because two little kids is really hard work. When I had two little kids, I looked at my day and I knew that to add two more kids and twice as much work would have been flat out impossible. But, of course, my kids kept right on coming all the same. And I found that having that third baby was the scariest, but then it ended up being an easier adjustment for me than having my first or second, then by the time number four came along, my big kids were helping, and I knew what I was doing, and it was easier still to adjust. And now, we’ve got our routines and our systems and everyone helps and it all functions pretty smoothly, most of the time, even when we have a new baby.

I don’t know if God’s calling you to have a big family. It’s not always a given. But if God IS calling you to have a big family, he will give you the graces you need to be able to survive it. He hasn’t given them to you yet, because you don’t need them yet. That’s what I see in the big families I know. But I also know lovely, devout Catholic families with one or two children. You just never know how things are going to work out. The best any of us can do is try to correspond to the graces God gives us to deal with the life we’re living at this particular moment.

Keep me posted!


You might also enjoy these posts:

To Moms of Only Little Kids: psst, the magic number is ten

Dear Newlywed, You’re Probably Worried About the Wrong Thing

Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.)
If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching,
please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or an
expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of
experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in
marriage, mothering, and my faith.
you’ve got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail .
com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use
your question on the blog.


  1. Anonymous

    But if they can't get scholarships and want to go to college then what? Huge debt is a problem for students now and need based money is hard to come by.

    • Kendra

      The comments below address this really well . . . Community college, having a plan, working while you go to school, etc. And, if a student performs in high school in such a way that he can't qualify for any scholarships, perhaps my job as a parent is to help adjust his expectations, and steer his goals in a more realistic direction.

    • Lauren

      I am a devout mom of 2 and also a college counselor. Sadly, the "work through college" and scholarship routes are less feasible now than in previous decades. A college freshman only qualifies for $5.5k in loans in his/her name; college-specific financial aid depends on parental income. That barely covers CSU tuition, much less room and board and books. In 1979, a student had to work 182 hours per year to cover tuition. Today, a student would need to work 991 hours to cover tuition (and that's just tuition, nothing else). If you are aware of colleges that offer substantial merit scholarships that cover both tuition and room/board, if would be wonderful if you could share them with your readers! Outside of automatic grants for National Merit Scholars and several dozen colleges with comprehensive merit awards, I don't have a lot of resources to offer my (largely Catholic) students. Obviously, starting at a two-year college is an excellent option, especially in CA.

    • Kathleen

      Then what? Then they have some debt.. I am from a large fa,ily and got a lot of scholarship and worked through college and still have debt. The payment every month is manageable and I'm thankful (as are my siblings) that my parents had all of us instead of paying for my oldest two siblings college. My siblings are a treasure to me and I right that check every month still thankful that my parents said yes to each of our pregnancies…

    • Cammie Wollner

      We faced this with DH (he wanted to go to college, and then grad school and then law school and there weren't a ton of scholarships). And I'm still so glad that his parents had him, even though there's no way they'd have been able to write a check for all his education. We'll be paying it back for a while, but I'm still absolutely glad that they went on to have him and his brother (they're twins and the youngest).

  2. Elizabeth

    I think it is a mistake to assume that the traditional path through college is the only, or best, option. I, as a homeschooler with a good community college nearby, am planning for my children to get dual credit for most of their high school courses by taking them at the community college. This will save us quite a bit of money because my husband happens to work at the college, so they can attend for free, but it would also be a very economical option for a non-employee family. For ideas on non-traditional ways to get children through college I recommend taking a look at The Brainy Bunch, a book about an evangelical Christian family with many, many children, several of whom have graduated college and gone on to good careers at very young ages. College doesn't have to be four years and tons of debt. There are other ways to do it. On the other hand, consider if what you're really looking for is that four-year college experience. And is that worth the expense? What is the goal – an educated, rational, functioning adult, or a four-year college experience? Because you can certainly have one without the other, as we see much evidence of all over the place! 🙂

    On another note, my father assured me that child number 3 is the most difficult to add. He said "Once you're outnumbered, it doesn't matter how many you have after that!" And that has certainly been my experience. Going from two to three was difficult. Three to four was not nearly as hard, and when number five came along I felt like an old pro.

    • Hannah D.

      You have an excellent plan. My only question about your post is with the following, "on the other hand, consider if what you're really looking for is that four-year college experience." I really don't mean to be critical – you have a good, realistic plan, and I would only like to pose the question: Is this about what you are looking for, or what your child is looking for? Because it's the child's preference we're dealing with, and maybe they really want that four-year college experience. I was in college not too long ago myself, and I just urge others to think about what their children want, too. And if they really want that four-year experience, most students these days need financial help from mom/dad to avoid major debt.

      My family did what Kendra is doing: they saved money over a looooong period of time and grew investment accounts for us. As a result, six of the eight of us had (or will have) four-year college careers. The other two opted for other paths including community college, but the nice things is, it was their choice and not their only option. Again, just asking this question and urging people to think about what their kids want, too! 🙂 I look forward to any discussion that might arise in response.

    • Lauren

      Yes, but sometimes our kids don't get everything they want. Just like we don't. I'm not trying to be rude and maybe I misunderstood your point. I think every parent considers what their children want, but just like everything else in life for both kids and adults, we don't get everything we desire. We can only do so much.
      We are saving for our kids' college educations, but with 5 children and the rising cost of college, I'm not sure we'll be able to cover it all. At any rate, we are teaching them- in big and small matters- to be grateful for what they have and what they have been given.

    • Elizabeth

      Hannah, yes. It is important to take the child's desires into consideration, of course. But the original question was about whether or not to have the child at all, based on the parents' ability to pay for college. At that point it is much more about the parents' assumption of what is necessary, and not the child's desires. 🙂

  3. Laura @ Mothering Spirit

    Great advice and wise perspectives here. I come from a family of stockbrokers and financial planners, so the question of kids + college has weighed heavy on me since way before I graduated from college myself! The 4 tenets you lay out are what my husband and I try to follow. The only thing I would add is how much of a difference it makes if you start saving early. Opening a 529 plan for a newborn might seem odd, but all those early years of a little savings (and a lot of interest) can make a big difference by the end. I've also used UPromise as a portal for shopping online (they give you a percentage back for college savings) and over the years I've actually accrued hundreds of dollars on small purchases. We also take the "extra" 2 paychecks each year (for the 2 months that end up with 5 weeks in them) and put them directly into savings, as we do for bonuses. That way we never "see" the extra cash in our regular budget, but it boosts our savings to only live off of 50 weeks of paychecks instead of 52.
    And I can also see how 3 kids is the tipping point! Now that we're there, it feels so much easier to think about more. You learn how the family (and love, and the budget, and big plans) expand to make room for more in ways that I felt so anxious about when we only had one or two kids. If God sends the kids, God will send the way.

    • Hannah D.

      We're looking into a 529 for our toddler. I hadn't heard of UPromise, but now I want to try that, too!

  4. Molly Walter

    I have to echo that the traditional college route is just not ideal -even if you have one kid. Go to a college far away, pay room and board and tuition, and extras for four to five years – most people I know couldn't afford it for one kid.

    Instead of limiting the number of kids I think we should look really hard at the system and if it's worth it. Most kids are coming out of college realizing their degrees aren't really worth it anyways.

    There are more ways to make college cheaper – getting college credit in high school, community college while living at home, getting a technical degree and working while finishing a four year degree,etc.

    The kids who I know who've dug themselves in the biggest debt holes are the ones who went into college without a plan – it's not the lawyers or doctors who have a lot of debt, but a plan for their careers, it's the kids who "don't know what they want to be" who putter around for three years wasting money, who pick the wrong school or a major that doesn't lend itself to the job market, kids who keep going back for another degree instead of investing time in the job market.

    And the biggest issue I've seen is kids who've just taken every loan put before them – using loan money to pay for anything and everything during college instead of borrowing selectively (personally I was only allowed to sign loans for R/B and Tuition, not books, fees or living expenses so I worked two jobs during most of college).

    We've always said that our intentions are to help out as much as we can with college level education, but that our big goal was to give good experiences at the high school level – camps, classes, travel, clubs, etc. to help round them out and give them a better idea of who they are.

