How to Pay for College

Most parents eventually think, “College…oh yeah…what’s THAT going to cost?”

Smart question to ask—and answer—ASAP. (Have you checked the price of higher education lately?)

According to SoFi, as of the 2022-23 school year, a four-year degree from Harvard (tuition, books, and all other expenses) now runs $334,152. If you want to tack on a degree from Harvard Law, you’ll need to come up with $321,000 more!

Closer to home, a four-year degree from Louisiana Tech (assuming you’re a Louisiana resident) will set you back $96,180 (that’s according to CollegeSimply).

That’s more than I paid for my first house!

Way back in the mid-90s, the venerable economist Thomas Sowell started sounding the alarm about the skyrocketing cost of higher education. He noted the declining academic standards at many colleges—even some Ivy League schools—and wondered, “Is college a good value?”

If you’re a parent facing this big, expensive choice, here’s my best advice:

  • Consider your child.

Is he or she ready to go to college?  Like, really ready?  

I’ve had clients that literally mortgaged the farm to send Precious to a prestigious institution. It ended up being an expensive four-to-six-year experiment of “I’m trying to find myself!” A new major each semester. Lots of dropped classes. Little academic progress. Lots of extracurricular activity.

When a student has no direction, no motivation, and no incentive, sending him or her to college is like paying for an extended summer vacation. Don’t do it!

However, if your child IS ready…

  • Be a careful shopper.  

I get the impression that some parents are more interested in the three “E”s (Eastern, exclusive, and expensive) than they are in the three “R”s. (If you don’t know what the three R’s are, stop reading now. I can’t help you!).

Even if you can afford an elite school, don’t rule out a state college. A child who applies himself/herself can get an excellent education at many state institutions. 

Don’t waste good money on a mediocre education.  

  • Play the financial aid game—hard!

Help—scholarships, grants, work-study programs and loans—is available. With serious effort, diligent students can get a sizable chunk of their college expenses paid for. I know countless young adults who graduated debt-free.

A good high school guidance counselor can help with scholarship applications. He or she can also assist you with filling out the FAFSA ( This is the form the federal government uses to determine your “need” and how much assistance (if any) you are eligible for.

  • Start saving NOW.  

Don’t let the fact that you don’t yet know all the details (where, when, how much, etc.) be an excuse for doing nothing. And don’t blithely assume, “I’m sure my kid will get scholarships!” Start putting money aside today.

  • Be creative.

Consider innovative approaches to funding your child’s education, like the “mini-dorm” concept. It takes a child of some maturity, but isn’t that what we’re shooting for?

Invest in a house or duplex near the campus.  

Designate your child as your “property manager.” Let her collect rent from three or four other friends/tenants. Pay her a reasonable salary (and deduct that expense). Personally, I’d make her use this salary to help pay for her tuition, books, etc.

Be sure to consult your CPA on the specific tax implications of such a plan. You may be able to take depreciation on the house and even deduct your own travel expenses to and from the college town because you are a landlord traveling to inspect your rental property. 

If you’re lucky, the property will appreciate over time and you can perhaps make a profit when it’s time to sell. Regardless, whatever money you get back out of the deal is more than you’ll get by paying someone else to house Junior.

Figuring out how to fund a college education can be an education in itself. And it’s one exam you can’t cram for.

Start saving now. Do your research. Consult with experts (financial planners, guidance counselors, etc.). 

Argent Advisors, Inc. is an SEC-registered investment adviser. A copy of our current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available upon request. Please See Important Disclosure Information here.

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