12 Steps to Take if You Haven’t Saved Enough for College

saving for college

12 Steps to Take if You Haven’t Saved Enough for College

Published June 24, 2020 | Last Updated July 27th, 2023 at 03:50 pm

saving for college

This was our story…

Spring break was over, and so was our son’s senior year…almost.

We spent most of high school exploring careers; plotting a path; comparing college programs and navigating the admissions requirements.

It’s been exciting and exhausting; fun and frantic at times.

So, where are we in our college-bound process?

  • He’s taken the SAT a few times  -CHECK.
  • Decided on a major (Chemical Engineering)  -CHECK.
  • Completed the Common and Coalition Applications  -CHECK.
  • Completed the dreaded FASFA – UGH- CHECK.
  • Selected nine colleges to apply and send scores to, to the tune of $1000  -BIG CHECK!
  • Visited half the chosen colleges (another uncalculated expense)  -CHECK.
  • Applied for dozens of scholarships – CHECK-CHECK (hopefully a real check is awarded).
  • Got accepted into the Honors College at all nine schools  -PHEW, very proud!

Now what?

Saving and Paying for College Is Stressful

As parents of four sons (our eldest has already graduated from Rowan University), we have been saving towards their college education since birth.

But, I wonder if that is going to be enough.

Not likely, because there are too many variables that affect the bottom line number.

In-state versus out-of-state tuition; on-campus versus off-campus; grant, merit and scholarship awards.

Besides escalating cost, some schools even have different tuition rates for STEM majors.

Do I sound stressed? Frustrated by the whole process? You betcha! I may not have been able to save enough.

Then what happens?

Like most parents…LIFE got in the way of saving for college.  Maybe you experienced a job loss, health crisis, got divorced, bad investments, raised a large family, or had credit card debt.

Whatever the reasons, we all have some.

What practical options do I have to save money at this stage of the game?

12 Steps to Take if You Haven’t Saved Enough for College

Here are 12 immediate things you can do if you haven’t saved enough for college:

  • Reduce Spending Immediately

Reduce your spending in every area of your life where money is involved.

Start to downsize – pull them out of private school, refinance your mortgage, terminate a car lease and postpone vacations. You may have to cut cable services, excess phones, eating out, sports and enrichment activities.

Do a budget and see where your financial waste is.

  • Consider Community College

Going to community college will be much cheaper. Especially if they haven’t decided on a major yet, don’t waste time and money.

They can commute for 2 years, then transfer to a 4 year university without a full sticker price.

  • Complete the FAFSA

File the FAFSA no matter your household income.

You may be eligible for federal aid, loans, work study but will also have access to qualify for grants and scholarship opportunities which don’t have to be repaid. Remember to look at private source scholarships too.

  • Ask Colleges to Waive Application Fees

Ask colleges to waive application fees or see guidance counselor for waiver codes. Apply everywhere to increase your admitted opportunities.

  • Help Your Student Do the Best They Can on the SAT or ACT

Help your student do as well as they can on the SAT/ACT. They should continue to keep good grades and improve their test scores which will open the door to merit monies and scholarships

  • Leverage High School AP Courses and Exams

Some schools offer dual credits meeting high school and college requirements. Spend a little now to save a boat load later: take the AP exams for nominal fee; passing can save you a semester or more of costly tuition.

  • Reduce Credit Card and Loan Interest Rates

Renegotiate financing terms on your credit cards or secure ones that have a zero percent balance transfer. You can melt down the cost of college with a monthly payment that fits your lifestyle.

  • Apply to Schools Where Your Student Is in the Top Percentiles for Test Scores

Apply to a variety of affordable colleges where your child will be above average. Look for smaller, specialized or more local colleges. Your student will stand out and likely be a great candidate for grants or merit money; plus, the price tags are generally smaller.

Use Road2College’s R2C Insights tool to find more generous schools based upon your student’s stats and preferences. 