    • AnneMarie

      Preach it, Molly! I am so blessed to have attended an awesome 4-year Catholic college, where I really learned and grew a lot (and met & married my husband), but I think there is a problem with the widespread mentality that "If you don't want to flip hamburgers for the rest of your life, you have to attend 4 years of college." One of my friends was homeschooled her entire life, and instead of doing the "normal" 4-year college thing, she went to hairdressing school. Within less than a year, she was done with school and scored a job at a fancy hair salon, and now she gets to do what she loves, make money, and isn't in loads of debt. Each person is different and has a different story, and I hope that as a society, we can show youth that they don't have to dive into 4 years of expensive college if that's not what they should do.

    • Catie

      Oh, Molly. I am ashamed to say that I am that student you describe. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but had to go to that 4-yr college because that was just what people do. After fumbling along for 4 years, I did earn a degree with very little debt, but then continued school for another couple of years earning parts of other bachelor degrees all financed by loans. Now all that debt, plus my husband's has put us in a situation where we cannot put aside money for our children's school. We are too strapped paying for out own. It is a huge regret for us and has been a major source of guilt.

      It is my sincere hope that I can guide my children a little better into their adult lives and their future vocations. I want them to comprehend the enormous gift that a scholarship is and the responsibility they have to use that money wisely. And finally, I want them to value the hard work it will take them to pay for their continuing education. We currently live in a college town and will offer our children the opportunity to live at home while they go to school. At least then we can save them the cost of room and board and feed them for a few more years.

    • Molly Walter

      Please don't be ashamed Catie! It's happened to so many and I think it was the stigma in the early 00's when I was going to school that if you were doing anything other than "going to college" after high school there was something wrong with you, but in reality so many people (my own husband included) could have been better off delaying a year or two, doing a peace corp type project before hand, doing trade school first, etc.

      The reality now is that the jobs many college degrees prepare you for aren't worth the debt – they won't pay you enough to support yourself, a family and your loans from the education so I'm actually confident that in 14-15 years when my oldest is out of high school the post-high market is going to be different with more emphasis on trade/tech programs that allow you to enter into the workforce at 20 and pay your way to more education as you realize exactly what you want to do within your field. If you never want to be in management you'll be able to afford to work that desk job because the loans won't be hanging over your head, and if you want to move up, specialize, etc. you'll be able to do so with better financial backing.

  5. biancefamily

    We are currently expecting #6 and college is something my husband and I have thought a lot about. We are still paying back student loans and we don't want that for our kids. We also truly believe in a classical education and would love for our kids to attend a college that would continue that education, which means a higher price tag. Knowing this, the cost seems ridicuiously high! The best advice we received from a father with kids already in college was to pay off your house, so that is our goal. Our oldest is 10, so our plan is to put more toward our mortgage instead of a college fund. That way when we have a college student we will pay it as we go because our expenses will be less since we won't have a mortgage. My husband is the king of excel and he put all the numbers in a spreadsheet and it actual made us realize this is possible.

    Having any sort of plan early on can really help to not stress about the future!

  6. Marquette

    I am one of 6 children. 5 so far have gone to college (1 is still in high school). We all started at a little community college with cheap tuition and housing, and we each had to get jobs. My parents would help us find an apartment and the first week of food, but mostly beyond that we had to pay for everything (rent, food, tuition, utilities, etc) ourselves. Some of us worked and got scholarships, some dropped out. But it gave each of us the chance to become self sufficient, to learn how to buckle down and work for what we wanted/needed. None of us had cars right away, we walked to and from classes, found rides to the grocery store, or rode bikes. If we wanted fancier living, to transfer to a university, or more spending power we had to work to earn money through jobs and scholarships (you'd be surprised at how many scholarships and transfer incentives are available for students who start at community colleges). There are ways to make college work for larger families (I've never thought of my family as "big", it was just normal and what I knew), especially ones on tight budgets. You may have to start small and work your way bigger, but learning how to work, plan, and budget definitely isn't a bad thing for any college student!

    • Marquette

      I should have included that of the 5 of us with college experience, 3 have degrees, one is working on a degree, and the other is readjusting their life plan.

  7. Cathy Kraemer

    As a mom with children in college, here is my "2 cents": early on we started telling our children that we were NOT going to just pay for them to go to college. We expected them to work hard and get good grades, and to help work out their college expenses. Yes, we would help them however we could, but we were not going to just pay for it outright. I know of families that have paid for their children's college, without the kids being "invested" in their education, and seen it take longer and cost even more. Since ours were involved in their education, they had to make decisions instead of just coasting along.
    As mine were looking at colleges, I also told them to consider what would be more important 10 years from now – where their degree was from, or how much loan debt they would have if they chose an expensive private college over a more economical community college or state college. We also encouraged them to look at non-traditional options. Our youngest son is now attending a fire academy – a perfect option for him because it gives him levels of success that he can see in a short amount of time. He will be done and working within 2 years or less.

  8. Ally

    Neither my husband or I had any support for college. We both paid for our educations ourselves.

    Both of us worked through college, which made us take responsibility for our spending, prioritize our time well, and helped us to value our educations.

    I ended up with debt, because I went to a private school and paid for room and board. It was a great experience, but one I wouldn't do again. My hubby went to a community college for 2 years, and then finished up his degree at a state school- and paid for it all out of pocket with the help of a scholarship based on his grades.

    Having debt in our marriage made us work together, taught us the importance of budgeting, and helped us shape our priorities as a brand new family. We paid everything off (we've been married 3 years), by living frugally, not having Smart Phones, buying clothes from Goodwill, and working working working.

    All told, our parents not paying for college? It's one of the best things they could have done for us. We're better for it- we've grown in holiness, responsibility, and in our marriage. =)

    • Ally

      Oh, and my hubby worked for 2 years before school- so he had an idea of what he wanted to do, gained some additional maturity, and saved up before he went.

  9. Claire Rebecca

    I'm a sophomore in college and got a half-tuition scholarship to my school, which made it the same cost as the state college (though I'm in VA, where UVA & William and Mary are more expensive than your average state college). One thing I would add is that, for some students, there is added value in going to a Catholic (not "Catholic") school if that's possible. I love that my Catholic college is interested in forming me as a person with the vocation of getting to heaven, not just for a career. And while hook up culture and binge drinking are hard to get away from – even at a Catholic school! – single-sex dorms are great. All my state school friends look at me like I'm crazy when I say that I like living in a all-women dorm. Catholic college is (usually) more expensive, but many Catholic colleges have a certain environment or classes that a state school can't offer. And, if you're going to be away from home, its easier to be in a Catholic environment in my experience.

  10. Faith E. Hough

    Like many, many college graduates, I didn't get any help from my parents for college, and I actually am SO GRATEFUL for that–my four siblings who also paid their own way feel the same. Yes, I'm still paying my loans ten years later. But I felt that my decisions were my own and I took accountability for my own education. Unlike my peers who skipped half their classes and didn't care much about the rest, I knew just how much that education was costing me and didn't want to waste it!
    Additionally, I worked harder in my high school years so I could get scholarships to the expensive Catholic college I wanted to attend.
    I also believe strongly that college is actually overrated…because many attend for the wrong reasons and not to study something they truly love and feel they have a vocation in. My husband never attended college; he loved music and woodworking, so he completed an apprenticeship with a cello maker and is now a professional violin maker himself. We live frugally, but we're happily able to raise our five children (and pay my student loans) on his income–and he absolutely loves his work. So foregoing a college degree does not mean that you will starve and end up working at McDonalds–being a little more creative in how you think about your career might end up making you far more fulfilled instead of less.

    • Carlota

      that is seriously cool that your husband makes violins! does he have a website? my daughter plays the violin and we are looking to get her a 3/4 violin now.

    • Faith E. Hough

      Sure, Carlota! Here's his website: http://www.houghviolins.com/
      Because his instruments are made by hand, he only makes full size, professional-grade instruments. Most students stick with lower priced smaller instruments until they're ready to get their "permanent" violin. Good luck to your daughter! (By the way, music scholarships are a great way to get into good schools. 🙂

  11. Anna Ilona Mussmann

    My parents have five kids, and so far four of us (one is a high school senior) have paid for our own college educations. We used lots of alternative routes: gathering as many credits as possible from a good quality, inexpensive junior college before transferring; applying for scholarships; working before and during our higher education; choosing schools that made sense for us instead of paying more for glamour and prestige; etc. We all ended up with some debt, but so far have all done well at paying it off. I paid mine off in one year (while I lived at home where the rent was low!).

