The word “college” is a scary one for parents. It is a desire, dream, ideal and goal of many households for their children.
But it also initiates the cogitation and perhaps fears of the “how” financially.
And as parents, we don’t want to crush dreams, desires and goals – especially when they are reasonable in terms of developing life-skills. On the outside, you are saying YES child, go! But on the inside you are like, “Not too fast though as we need to figure this out!”
Well, that’s where today’s tip may come in handy. As a child, my parents were very smart. We didn’t grow up a wealthy family and I didn’t grow up with lots of extra income to save up for college. My parents had to get student loans for their college education; I still have a clear memory of being a 12-year old and my parents still paying it off. Thankfully my parents didn’t want the same thing for me and worked to prepare me to avoid that experience.
Although Alex and I made a lot of BAD financial decisions when we were first married (remember, we quickly dug ourselves into $100k of consumer debt), my coming into our marriage with college debt was thankfully not part of that. Alex did and that was one of the last things we paid off when we paid off our consumer debts (because the interest rate was so low and a tax right-off, so we saved it for the end). My parents did not want college debt looming over me like they had experienced.
While growing up, I did not realize how smart they were in finding creative ways to help us “earn” a college education. But now, sitting here with kids of my own (the oldest being 12) I’m starting to understand more how wise that was.
What did my parents do that I appreciate today? We participated in many extracurricular activities that yielded financial assistance for college, but also prepared us in priceless ways as well: life-skills that have been instrumental in making me the person I am today!
As a child, I was heavily involved with 4-H, participating in competitions based on our passions and skills and opportunities galore! After participating in many 4-H competitions, I entered a national speech contest with the prize of $1,000. My mother found this opportunity and asked if I wanted to be a part. I was so excited for the chance as I love to speak publicly and present persuasive, creative and informative topics to others (I loved it probably because of prior such opportunities :)). With the support of my parents, I entered, wrote a speech, memorized it and ultimately won this competition. Winning $1,000 was a huge boost in my confidence, skills and ultimately was worth so much more than $1,000. From there, I had taken on other opportunities for speech and presentation. I built my transcript up to the point that I was able to apply for scholarships to bridge the gap for my college tuition. The same experience occurred for my brother and my sister. My brother even had a full-ride scholarship, despite any savings and monies earned before from these types of events.
So for that, I am ever grateful to my parents for their insight, passion, dedication and desire to help us in any way that they can to achieve these goals.
That is now the same that we are doing for our children, to the best of our abilities and opportunities at our disposal. And in the end, there is NOTHING lost! Even if a child puts themselves out there, puts an effort in, works hard and gains nothing financially from the experience, the life-skills are the priceless aspect of it all! Any money earned or won is merely icing on the cake!
How Do You Find Opportunities for Your Child?
Before even jumping on any opportunity for your child to learn, grow and expand their skills, you first need to identify what skills and passions your child has! All of our children are very different. It really amazes us to see how we are raising them the same, but their individual personalities form who they are as a human. Not all opportunities are right for your child. There will only be some. And those are the ones you want to target.
- The first thing to do is to be aware, present and involved. Opportunities arise constantly. As a parent, you need to be the proactive one in paying attention as they may not be (yet) and sharing with your child, together deciding which opportunities to take advantage of, based on their passions and skills. You don’t want your child to participate in something merely for money sake, when they have no skills or passion in this area. It will backfire.
- No matter what passions or skills your child has, there are opportunities. If they attend public or private schools, ask the teachers, counselors and staff about opportunities for your child to expand their skills. What competitions are available for them? Let them know that you want to know of any and all and then you and your child can decide which to do!
- Pay attention to the local groups around you. Is your child an art lover? Are they really good at a certain sport and can find opportuntities outside of school? Do they have a passion for music? Do they display excellent skills in the area of science and math? Do they love to read/write/tell stories? Whatever your child’s skills and passions are, join local groups of the same theme. Follow these on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. If there is a competition or opportunity for growth, it will be listed on these groups websites and social media.
- Ask around. Most all of us have friends and acquaintances that work in the same field as a passion of your child. If you have a technology driven child, ask friends that are in technology if they know of ways for your child to explore and expand their skills.
- Museums, libraries and university extensions are another great source of information in this area. Many groups advertise through these outlets, or they know of an opportunity that would fit well for your child.
- Finally, do a Google search! It is amazing what you will find. I found more than we could ever dream of participating in.
Here’s some real life examples of what we have been doing lately.
We have just started 4-H. I love 4-H and had countless opportuntities to develop life-skills, earn cash awards and scholarships. It is not for just animals and farming. Although we grew up in Idaho, we grew up in the “city” and my 4-H projects and experience were in the areas of business and government.
Our son LOVES science and geography. I found so many opportunities for him to participate in in the future (he just turned 9, so most are for 11+ but we are preparing now!).
Our second daughter LOVES art and math. I have found many opportunities for her just from a Google search alone that will keep her busy for life. We are also in an homeschool co-op called Classical Conversations. This is our third year and they are sponsors in a national math competition called National Number Knockout. The grand-prize is $10,000. She has entered one year already and wants to continue to try out. Check out her submission video!
She’s on the young end of the competitors ages, so she has a few years to try if she doesn’t make it this year, but the skills she learned in preparing have been remarkable in her newly gained understanding and quick math thinking skills! That alone is a gift that she will carry for life.
Our eldest daughter has a passion for reading and writing. She loves to tell stories, write stories and reads anything and everything she can get ahold of. She was an early reader and read the full Chronicles of Narnia series at age 7 and the Lord of the Rings right after! We can’t keep enough books in her hands. She loves it so much that she wants to start a book review blog for kids (be watching for this project of hers as we will announce it here). Along with that, she too entered a national competition through our Classical Conversations co-op called National Memory Master. She also just entered this competition! The grand-prize for this one is $10,000 as well! When we can post the video after the competition, we will.
For this competition, she had to memorize 12 history sentences verbatim and then write a story connecting these history sentences together. She loved this challenge and wrote an amazing story. The story had to be told in less than 3-minutes, so we had to cut several parts out, and then she had to learn to speak very quickly with new braces and an expander in her mouth, but she enjoyed writing and submitting her story! We don’t know that outcome of this one yet, but all of these adventures we are joining recently reminded me of both what my parents did for me and my siblings and what we are now starting to do for our kids.
Our eldest child is 12 and we are just starting this new adventure of watching their life-skills grow, while we do our best as parents to find the right opportunities for them to expand and explore their passions, while hopefully gaining opportunities to pay for college as well.
It is never too late to find these opportunities and help your child gain life-skills, funds and scholarships! We hope this post and our life-experiences in this area has helped give you some ideas.
And thank you for supporting our family! If your child is in a competition where voting is necessary, drop a link in the comments below and let us all help too!
What ways are you working towards paying for college?