How We Managed to Pay for 4 Kids In College at the Same Time

Paying For College Without Loans

How We Managed to Pay for 4 Kids In College at the Same Time

Published July 11, 2019 | Last Updated July 30th, 2023 at 10:06 am

Paying For College Without Loans

We aren’t rich, but we aren’t destitute either.

We have little set aside in college savings and we almost never qualified for need-based aid. All this puts us squarely in the middle, like a lot of families trying to figure out how to pay for college.

So I’ll share what we did to afford paying for four kids in college at the same time.

8 Strategies I Used to Help Us Pay for College

I followed the strategies laid out in the Paying For College 101 Facebook group that worked best for our family situation.

Here they are:

1. Run the net price calculator (NPC) for every college your student is considering before you do anything else.

If the NPC results are going to be outrageous, don’t even visit, don’t even apply. (Unless there is a compelling reason like an unpublished scholarship your student might get.)

2. Encourage (I should probably say require) your student to apply to several REALLY safe-safety schools.

I consider a really safe-safety school to be one where your student’s GPA and test scores are much higher than the college average.

This will make your student one of college’s “top recruits”. Being a “top recruit” makes it more likely that your student would be offered a top merit aid scholarship is at that college.

3. DO NOT get set on a “Dream School.”

Be willing to walk away from any college if a better fit (academically, socially, geographically AND financially) comes along. Falling in love with a dream will not make this process more affordable for you nor for your student. It just won’t.

[Read Giving Up Your Dream College To Graduate Debt Free]

4. Appeal whatever the college’s first financial aid offer is.

Contact admissions and ask what the student needs to show or do to qualify for a higher merit scholarships.

Show a GPA upswing on their interim transcript? Retake the SAT for a higher superscore? Come in for a personal meeting with financial aid officers for possible need aid? Show bank statements? Whatever it takes.

[Read Tips For Handling Your Student’s Financial Aid Appeal]

5. Meet the people in the admissions office in person, even after your student is accepted.

Especially if it’s a top choice. These are often the same people who sit on the merit or appeals panel, and if they’ve actually met the student in person, the chances of getting approved go up.

6. Be specific about the dollar amount you actually need to be able to enroll.

Give the college the exact dollar amount that will make your student enroll right then and there.

7. Wait. Oh my goodness, wait!

As long as housing is guaranteed for freshman, have the student follow up via email and periodic phone calls after getting accepted.

But DO NOT COMMIT until literally May 1st to any college you cannot easily afford. Here’s why: if a college happens to be below their enrollment goals, the closer they get to decision day, THEY WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY increase aid offers hoping to get accepted (yet uncommitted) students to enroll.

8. Conversely, consider applying early.

If you’ve got a high-stats, middle income student, (especially if you’re lower income), DO NOT rule out early decision, restricted early action or single-choice early action (ED, REA or SCEA) at elite, deep-pocketed, need-blind admissions colleges that meet 100% of need with no-loans. Those may actually wind up being your most affordable options!

[Understanding the different types of college admissions deadlines.]

Regardless of their exorbitant sticker prices, heavily endowed colleges often have need aid policies that bring costs down far below your EFC – sometimes free, and often much cheaper than your State college would be. But the catch is they’re almost impossible to get in, no matter how qualified the student is.

To have better than a 1 out of 20 chance of getting in during regular decision, applying in early decision, restricted early decision or single choice early action can open doors to what could actually wind up being your most affordable option!

Just run the net price calculator on a few elite, or Ivy colleges if you’ve got a qualified student and you happen to be middle class – and see what I mean. The ED/REA/SCEA odds are still quite slim – but it can be your best shot.

Lastly, I’ve posted pictures, below, of my oldest four kids in their four different colleges along with details on the specific aid and admissions strategies we actually used to get them there. They cover three private colleges and one public school.

For the 2019/2020 school year, we’re able to pay for all four colleges without loans and no college is expecting more money from us than we actually have. (Which IS NOT a whole lot, keeping it real.)

I hope this helps answer questions many of you might have but didn’t feel comfortable asking!

Ways to pay for college DS1 (Dear Son, 1st child) a rising Senior at Delaware State University and a music major. He received a full tuition scholarship and and his meal plan is covered by scholarships/grants. He accepted loans his first few years, but will graduate with ~10k in student loans. He was our first. We simply didn’t know then what we know now about chasing additional institutional merit aid.

Ways to pay for college DD2 (Darling Daughter, 2nd Child) is a rising Sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. She is majoring in Electrical Engineering. She applied early decision. Their generous need aid policies make our out-of-pocket costs realistic and affordable for us. (Less than half our EFC last year.) Thankfully, no loans for any of us were needed. The biggest issue was getting in at all, and she pulled out all stops to get in, including applying during Early Decision.

Ways to pay for college DD3 (Darling Daughter 3rd child) is an incoming freshman at Albright. She is majoring in psychobiology. She applied for their full ride scholarship and won it. (It required: writing a specific essay, providing an additional, FERPA-waived non-academic recommendation, an in-person interview with a 4-person panel of judges, and a meeting with the President of the College.) No joke, this kid prepared for those interviews like it was a Fortune 500 job.
Ways to pay for college DS4 (Dear Son 4th child) is an incoming freshman at Wesley, Psychology. He plans to major in Criminal Justice. His full tuition is being covered by scholarship/grants. We appealed for higher merit aid twice by submitting his interim transcript, 3rd marking period report card, all four SAT scores; had in-person meetings with admissions, then waited and waited…and waited until his second appeal for higher merit was approved before he committed. Literally paid his enrollment deposit on May 1st.


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:

Our Full-Tuition Scholarship Journey

College Choices Are Easier When Your Student Knows the Budget

How Chasing Merit Helps Middle Class Families Pay for College




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