    My husband's parents have seven kids. They have a bit more ability to support their children in college, so they pay room and board. The kids are responsible for finding programs and scholarships that allow them to deal with their own tuition. It's working out well for them!

  12. October Rose

    I don't know that college is going to be the norm in 20-25 years.

    And in any case, you don't have to go to an expensive school! 🙂 My brother and I lived at home and commuted to a local college that cost a third, a fourth, or even a fifth of what my friends were paying to go to the big name Catholic colleges like Steubenville. Between my parents and me, we were able to pay tuition and I graduated without a single cent of debt. But even if they hadn't been able to help, I wouldn't have been that deep in the hole on graduation.

  13. Nicola

    In Canada, in the area we live, the college tradition is a bit different. We don't even call it 'college' in general but it also isn't about moving away from home to live on campus at a college somewhere. Most kids apply to the universities or community colleges or tech schools nearby and then commute or find roommates. The only kids I knew who went to a far-off university had huge scholarships.

    I'm one of 8 kids. Six are either finished post secondary or are attending now. One in high school one in elementary. My parents always spoke of post secondary education as a means to employment so when we went to school it was to get a degree or diploma that was connected to a 'job'. Some of us did two year diplomas at a tech school, some did traditional 4-5 year degrees. All of us had/have student loans. My parents do not pay for our tuition or living expenses but support us in every other way possible. They provide 'interest-free' loans if we are in a pinch and have generous repayment plans.

    This arrangement encouraged us to figure out what we wanted to do before enrolling even if that meant working for a year or two before school to save up and learn about ourselves. It also encouraged us to work hard in school to qualify for scholarships when possible and keep from failing classes you would have to pay for a second time. 😉

  14. Karyn

    Don't forget things like ROTC — my niece is going to a terrific college that's almost entirely paid for. And she loves her ROTC program.

    • Kendra

      Yes! My dad went to the Naval Academy and my husband went to Harvard on an ROTC scholarship. Both are a big possibility for my kids.

    • wanderlust88

      I'm glad someone mentioned this! I went to college on an ROTC Scholarship, and I got a great paying job with excellent benefits with 0 experience. My husband enlisted when he was 17. He's gotten to fight terrorism, jump out of airplanes, and blow things up, all the things he dreamed of doing as a little kid. He also has the G.I Bill to use or give to our children. I've heard a lot of people talk about the military as something for people without other options, but it was a great option for us.

  15. Hannah Gokie

    All of this advice is super helpful! And having a husband who is a financial advisor makes me want to add a different type of advice – that it really is about what YOUR priorities are for your money, rather than what people say your priorities should be. And saving early early early can pay off like you wouldn't believe, even in very low-risk investments! I am biased but I really think the benefit of a financial planner or advisor is huge when you are talking about things like paying for college for your kids. So many people wait to save or invest once they're more "established" in their careers or just don't think about it early but they're missing out on years of valuable time! Most of my husband's clients are our Catholic friends and when you plan it out carefully and with a lot of forethought, it's not too hard to make your goals reality.

    That being said, I went to a 4-year state college in my home town and came out with a little bit of debt only because of living in student housing – a decision I really was passionate about at the time, but regret now because of the debt! I worked 3 jobs during college and graduated in 4 years, so it's certainly possible to afford college without going hugely into debt. Also like everyone else has mentioned there are TONS of scholarships out there — you just have to spend some time/work looking for them and they'll show up!

  16. Emily

    I don't have time right now to read all the comments, but I just wanted to say one thing to C. C., sorry if this is rather brusque, but stop listening to "everybody". "Everybody" told us not to marry young. "Everybody" told us what a mistake it was to have a kid right away, and for goodness' sake, don't be so stupid as to have another! "Everybody" told us that after that other kid came along, thank goodness we had a boy and girl so we could stop…etc. No matter how close you are to your family and friends, their advice should not factor into your decision about this matter. Planning your family is up to you, your spouse, and God. Everybody else can mind their own business. If my husband and I had listened to all the relatives and non Catholic friends in our lives, we would probably be just about to get married, both either have or nearly have PhDs, live in Chicago, and have not even given a thought to a family. I am sure we would also not be happy. Instead, we have six beautiful babies and live on a little farm, and my husband provides for our needs with a bachelor's degree. We are happy and we have no doubt that this is God's plan for us.

  17. Jennifer Wilson

    My husband and I are hoping to adopt (I'm 42 and just got married this summer.) College is the last thing on my radar because I'm going to encourage my future children to find a career path that they can pursue with the least possible monetary outlay possible. I went to college, but haven't used my degree at all — I've been a full time eBay seller since I graduated college in 1998. If my kids do want to go to college, I'm going to encourage them to pursue a job that will pay them enough for them to get out of debt as quick as possible. Not all degrees are equal. I heard a great story on NPR a while back about how there is over $100,000 in year salary difference between the top paying 4 year degree and the bottom paying 4 year degree. Personally, I started saving for college when I was 5 years old. Everyone knew my savings account was for college and I was so proud of it, and family often gave me cash gifts (and probably larger ones than they would have if I wasn't saving for college.) I loved knowing by age 8 I had saved $1,000 of money I earned from extra chores, selling Christmas cards from one of those companies that used to be popular, and from birthday gifts. What 8 year old has $1,000? 🙂 I was so proud of myself, and it encouraged me to save more. 🙂

  18. Tara

    We are planning and saving as best we can for our kids to go to college, but it is likely not going to be enough. When I examine what lies behind my anxiety, I always find a fear that my children won't be "successful", that they won't have all of the luxuries that the world can offer. I refuse to let this fear dictate my life, because we know that what's important isn't worldly success, but saying "Yes!" to God's plan. If God's plan is for more children, then my crazy anxiety about them not being able to afford college needs to take a back seat. I always have to remind myself that the goal is salvation, not success.

  19. Brianna

    Seems like I'm an outlier, but it is exactly because of my experience working so hard to get through school, seeing what I missed & the skills I did not develop because I lived at home, went to community college first, etc that I DO NOT want that for my kids– if they are as academically inclined & motivated as I was. I think there's value in moving away to a university and starting your adult years in the relatively safe environment of a college setting. Studies show working up to 10 hrs/wk after the first semester is good for college kids, and there are good debts (school, mortgage) and bad debts — so if my kids have to take on a little, I'm ok with that. And I expect scholarships to be pursued. I don't think it should be a time to squander what we've saved for them– they should earn their degrees. But I want the best university they can get into right from high school to be an option, and not off the table because we don't have cash to close the gap, and scholarships & loans only cover so much. So– our plan is to save, save, save starting ASAP. We meet with a financial advisor regularly, and our priorities are retirement & our kids' educations. Everything else, well– we'll make do. And if our kids are not the college bound type– well, we get to do some traveling in our midlife years.

    • Hannah Donohue

      Yes! I totally understand what you're saying. Save, save, save is out motto, too!

  20. michelle mom of 9

    I have 9 kids – 3 are in college now. Two dual enrolled and came out with a year of college. I'll dual enroll the rest beginning in 11th grade. They go to state schools with a hope scholarship. They pay their expenses, fees, gas, car insurance and books and work 20-35 hours a week each. They are all successfully keeping their grades up.

    If they want to go to a Catholic school, I'd work hard to help them figure out a way to finance it, but we're not able to pay for it. University of Mary has some awesome opportunities but my kids don't want to deal with the cold weather LOL.

    My oldest is studying welding and actually gets paid to go to school since it's a targeted diploma program in my state (they need welders!!).

    As far as the future goes, I think the college system of today isn't going to survive – I think they're going to need to change models and make use of technology. I'd rather my kids take a distance class with an instructor is who is passionate about what he does and is a fantastic, engaging instructor than some local, less than enthusiastic, putting in his time instructor (and yes my kids have had some), of course they've had a number of great instructors.

