Having a 4-Year Focus in a 1-Year World

Four-year Focus

Having a 4-Year Focus in a 1-Year World

Published September 9, 2019 | Last Updated November 3rd, 2023 at 06:52 pm

Four-year Focus

Parents of college-bound students are losing sleep!

At least, that’s what the parents in our Paying for College 101 Facebook group are telling us.

College admissions are difficult, but most parents find the process of paying for college even more stressful. Unfortunately, it all seems focused on one thing – getting the freshman year paid for.

There’s more to it than that, of course. There are three other years of college.

Having a 4-year focus in a world that seems determined to only talk about one is an important step in helping parents get some sleep!

Here’s how to do it…

Consider How to Pay for College

Keep a Larger Perspective

Unfortunately, both parents and students can make poor decisions when they take a freshman year focus. They may decide on a college that’s unaffordable without a variety of scholarships – only to find that those scholarships don’t renew.

Families can also find themselves in a debt crisis if they overreach on the freshman year and don’t have enough leeway left for future college semesters – or upcoming kids who will also be attending school.

To avoid these issues, make sure your decisions are using a wide lens. Before you make a financial decision, ask yourself, “Is this sustainable for four years? Will I be able to do this for other children coming behind?”

When you keep the big picture in view, you’ll be in a better position – not just for this year, but for the future years as well.

There are so many things you can do to discover your options during the long waits that are part of the college process. The more you know, the better your decisions will be.

Think about looking into things like:

  • Whether scholarships your student has are renewable, and whether they are full-ride of full-tuition
  • The requirements for ongoing merit aid – specific GPAs, for example
  • What your financial picture will look like when you apply for loans in the senior year, after three other years of funding
  • Education options that can save money over the entire college career, such as starting at a community college, finding a generous school by using our R2C Insights tool, or staying in-state

You may be surprised at what you discover, but it’s better to know these things now than be blindsided by them when it’s too late to do anything!

Save Money Where You Can

There’s a lot you can do to save money on the sophomore and future years of college. It’s important to do so, because sometimes those years have additional expenses, like Greek life, a change of major, or studying abroad.

Here are some places to cut costs:

  • Computers and dorm furnishings. Thankfully these tend to be one-time costs. Let your student know they need to earn the money to pay for any upgrades.
  • Consider renting books instead of buying. This can save several hundred dollars by itself.
  • Limit spending on new clothes or expensive food. Reduce expensive campus meal plans and create a strategy for your student to eat more cheaply.
  • Students can work during school breaks to save up money for school necessities, while also building the experience they will put on their resume after graduation.
  • Make sure your student understands how credit cards work and is wise about using them. There’s no need to graduate with more debt than necessary!

One parent in our Facebook group suggested that students approach faculty they get to know about a possible job. They can also visit the career center to find paid internships that can help them financially and in their future careers.

Break Free of One-Year Tunnel Vision

The bottom line about having a four-year focus is that you don’t overcommit to any one specific year. It’s vital not to overborrow for freshman year “just to get them there,” only to find out you can’t afford future terms.

Once your child has attended a year at school, it’s very difficult to change. Be sure your student doesn’t end up in a position of not being able to continue at a school due to finances.

Make sure you look at the entire four-year picture from the beginning.


Use our R2C Insights Tool 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:

How My Daughter Got $53,000 a Year in Merit and Financial Aid Plus More in Private Scholarships

Our Full Tuition Scholarship Journey

A Family’s Journey to Find an Affordable College




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