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Plan wisely for college

By Elizabeth Harris

Summer is a reality check for recent high school graduates. Those college admission letters that created such excitement have been tempered by the new knowledge of exactly how much parents and students will have to pay or borrow to make up the difference between what financial aid and scholarships will provide. This is particularly true in the present pandemic, when some parents have lost their jobs and students are questioning whether they will get the full “college experience” they were expecting.

Tuition and room and board are not the only college costs. Textbooks, student fees, meals that are not covered by the college plan, and transportation all add up and, in some cases, provide an unwelcome surprise of the actual cost of a year of college away from home.

Most students and parents have at least considered the option of going to community college for a year or two to complete general education requirements. However, not everyone realizes just how much money this option can save. Community colleges across Virginia have instituted a new program called “Guided Pathways.” The goal is to ensure that every course a student at a community college takes will transfer as a degree requirement to the university of the student’s choice or ensure a student has the possibility of earning a career certificate in the most efficient way possible. Tidewater Community College has articulation agreements with almost every Virginia four-year university, and students have guaranteed admission to the college of their choice if they take certain coursework and maintain the required grade point average.

Another way students can cut college costs is to complete a career certificate at TCC so that they can get a better-paying job to pay their living expenses while completing a four-year degree. A student might not want that job for a lifetime, but a higher-paying job would certainly enable a student to finish college in a chosen career field with far less student loan debt.

A third way to lower college costs significantly is by taking College Level Examination Program tests and earning college credit for what a student has already learned or is willing to study independently. A student can check if the college he or she is planning to attend will take CLEP credits, and in which subjects, by searching the name of the college and CLEP. Although some selective colleges do not accept credit by CLEP examination, most public and private colleges in Virginia do. Successfully passing CLEP tests can earn a student up to a year of college credits at very minimal cost.

Excellent resources are available from the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia at schev.edu/123gotoolkits. Resource guides on multiple topics related to college choices are available at www.ecmc.org/students/resource-guides.html.

Embarking on higher education is not a social decision — it is a business decision. Maturity means delaying present gratification for future long-term benefits. Now is the time to make wise educational decisions and wise financial choices.

Elizabeth Harris is a recently retired high school teacher and long-time adjunct instructor in history and humanities at TCC. She welcomes questions about college planning and earning credit by examination through CLEP and DSST testing. You can reach her at etharris@tcc.edu.