    I think the model is going to change – the debt for college isn't sustainable, the return on investment doesn't make sense any more. We're having kids take out loans for a local college that forces them to pay for a 40 meal plan even when they're commuters at a cost of more than $400 (yes, one meal costs more than $10 – I can feed my family of 11 on $15) – I believe in order to subsidize the kids living on campus. The fees are outrageous and paid for a newly renovated rec center. Now the state school is requiring all freshman to live on campus – yes, more loan money.

  21. Brianna

    To clarify, I agree not all kids are made to go to college, and not all kids are ready and need gap years or time in community college. My concern is if my kids take after me, and know what they want from their university or college experience from the get go.

  22. Jenny

    College isn't for everyone and that's ok. Living a simple non glamorous little life is a valid option. We are blue collared non-college folk and we are happy! We don't make 6 figures but we also live a debt free life. I know people with master's degrees who are incredibly unhappy. I don't regret not going to college. Just offering a different view point.

  23. Hannah Donohue

    I just have to say, I'm living proof that Kendra's plan works! – because it's what my own devout Catholic parents did. Savings for all 8 of us over time, plus investment accounts. They had to make some sacrifices, but it was their (generous!) choice.

    Two of us didn't go to a four-year college. They choose the military, and community college.

    The rest of us went, are currently in, or are soon going to four-year college. It's important to note that my parents didn't pay for *ALL* our tuition, but they covered a good chunk and the rest was covered with some federal student loans (never private loans!). Some of us got scholarships, some didn't. No one got a full ride. I have student debt, but it's manageable. It's not anywhere near the horror stories you hear about in the news.

    In fact, had I gone to a public university (especially in-state!) instead of a private Catholic university, my parents' savings would have likely covered it all. So that's amazing. But I wouldn't trade the experience I had at my Catholic college 🙂

    So it CAN be done! Big Catholic families CAN help send their kids to four-year colleges!

  24. Kendra

    Thank you to everyone who has commented! I love all these perspectives. And as someone who isn't quite there yet, but can see college expenses on the horizon, I'm taking notes, too!

  25. Unknown

    I loved this post! If I had a dollar for every perfect stranger that asked me how I was going to pay for 4 college educations, weddings, cars, ect ! Its like they see a happy mom and 4 adorable preschoolers and think "How can I stress this woman out?" I agree those figures on how much it takes to raise a child are ridiculous.
    I had a bit of student loan, but it was totally worth it. I never felt resentful towards my parents for not footing the entire bill.

    • Kendra

      Hah! I know right?!

      But it's just the perspective of the world out there. Like the points Jenny makes in the post I linked to.

    • Pamela Averrett

      I keep meaning to send you a mailbag question about contagious kids….have you done that yet?
      Pamela in Alabama

    • Kendra

      Pamela, I haven't. I'll have to add it to the list!

  26. Unknown

    Things here on Earth can drastically change. God forbid, you might be unable to afford one child's college tuition for many reasons. Who knows how much college will cost. Who knows how much you will continue to earn. Maybe college will be free for everyone by then. Maybe the school system will decide a student's future for them and provide accordingly. You never know. I say, if you want more kids, then pray about it and go with your answer 🙂

  27. Meaghan

    I really like all the comments for ideas! We have thought about this as well, we'll soon have 4 children under age 5. However, since both my husband and I went to the Air Force Academy (free + guaranteed job) we are big proponents of the military. I would be ecstatic if all of my kids could also go to the Air Force Academy…. Although we are saving, here are some ways that we hope to cut down on costs:
    -go to a military Academy
    -get an ROTC scholarship
    -Use my husband's GI Bill (can be gifted to a child)
    -Child can enlist for a few years and earn their own GI Bill
    -Child can enlist and use Tuition Assistance to pay for college
    -Other scholarships
    -Child could go to fire academy, police academy, electrician school, hairdresser, etc….
    -Child could become a priest or sister (I know there's still tuition for this, but scholarships available)

    I recently read the story about President Eisenhower's plan for college – his family had 7 kids, no money, so he and his brother made a pact to go work/school every other year and pay for each other's tuition this way. Pretty creative.

    • Cristina

      ROTC scholarships are great and I know there are a few schools that will even kick in room and board too–at least they did ten years ago 🙂 My husband had a Navy ROTC scholarship and did his first year at Tulane, completely for free. He really wanted to go to Notre Dame though so he ended up transferring there and he had to take out some loans to cover his room and board, though his parents helped out some. He ended up with $20,000 in loans for his four and a half years of private university education. I had about the same for my student loans as well but we were able to pay it all off within four years on just his salary by throwing almost everything we made at the debt. It can be done!

    • Cristina

      I should also say, the Navy went on to pay for him to go to law school as well (he was the only one able to raise his hand to the question posed at orientation on who was going to leave school with absolutely no debt–which apparently no one had ever said yes to before!) so, while we still owe the military the next ten years of our lives, they do offer some amazing educational opportunities 🙂

  28. h kahvedjian

    My husband and I decided due to our financial situation and also my age not to have more than 2 kids. While I am so thankful for my brood, I have really struggled over the years with this choice. Actually, I feel like it was against God's plan for me. Of course, I know He forgives me and still loves me and doesn't want me to live with constant regret. Just wanted to share because having more kids could be God's plan for you whether or not your finances measure up. Trust me, it does not feel great going against God's plan. It's awesome that you are asking others their opinion! I bet you'll make the right decision and wish you the best in whatever that is 🙂

  29. Diedre

    College doesn't have to break the bank. My husband and I both attended a community college for our associates degrees, and with FAFSA we were able to make ends meet nicely, before and after we got married. We didn't have lots of extra spending money, we had to be careful and stick to a budget, but I don't feel like that was a bad thing. Through FAFSA, scholarships, and some part time work, my husband was able to complete his bachelor's degree without taking out a loan, though he didn't go to the biggest most prestigious school, his degree still counts. He successfully completed his Master's degree without borrowing a penny because he was willing to put the time and effort into securing a paid assistant-ship to get him through. This meant making some sacrifices (like moving across the country to a school we could afford, and living very humbly), but it was totally doable.
    Despite his degree though, finding a job has been very difficult. There are way more college graduates than there are jobs to support them. In retrospect, we wish we'd skipped part or even all of college and gone another route. There are thousands of jobs waiting out there for people willing to be trained to do them, but our culture is so fixed on a college education that they sit empty. Try looking at the Mike Rowe WORKS Foundation. Pretty great opportunities out there for people willing to do the work! http://profoundlydisconnected.com/

  30. Lisa Toleno

    I would love to chime in that I actually met Kendra's husband in college while we were both on 3 year Navy ROTC scholarships. We didn't have the scholarship the first year — probably because we were both honest enough to ourselves, our university, and the Navy to not say we would be majoring in a hard science in engineering before we had even set foot on campus. To be fair, Kendra's DH is and was tougher than I'd ever be and received a commission in our United States Marine Corps. (Oooorah!)

    ROTC scholarships are great: They covered our tuition and the cost of our books. We were able to purchase them if we wanted at the end of each semester at 25% of their price. We knew we were to be gainfully employed upon graduation. We were privileged and had worked hard enough to have attended a fantastic Ivy League school and graduated 20 years ago this coming spring.

    Both of us then left active service — me twice as many years later as K's DH — and eventually attend awesome grad school programs and earn MBA's. Although K's husband's MBA is ranked higher than mine and I consider it to be more prestigious.

    All that to say, the military set us up for even more success. And I paid off my one year of loans in under 12 months of graduation and commissioning. We served AFTER college and as officers. We got to meet great people, train to do interesting things (I got to fly off aircraft carriers), and see interesting places.

    • Lisa Toleno

      Room and board was at our parents' expense. But . . . I would've taken loans out had my parents not been able to afford that.

      I know military service isn't for everyone, but ROTC and service academies are awesome options for those who pursue them and awarded them. My DH attended the USNA and was very pleased that his parents had more funds to support his other three brothers who attended public universities in California. Mind you, his parents did this on his dad's city worker salary and his mom's part-time job as a teacher's aide. They were and are very frugal and saved. All four boys eventually graduated from college and their parents live a good retirement.

