Saving on college costs

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

What if you could reduce your college tuition bill - without spending more of your own money - years before it was time to pack junior off to the dorm? If your child is in high school, there are two tools that can help you do just that.

The first is a program run through a startup called It allows students in grades 9-12 to earn microscholarships from colleges they're interested in attending. They can earn real money for things such as getting A's and B's in core high school classes, community service, maintaining a certain grade point average, joining the National Honor Society, playing sports or becoming an Eagle Scout. Taking AP classes and tests such as the SAT and ACT also can boost earnings, as can taking a college course while still in high school.

About 150 schools participate in the program, including Carnegie Mellon, Denison, DePaul, Michigan State and Tulane universities and Oberlin College. The scholarship amounts vary by college and activity, but as an example, Oberlin awards up to $150 per A grade in core courses, and the University of Dayton offers a $200 microscholarship for each year of perfect attendance.

Once a student has earned a mini-scholarship, it translates into real money when it's time to go to college. The money is, according to the site, a "guaranteed minimum amount of scholarship or grant aid that you will receive" as part of the financial aid package when a student is admitted and attends that school. The only downside? If you qualify for a bigger scholarship because of academics or family need, it replaces the amount. It isn't added on top.

Still, it's worth a try. Students can earn money, yes, but the site also has the advantage of giving them a clearer picture of what activities, grades, test scores and community service colleges value and are looking for in potential students. It can show there is real, concrete value in getting good grades and taking challenging courses-it's not just something they should do because mom and dad say so.

The second way to save real money on college is through the Ohio Department of Education's College Credit Plus program, which allows qualified students in grades 7-12 to earn college credit-for free-before they graduate high school. Each high school's program runs a little differently, but generally students take courses at their school, online or at a local college. I can't stress enough how valuable this program is. I even participated when I was in high school, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (OK, it was the 1990s.).

Credits earned through College Credit Plus can be transferred to the school the student attends after graduation. If your child takes basic courses such as math, composition, history or philosophy, he or she may be able to finish a freshman year of college while still in high school.

The savings really add up. Consider this: One hour of college credit (each class is usually three credits) at Ohio State University costs $260 to $275. If your child took four classes and earned 12 credits while still in high school and then attended OSU after graduation, those free classes would shave a little more than $3,000 off the cost of her degree.

There is a catch, though. The grades students receive on these college classes appear on their high school transcript, where they are calculated similarly to an Advanced Placement course. If a student does well, it can impress the college admissions office. If they don't, that F on a college course turns into an F on the high school transcript.

The district also can ask parents to pay the tuition for failed courses. So it's best to wait until your student is ready for rigorous academics. If this program is a fit for your family, talk to your high school guidance counselor. And for more details, go to

Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek who writes about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch, and