  • Negotiate With the Bursar’s Office

Often, they can set up pay-as-you-go plans with no finance charges. Making smaller monthly payments will help you chip away one semester at a time.

  • Encourage Your Student to Get a Weekend or Summer Job

This lets them get some skin in the game and contribute to furthering their education, with a sense of ownership. They may only save enough for textbooks or incidentals, but every little bit helps.

  • Consider Changing Your Job

Parents, find something with a higher income, better benefits, matching savings plans, tuition assistance, or corporate scholarships. You may even have to get a second job.

  • Beg and Borrow

From private banks, credit unions or family members who may have the means to help with a lower payback fee. It helps to have great credit too.

Comparing Financial Aid Awards

In the midst of all this, we are now awaiting Financial Award letters.

They have been trickling in for a few months and I’m surprised at the amount of loans they expect parents to assume to pay for these outrageous costs.

I’m also disappointed in the mediocre merit scholarship amount, even though he was a finalist for some Distinguished Scholar Awards. 

Considering the highest ALL-IN total cost to attend (tuition, room & board, meal plan, supplies, & misc. fees) is Cornell University at $73K and the lowest being Rowan University (local) at $26k, we have a lot to consider.

My son’s future is at stake. And yes, he did receive multiple financial awards to offset sticker prices.

Some may say, “Oh,  the choice looks easy,” but it’s not as simple as a dollar amount.

There are a lot of critical factors to consider.

Regardless of his choice, we will be asking the same question: “How are we going to pay for this college education?”

As we edge closer and closer to May 1st, — Decision Day, we are continuing those critical conversations with our son about financial stewardship.

We will give him all the financial facts and where we stand in supporting his college efforts (without jeopardizing his younger brother’s dreams and our retirement).

Stick to Your Financial Morals

We all know that a better-educated populace makes for a better country…so, then why are the schools making it so difficult to pay for it?

We all want to give our children the best opportunity we can afford; not what they think you can afford.

Most high school students generally don’t have a clue about college cost or your personal finances.

Don’t feel pressured to send them somewhere because their friends are going to a Big Name Private University, or XYZ State University or you’ll end up paying too much.

Be sure to paint a complete financial picture for all four years of college. It’s never too late to get help either.

Make an appointment with a financial planner; be sure to visit the Financial Aid Offices on your college tours, they both will have some great strategies.

And seek out advice from experienced family, friends, and co-workers, like those in the Paying For College 101 group, because they may have some valuable tips too.

Hard work does pay off. Don’t give up.

Good luck (and it can’t hurt to start praying).


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

Merit Scholarships Guide: Factors, Tips, Full List and Search Tool

How to Pick a College That Loves You Back

Say Yes to a College?  You’ve Still Got College Financial Planning to Do








In this article:

Upcoming Events

Similar Articles for You

Dear Roadie: Should I Get A Second Job So My Daughter Can Graduate Debt-Free?


Dear Roadie: Should I Get A Second Job So My Daughter Can Graduate Debt-Free?

Dear Roadie, I am flabbergasted at the cost of college today. My daughter is a stellar student, and the last...

Dear Roadie: Do Parents Need to Become College Admission Experts? I’m So Lost


Dear Roadie: Do Parents Need to Become College Admission Experts? I’m So Lost

Dear Roadie,  I’m the mother of a 10th-grader, and I’m realizing I need a crash course in college admissions. I...

Dear Roadie, My Son Returned From Orientation Hating the College He Chose. What Now?


Dear Roadie, My Son Returned From Orientation Hating the College He Chose. What Now?

Dear Roadie, I’m a bit freaked out. My son returned from his two-day college orientation and said he hated everything:...

Become a Member

At Road2College you’ll find everything you need to make the admissions and paying for college process less stressful and more transparent.


Explore R2C Insights™ — your source for finding affordable colleges and merit scholarships.


Get coaching on admissions and college financing.


Join Road2College where parents and experts work together to inform and inspire college-bound families.