  31. Ann-Marie Ulczynski

    So many great things going on in the comments! Here's my two cents, for what they are worth. . .
    – I was 11 when my Dad finished paying off his loans (when he went to college his Dad gave $20 and said, "take all the math and science you can." He had to figure it out for himself.). I still remember the immense significance of the day my parents paid off that loan.
    – My parents always stressed the importance of a college education. They also set some smart limits, "you can go anywhere you want to go! As long as it is in state, and a public institution." Thankfully, in Texas, we have a ton of great public schools.
    – After my freshman year, I worked every year and every summer to help with the expenses. It gave me much more ownership than I would have had otherwise.
    – For those who are looking for an amazing Catholic experience, it's still possible at a public school. I went to Texas A&M University, and the Catholic Student Center there at St. Mary's is one of the best in the country. It is a vocations powerhouse and easily stacks up against any Catholic University at a fraction of the cost.
    – From the time I was picking up pine cones as a child, my parents took half of whatever I earned and put it in my college fund. I was always kept up to date about how much I had earned and what it was invested in. By the time I left for school, it helped and it was tremendously gratifying to see all that babysitting money go for something good.
    – For those of you who want a great book to spread on the subject, I highly recommend
    "Smart Money, Smart Kids" by Dave Ramsey and his daughter. They take turns writing each chapter from the perspective of the parent and the child, and cover topics such as saving for a car, college, and weddings. It was a fabulous, easy read which gave my husband and I a lot to think about and discuss.

    • Kendra

      I know! I think this is the best com box I've ever had. So many great perspectives.

      We do the same thing with our kids, whatever they earn or are gifted, 10% goes to church, and 50% goes to Uncle Bill who manages their investments. They get pretty excited when he tells them they own a tiny bit of Disneyland.

      I'll have to check out that book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Bethany Sonnier

      As someone else who went to A&M I also have to say how awesome St. Mary's is. It's the church I came into when I converted and I love it. It's especially good if you want a strong Catholic foundation for your time in school and are in a STEM field, since many Catholic private colleges tend to specialize in Libral Arts majors.

  32. Melissa

    I feel the need to weigh in on this. I was raised by college educated people. One who payed her way and the other who had it payed for by his parents. My parents had 3 kids, so definitely not a "big" family, but they told us from about 3 years old on that if we wanted to go to college they would help as much as they could, but there was a good chance they wouldn't be able to. They said we needed to come up with our own way to afford college. My sister started a bank account specifically saving for college at the age of 5. She went to Stanford for undergrad, University of Michigan for grad school, then to UCSF for an internship, she is now looking into getting her PhD. The only time she had to dip into her savings was when she was doing her internship. She got the Gates Scholarship (Bill and Melinda Gates) which covered EVERYTHING. My parents did not help her. She works hard.
    I payed for my own schooling as well. However, I did mine through a loan. My parents did help me a little bit. Not much, but it was help none the less.
    My brother is in school now and he is paying for it through financial aid and scholarships.
    Anyway, I don't think we have a responsibility to pay for our children's college. I think it is great if you can, but knowing the difference between kids that payed/worked there own way through college versus kids that had it payed for I would rather have my kids be the former.

  33. M

    I have spent my career working in college admissions and financial aid at both public and private universities and feel the need to comment here.
    A quick primer for all of you: Some schools provide scholarships based on academics and activities. Almost all provide finanical aid, which is "need based aid", and of these, some will "meet the full need" of the student. To determine need, schools have you fill out the FAFSA and/or the CSS profile, which ask detailed questions to determine the expected family contribution (EFC). The total cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, other expenses), less the EFC, is your need. Again, some but not all colleges will meet this need with scholarships, loans, grants, student work opportunities, and other forms of financial aid.
    We cannot take the examples of our own experience and the experiences of our parents/siblings as indicators for what our children will experience. That's equivalent to saying "well I got this kind of medical care in 1983 and I'm fine, so I won't help my child get today's kind of medical care." The landscape of education, jobs, and costs will be completely different between the time many people have kids and when those kids decide o go off to college. Please look at the numbers and facts, and then prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
    The best thing you can do now is to start a 529 plan for your children. These funds will be available for them to use toward education at any time- if it's vocational school, a traditional 4 year experience, or a masters degree later in life. It can only help you to have these tax free savings for your children.
    Edcuation, in 98% of the population, is the key to success and to economic mobility. Despite how everyone knows that Bill Gates didnt finish college, there's millions of students who do and whose lives are better for it. Please don't sell your children short by not preparing them for this opportunity. In addition, it's simply not feasible for current students to "work their way through" a 4 year education right now- see this post for more details: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/04/the-myth-of-working-your-way-through-college/359735/
    Finally, some of the worst conversations I have with families are the ones where they have provided nothing but the best for their children for the last 18 years- and then decide that at 18, their children should now be completely fiscally responsible for themselves. This is cruel to those children, especially because it's their parents financial information that goes on the FAFSA and determines the expected family contribution, which determines the amount of funding that student will receive.

  34. Munchie Mommy

    For any other Canadian readers out there – if you go to your bank and open an RESP, you can get a $500 grant from the government, plus Canada Education Savings Grants every year based on your income and what you contribute (check out http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/goc/cesg.shtml for more info). These grants are free and automatic as long as you ask your bank to sign you up for them when you open your RESP. If you start your savings when your kid is young, this money really adds up.

  35. Lisa

    We only have three kids born in four years, so our plan is for me to go back to work when they hit college. Maybe not full time till they are all out, but even part time, I can make decent money to contribute significantly.

  36. Alicia Copley

    Wow! I am loving reading all these comments! (And Kendra's advice, of course!)

    I am someone who also paid for their own college. I was very fortunate to get scholarships, and my parents helped me out with some school books, keeping me on their medical insurance policy, and bringing lots of homemade food whenever they visited.

    It's also worth looking into state-funded tuition scholarships. I grew up and live in West Virginia where we have the Promise Scholarship which gives free tuition for 4 years to any state school if you meet the requirements – A/B student GPA and middle/good SAT or ACT scores. I've heard that there's some other states out there that have something like this, too.

  37. Natalie Conseur

    Wow, this is all so helpful. Thanks for writing this post, Kendra, and thanks to everyone who has commented.

  38. Cristina

    My three siblings and I are all within four years of each other and when we were all in college ten years ago, the fact that we were ALL in college actually lowered the amount my mom was expected to be able to chip in–both when it came to getting Federal grants and also scholarships and aid at our individual schools. My sister was able to go to a state school in NC for free with her aid package and I was able to qualify for enough scholarships to cover about 75% of my costs. At Wake Forest, where I went, there were just a ton of scholarships that you had to qualify for need based aid to be able to apply for, and all those little scholarships really added up–and if you have a gaggle of children to send through school chances are you'll qualify for needing aid–so maybe there's hope for big families after all 🙂

  39. Jennifer

    Two other options: some industrial employers have a tuition benefit (Ford Motor Company was one, don't know if they still offer it.). It's not pretty or fun work, you usually have to work full time and go to school on the side so it takes longer. But you have no debt, plus real work experience. Also, for those interested in the trades (electrician, welder, pipe fitter), many industrial employers pay for that training too. My husband had his undergrad and MBA paid for in this way, as well as his electrical trade. And I have friends' and relatives' post highschool kids doing the same thing at various companies in the area.

    • Jennifer

      Doing college this way allowed my husband to buy a small house at 19. Instead of debt, he had an investment. It allowed us to marry without needing to worry about a house.

  40. Alyssa Williams

    Great article! I'm one of two children. My parents couldn't afford to help with college but wanted me to go To a private school. I went to saint Mary's college and my brother went to Notre dame. We both worked through college and have loans. We are both surviving. I'm graduated (with loans), married, and pregnant with our second. Money hasn't stopped us from enjoying our life and bringing in new life! God really does provide! I appreciated being able to be financially responsible for my college.

  41. Ashley Sue

    Sorry, I posted too quickly and half of it got garbled.

    I never expected my parents to pay for my college. It was my responsibility. It was my choice. I applied for scholarships and got some but ended up.with student loans. I'm paying them. I'm not upset that I have them. Sure it limits us but so what? We have to give up stuff. It happens. I grew up with a lot less than I have now. We have the basics and extras.

    If my children so choose to persue a college education, the payment is their responsibility. I don't owe them a college education. I'll pay for some books, or rent occasionally, or bring food over, give advice but it's their life. At 18, I will have given them the tools to be on their own. It's up to them to own that and step up.

    Providing for my own education made me hussle. I did 2 Bachelors' in 2.5 years with multiple minors. I didn't waste time. I didn't meander. I made it count.

  42. Katie

    Like "M" above, I've spent 10+ years working in college admissions. In my case, it's been at a small private college, which means I've done a lot of hands-on with fin aid along the way, too. My own family is young– toddler and infant– so our own college investment is quite a ways off, but I'm familiar with the current lay of the land, and a bit of what's coming down the pike.

    It's helpful to remember that for need-based aid, there's both the federal methodology (FM) which is based on the FAFSA, and institutional methodology (IM), which can mean lots of things but typically includes the CSS Profile, which is a much longer and more specific fin aid form, on which institutions can gather whatever other info they feel is relevant to their institutional priorities and awarding process. The FM is like the baseline, and will be a comparable dollar value (although not necessarily percentage value) at every school on the applicant's list. But the IM can take into account more variables, and can even involve professional judgment by the fin aid officer, and thus can yield surprising results, depending on the school. Many private institutions say, "Okay, here's what your federal aid will do at our school, and based on that and our cost of attendance, here's what else WE can do." After all, once a college admits a student, they (ought to) want to make it affordable for that student to actually enroll– at least at your smaller, more personal, regional/religious, not-top-ten-ranked kinds of schools this is true. And yes, there's a multi-sibling benefit in fin aid methodology, and some private schools even have an automatic sibling discount!

    One small change coming soon (for students enrolled in the 17-18 school year or later) is that the federal forms will officially use prior-prior year tax info. In layman's terms, this means that gathering and submitting you family income data will be way simpler, and it will better line up with the admission cycle calendar so families can have more concrete fin aid awards much sooner during an admitted student's senior year. (It will open in Oct vs Jan, and use the tax info you finalized the prior April vs. the tax info you're preparing for the coming April.) Not a long-term planning strategy, but a good improvement to the application process.

    Another idea to keep anxiety at bay– pursue an ongoing connection with a friendly local fin aid director. What smallish college(s) is/are in your area? Who's on staff? It's almost certain that that person would be happy to come and educate your group about his or her field and to answer questions. Small colleges perceive value in getting their name out this way, and YOU certainly gain value because now you're cultivating a relationship with a pro (whether or not your child ever attends or even applies to that school). Get your middle/high homeschool group together for a fin aid program and invite your local pro. Be the person from your child's high school who calls/corresponds about the school's annual fin aid night. Make friends, get advice along the way for planning, and then you'll find you have someone on the right side of the desk to consult as your own family navigates the aid process. Fin aid officers are real human beings who care deeply about student access and success. Why not get one in your corner? =)

  43. Hannah

    I was one of 9 kids, my dad had decent jobs until I was about 14 yrs old, and then God kind of sent us through hard times, my dad couldn't get full time work, etc, and my parents had to use up ALL their savings (and they had been responsible and saved quite a bit) to pay the mortgage, etc.
    I still remember my mom (who always had been very careful about savings etc) crying, because we had no money left and the mortgage was due (it was the day of my high school graduation) and she was crying & stressed so much that I didn't think she was going to make it to my graduation ceremony (I was home-schooled, but we had a ceremony for our homeschool group, it was still a big deal). Then I went to check the mail, and there, in the mail box, was a check for work my dad had done for a research group a while back, that never got round to paying him (the joys of contract work for NASA, etc). But now, out of the blue, they did.
    I remember, triumphantly carrying that check to my mom who was crying on the rocking chair, and as I opened the door, and the sunlight streamed through the window down on us, I remember feeling like I was living a scene from a movie.
    Another time, my teenage brother's sneakers had worn out till there were holes in them. He wasn't going to say anything about it (hiding it from mom and dad) because he knew money was so tight.
    And then, randomly, we found some kind hearted soul (haven't a clue who did it) left a brand new pair of sneakers in the perfect size on the handle of the front door. A week later I was freaking out about a bill, and my brother told me "Hannah, you don't need money, you just need God"
    I'm not saying not to be responsible and plan, but God really provided.
    God made me do pretty well on the PSAT's, and I ended up with a full scholarship scholarship to an Ivy League school (UPenn). It even covered room and board because, with all my siblings in the mix, my parents income put us under whatever poverty limit that the university had set. God knew my parents had no savings left to pay for college, so he made me and my siblings do well on the college exams.
    If God gives you a little one, He has that little one's whole life in His mind. God knows about college.
    That said, (with a husband and a twin sister in PhD programs)
    College is so so so so overpriced. I mean, it depends on the program and the college, obviously, but a lot of academia these days is kind of more about networking and people-politicking & how to manipulate the department and get your grant money, than actually learning stuff.
    Nowadays, with MIT putting all its courses, notes, syllabi, etc. on the web ("opencourseware" ocw.mit.edu), even kids that don't go to college could learn more than 1/2 of college grads who are always trying to learn the minimal amount to maintain their chosen GPA target, and are just there for the parties&diploma.
    My sister (doing her PhD in Medieval History) went to a Medieval History Conference, where the best talk was given by an engineer whose passion is medieval military history. She said he knew way more than most of the professors did, who were too busy politicking & 'networking' for their careers.

  44. Hannah

    Ok, that sounded harsh. There are still plenty of academics who actually love their subjects (which it what it takes to teach & inspire college kids), but I'd say in my experience, they were perhaps 20% of the proffs. The rest of them seemed to be in it for the grant money.
    The people who really love something, study it whether or not they get paid. Nowadays, with cheap & free books (websites like gutenberg, ccel, or series like "Dover Books on Mathemetics" where you get books on colllege & masters level math for 10 bucks, or the "Great Minds Series" where you can read Kepler, Newton, etc original writings for under 10 bucks) and the abundance of self-teaching materials available for very cheap, its like Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, when suddenly knowledge was much more affordable.
    So if you are concerned about your kids really getting a chance to learn, even if God doesn't want them to go to college, they can learn so much–math, physics, history, etc, probably even more than most college grads in those fields actually know. Because if you are doing it for the love of it, and not just for the gpa, that's when you really learn 🙂

  45. Dixie

    Hannah, I'm sorry that you're so disenchanted with professors. I just want to make sure we don't demonize professors here. In my experience as a grad student and professor, I have found that most people in the humanities, at least, don't make enough money to be "in it for the money," grant money or otherwise. They really just don't. I just can't fathom thinking that 80% of them are so heartless.

    Things are often different in the hard sciences, where research is linked to medicine, for example; there's more money to be had there. But as I'm sure you know from your husband and sister, otherwise, it's 8-10 years of grueling post-graduate education and then sixty hours a week for middle class pay. It's a wonderful job but it just doesn't make sense to think that most professors at most places do it "for the money." I'm sure both your husband and your sister aren't in it for the grant money.

    Most of us care deeply about teaching, about young people, and about the academic subjects that can make our students and ourselves grow in wisdom and virtue. At least, that's my 2 cents.

    • Hannah

      Dixie, I'm sorry I came off so harsh. I was pretty burned, I guess. My dad was a physics professor for most of his career, I grew up running around physics depts, going to their parties, etc, and you are right that its not a huge money place, but there's also respectability and tenureship—some poor insecure guys will do anything for tenureship, and those who have that power over them know it. There were so many wrong things done, and people pressured (with the threat of not getting tenureship) into doing really mean things to their colleagues. Then at Penn, I saw a lot of bowing to the requisite gods in various fields, and perhaps because it is a top school, there was a lot of prestige, and so many proffessors willing to sell their souls for just a little recognition, a little job stability. I mean, we are all like that. Its just the nature of humanity & the fall & all that. But what hurt was watching people bow and network and lose their love of truth (and I am sure that the vast majority of those who choose PhD tracks really loved their subject to begin with), to uphold the fashionable idea (whether it was Physics or History) because that gets you with the in-the-know crowd, and God-forbid you should end up holding on to the unfashionable ideas, etc. I saw it in my dad's stint in Physics (I did a bachelors in physics, and actually did want to go for the PhD before kiddos decided to come instead 🙂 )And with my sister's stint in History.
      You're right that its really hard. The way adjuncts are treated is part of why I'm so mad. My sister has friends that are wayyy below the poverty level trying to survive on adjuncting stipends of a few thousand dollars, while the students are paying huge tuition that mostly fund building & admin etc. But the history adjuncts know if they don't adjunct, they will be deemed "uncommitted to academia" and their career chances are shot. So the colleges just abuse them. It makes me so upset.The worst is watching people abandon what they believe is truth, to "fit in" and be more viable. (Its like they started out because they loved the subject, and then freak out how they're going to feed their kids, that they have to politic/compromise their ideals.)

    • Hannah

      In hard sciences, there was a lot more money to be had, but even there, there is so so much people politics about who gets funded, etc. A relative of mine is also a Materials Science professor for a big name school, and he invented things which the school rakes in almost all of the money for, but hef or him, that tradeoff of the university community, and security was totally worth it.
      So I should rephrase that, they're not just in it for the money, if they just wanted money they'd be at wall street. But a lot of them are in it for the security, the respect, etc. I don't think most of them started out that way. But that seems to happen to people. I know there's kid's mouths to feed, and a lot of reasons people compromise.
      My mom tells me to get over it, and that its not just academia, but its just the nature of people. But I do think academia can bring out the worst in some types of people (insecure, wanting to be in the "in" crowd, wanting to be respected. Which is most of us.) I mean, the peer pressure I witnessed even as an undergrad watching the proffs at Penn, was very comparable to teen peer pressure. The awkward joke, the laughter, censuring/mocking some other idea that was not fashionable currently, etc. It should be about truth. But its so much about what the cool people (currently) think, in both physics and history.
      But I know you are right, I am burned and uncharitable right now. On reason I am so hard on academia, is they are my people. I was born while my dad was in Physics grad school, I spent my life 0-18 with my dad in various colleges and research groups. My husband is now in grad school. Friends & relatives are in various roles in academia.
      I'm sorry. I know a lot of professors who really care about truth, and love their subjects. 2 of them are why my sister is doing medieval history right now (she started out in physics as well), I really respect the proffs who are willing to sacrifice career advancement for sticking to what they believe is truth & where the data leads. Sometimes those people even make it up the chain despite of that (it seems people that usually make it to powerful positions in departments are those who are really good at politicking, not necessarily their subjects). My little sister (doing her undergrad in astrophysics) also wants to do her PhD in physics, I'm sort of trying diffuse her idealism before it crashes & burns on the rocks of reality. I guess that reality is people, and I need to stop being so mad. I'm sorry 🙂
      There are a lot of good academics. I have met very very good people in my various experiences in academia. I need to focus on that more, and not on the people who let me down.
      I'm sorry for being so bitter. I have forgiveness issues. Your prayers would be appreciated 🙂

    • Dixie

      Hannah, don't feel bad. I totally get it — I'm an adjunct, so…yeah, it sucks. And I tell undergrads who are thinking of getting Ph.D.'s that it's a wonderful thing to do, but you should only do it if you are 100% sure you don't want to do something else and that if you came out of it without your dream job, you'd still think the education was worth it. The system is so flawed. But there are still a lot of good hearts in it; they just don't show off as much as the twisted heart types!! I will definitely pray for you if you will pray for me 🙂

  46. Dixie

    This is all such great stuff and I really enjoyed the post and the comments. I just want to add that we should remember that college is not just about preparing for the job market. The liberal arts are meant to inform our minds, broaden our hearts, connect us with our past and each other, and draw us closer to God. Now, I'm not saying you have to break the bank and do five years at a private college in order to gain these things or that you shouldn't take a future career path into account, but this can be a very important part of formation. Sure, do it in a financially responsible way, but don't discount the good that can come from taking English literature and Greek philosophy while you also prepare for a career in business.

    On another note, it's just not always possible to save at all for your kids' college. That's where we are right now: we just can't. But as so many of the commenters have attested, that doesn't mean they won't go! We can only do what we can do.

  47. Amanda

    I have to say, reading this from our current place in life I almost want to laugh at the concern about paying for college. Almost, because it is a very valid concern and I know that a few years ago it would have been a concern of mine as well and was definitely in our minds. Now? We're over a year into my husband being unemployed/underemployed….with a Master's degree in hand and applying to everything from large-scale director jobs to social work jobs to Target cashier….and having been passed up for all of those. I sit here and think "hm, well if I find another few tutoring students, Kyle keeps supply preaching on the weekends, and if I finally cave and get on WIC then I think we can pay rent and food through January…" We were in a great situation financially when we had our third and by the time she was 2 my husband was unemployed and now she's almost 3 and here we are. You just can't predict these things always. I'm all about being responsible and planning as best you can (hence my blog name, haha!) but having children seems to just require a lot of faith. You never know what could happen. I think you just work hard and do what you can for the family (small or large) that God blesses you with, whether that means you work hard to put food on the table or work hard to provide them with a college education, or both.

    • Hannah

      I've been there! My parents have been there! God always came through, no one's starved to death yet 🙂 And the most important thing you can give your kids is having faith in God. That's what my dad's un/under employment did for me and my siblings. That's the real gift, for them to see you trusting God, some things can't be learned from books.
      Compared to that, a college education is a small thing for Him to give your kids. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills after all. (He opened doors and provided for me and my sibs college educations, my parents were just making it month to month)

    • Ari Mack

      Paying for a child's college education is definitely a first world problem.

  48. mel

    I haven't read all the comments, but just thought I'd throw my experience out there. I think it is wonderful thing to put your kids through college. But I put myself through. A combination of starting at community college, working, etc. did fine for me. My oldest (of five) (so far) is in college this year, a freshman. A combination of help from us, working herself, grants, scholarships, and the help of generous in-laws with means. She is going to a private Catholic college. Without the in-laws, she would have gone the same route that I went, because that's what we would have been able to afford. She is a good student, but not full or near-full ride good. 🙂

  49. Stephanie

    I haven't read all the comments, but I want to add that even if YOU plan for them to go to college, that might not be what they plan for themselves!
    My little brother went to college for a semester. It was not a good fit. Between the scholarships he got and my parents, that semester was paid for no problem. But it wasn't right for him.
    My husband went to college for a year, then dropped out to join a monastery. He was there for a year and learned a lot, but he figured out that it wasn't his vocation so he came home. His parents figured he'd had his chance and decided to let him pay his own way through college. He knew that his vocation was more important than any degree, so he got a non-degree-requiring job right away, pursued me till he got me, and married me. I had a lot of friends questioning why I would marry this man who didn't have a college degree. I've known him for years and I know he is a good, hardworking man who will do whatever it takes to support his family, and he is absolutely the man I want raising my children with me. Currently we've been married three years, I'm pregnant (after dealing with some fertility issues and a few miscarriages), he is working at my alma mater full time and they are paying for him to get a degree from them. I've been out of college for almost two years now (After scholarships, I paid half and my parents paid half), but the jobs I have been working (nanny, library clerk, currently a church secretary) don't actually require a degree!! But they have been the best fit for me and for our situation. Come January I will be staying home with baby and money will be tight, but I am so excited for this next adventure. And as a side note, my last semester in college was FREE for my parents and for me because poor young married people get lots more grants than middle class working adults.
    My point is that while it is a good and noble thing to want to help your kids through college, and I am so very grateful to my parents for helping me pay for college (I worked hard to get lots of scholarships so I didn't cost them too much!!) AND for paying for my wedding (we did it on $8,000 – something you need savings for, but not too bad as weddings go, especially since we had a big reception), God is good at ruining all our perfect plans to show us what is TRULY important – our family members, our vocation, and our souls. We're praying for lots of little ones and we'll do our best to form their souls and teach them how to work hard, and college will figure itself out in time.

    • Hannah

      You make a good point. I have plans for my kids, but God knows what His plan is. And as for the future, no one knows what that will truly look like, or what vocation God is shaping them for.

      Congrats on your little one 🙂

  50. Gina

    This thread is great! I graduated college a year ago (DH a year before that) so my experience might be more recent than many other people's. We both went to a very famous private university which pledges to meet the whole financial need of anyone they admit. I was raised by a single mom just on child support, so our income meant I didn't have to pay anything to attend. My dad payed for my plane tickets and gave me some spending money, but I also took a job as a research assistant (not really for the money but because I came to this school to do science!). My husband is the oldest of 6 and his family makes quite a bit too much to qualify for full aid, but he still had some. He also got an outside merit based scholarship. His dad is a financial advisor so he also had a a college savings account ready to go (though not enough to cover all 4 years). Grandparents helped out a little too. In the end he ended up with $14k in debt, but he had a degree and skills that landed him a great paying job right out of college. Yes, getting in to this college is really hard (acceptance rate at about 4% I think?) but once you are there they are going to help you pay for it. And a little debt is not a bad thing IF you know that your degree is going to get you a job where it will be easy to pay it back. I would not recommend just going to college and getting into debt without having a plan like that. Way too many people are taking out 50k+ to get a degree in literature or something, with not prospects of that degree leading to a higher income than say just apprenticing as an electrician instead of going to college.

    We have two kids now (and hope for many more) but I'm really not worried about college (even though we plan on starting a farm and drastically reducing our income in a couple of years). Our toddler has had a 529 college savings account since the time she had a SSN, and once our new baby is born he'll have the same. Grandparents are already generously contributing to this account, and compound interest is a powerful thing. I'm also skeptical that the college structure is going to look the same in 16+ years. I think there's a big change coming, especially in online education being more accessible and accepted instead of traditional college.

  51. Anonymous

    I’d like to say something about Tara’s comment that her worries about paying for college come from a fear that her kids won’t be successful, which no doubt comes from the same place as M’s comment that “Education, in 98% of the population, is the key to success and to economic mobility.”
    I would like to qualify this by pointing out that those sorts of statistics, based on summary data, include a LOT of data from a generation or two ago when a college degree was an indicator of a certain level of gumption and grit. To a large degree, it’s not the education that made those people successful; the education was a vehicle, and they were successful because they were the sort of people who worked hard to use that vehicle.
    That is less and less the case today, so I suspect that over time, if you look at the US data, we’ll find that a college education is not the key to success that it once seemed to be. SOME people with a college education will be successful – the ones who, as Molly said, have a plan, rather than the ones who go to college just because “everybody” said that’s what a person has to do. It’s the ones who try to make the most of their education by actively engaging in the learning process and in the community they’re in, rather than the ones who sit passively through whatever classes somebody tells them to take. It’s the ones who try to get good work experience whenever they can, to make sure they understand how real work operates and to try to build their network of contacts that might be in a position to hire them or speak well of them later. It’s the ones who are comfortable trying something hard and failing at it, versus the ones who never try anything hard so that they never fail. I’m a college professor at a state school, and it’s surprisingly easy to identify the students who are going to be “successful” versus the ones who are really going to struggle later on.
    If you’re worried about the money required for higher education, think about all the investment you are already making in your kids’ future success by building a strong foundation, providing them a loving and safe atmosphere to make mistakes and learn from them, building their confidence, their empathy, and their ability to sort out the important from the trivial. THOSE are the things that will make them successful, and then there are a variety of ways to fund an education that can build on those skills so that they can have that extra knowledge on top of all the things they’ll already have.
    (My H is a financial aid officer at our university, so I am not unfamiliar with the nitty gritties of getting aid. He’s also third of ten children, all of whom went to college, but whose parents could contribute very little to their expenses – some of them are in financially better situations than others of them, largely due to their choices in in-state versus out-of-state, public versus private, working summers versus studying abroad summers, having an informed plan at the outset versus changing majors a few times, and/or the chances of having to endure the hardships of long periods of unemployment – but all of them are great people, contributing to society and their communities, and that’s due more to their upbringing than to their college degrees.)

  52. Rose G.

    I have loved reading these comments! My parents saved up some money for college for me and my siblings (there are 6 of us.) I always wanted to be a nurse, and when I was still in high school, I took science classes at our local community college to get a head start on my college education. After graduating from high school, I got a 100% scholarship (merit based) to that community college. A few years later I graduated as a registered nurse and started making almost $100,000 a year with "only" an Associates Degree. A couple years later, my employer encouraged me to get my Bachelor's in nursing, and they not only paid almost all my tuition costs at a nearby state university, but they even paid me my regular salary for some of the hours I sat in classes! So sometimes the job comes first, and then the college degree 🙂

    My parents never ended up paying a cent out of pocket for my education (although since I lived with them, they provided food and board.) So the money they had originally put aside for my college fund was transferred to my younger siblings' college funds. 529s are transferrable between family members. In a large family, there's a good possibility that not every child will end up going to a traditional 4-year college, so being able to transfer college savings money between children could be a huge help.

    Oh, and I should add, I quit my job when my daughter was born, so we now live on my husband's income alone, which is not very big, especially considering that he has two master's degrees. (So we know first-hand that more education does not necessarily mean more income.) But even though we have to live frugally now, we are not stressing about future finances. We've already seen how God has more than provided for our needs since I stopped producing income, and we trust He will continue to do so in the future.

  53. Gagliaea

    I didn't see anything on here about schools with a need blind admissions process. Many universities with a larger endowment will meet the FULL financial need of admitted students. It's easy to Google the list of schools. Kendra, there are multiple In California. Im one of 11 children and was blessed to attend Vanderbilt, a need blind school.

  54. Bailey

    I haven't read all of the comments, so I apologize if this point has already been mentioned. I feel like this is a great example of our culture that is generally against large families saying "have less kids!" when they should really be saying "let's fix an incredibly broken higher education system." The "have less kids" argument is one that is made for many issues that actually having less kids doesn't solve!!

    I live in Texas where state college tuition was deregulated in 2003. My husband was in his 5th and final year of college at a state school and I was a freshman. In the end, my college education ended up costing AT LEAST double his education but it was likely more like triple. And that was just in 4 years. Tuition has continued to go up and up and people are just expected to figure it out. To me, having less kids doesn't solve that issue.

    My oldest son has a pretty severe learning disability so my husband and I have had to shift our paradigm when it comes to our expectations of higher education and our children, which I actually consider a good thing. We were both raised with the idea that a 4 year college education and experience is the only acceptable path after high school. I don't think either of us believe that any more but I do still believe that should be an option for kids that it is right for, regardless of money or family size.

  55. Ari Mack

    In my family (four kids), it was absolutely expected that we would ALL attend college, and also that our parents would NOT be paying for it. We all four got college degrees (and then some – there are 13 degrees between the 4 of us)…and our parents did not pay for any of it. Some of us got scholarships, some took out loans, all of us worked, some of us joined the military. I guess I came from a lower-middle class family that very much valued education, but there was no expectation the parents would be footing the bill. At 18, we were all out of the house and on our own. Was it ideal? I don't know. I was jealous of friends whose parents paid everything for their college. It's not a reason not to have children in my opinion. When it comes to finances, it's not affording college that I'm concerned about, it's affording birth, child care, insurance, etc. that we cannot swing right now. If we could get from age 0 to age 5 in any foreseeable way, the rest of the finances seem possible.

  56. The Shoreline Student

    I'd like to add that as a semi-recent college grad there are still jobs in the arts and humanities if that is what you are truly passionate about. You may have to "hustle" more than majors that seem to more easily lead to jobs, like engineering, but if you work hard, are flexible, and are committed to that career path you CAN succeed. Some examples from my friends/former classmates include full-time jobs in graphic design, museum art curator, event planning/programming for an historic landmark, working at a career center for immigrants (foreign language degree), professional ballerina, journalist, writing for a pharmaceutical company, etc. That’s just off the top of my head 🙂 From my friends’ experience it seems that if you are interested in arts/humanities you should choose a program that is competitive (requires auditions/portfolios or passing yearly reviews, etc. – basically the exposure to lots of constructive criticism really helps your work develop), pursue any opportunities for internships or other real-world experience while in college, and be flexible in your job search. Your dream job or working as an independent artist might not fall right into your lap but taking advantage of any opportunities that involve your degree will only help to build your resume so you CAN get that dream job someday (many dream jobs can require a few years of experience, for example) – and pay the bills too!

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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