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How to Pay for College [Large Family]

One of the most common questions we get in regard to our large family is “how are you going to pay for college for all those kids?” Our answer was simple: We aren’t. We never considered paying for our kids’ college our responsibility and we always figured we would cross that bridge when we came to it. Well, my friends, we are now at that bridge. Judah is in his first year at Central Washington University and we are just now being faced with the reality of how expensive a university education is.  I’m going share with you our own story on how to pay for college with a large family.

How to pay for college with a large family.


1. Community College. We all know community college is vastly cheaper than big universities. Here in Washington we have an amazing program called Running Start. High school students in grades 11 and 12 are able to take college classes and earn college credit. The best part? Homeschool students are able complete high school and their Associate of Arts degree simultaneously. Adalia and Judah graduated earning both a high school diploma and Associate of Arts degrees (at 18 and 17). Tilly will graduate  at 17 next month with both. This alone has saved us thousands of dollars. Judah in his first year at Central is actually in his third year of college. 

Making the jump from homeschooling to university

2. Grants and Scholarships.

Grades in high school matter! Volunteer work matters. Community involvement matters. Make sure you track these activities for their scholarship and college applications. My kids all qualified for College Bound scholarships when the were in 7th and 8th grade. This is through  our state and is income dependent. While we qualified as low-income at the time, last year when Judah was filling out his financial aid, Chuck made too much money to qualify so we got nothing (but we have still qualified our younger kids, we don’t know what the future holds). Judah ended up with $4000 in scholarships this year, and will have scholarships next year as well. Some of those are good for four years and he is still applying for new ones.  

3. Financial Aid

When we filled out the Financial Aid forms for Judah, we found that he only qualified for loans for himself and we qualified for parent loans.  We were disappointed to see that Judah didn’t get any actual money toward college. This meant we had to be even more resourceful when it came to financing his education. But, for many large families, Financial Aid can make a huge difference. One of my friends (with 15 kids!) has two in university this year, and Financial Aid is covering the balance of their tuition!

4. Work Study

Judah is currently working in the office of the psychology program at Central. He loves this because they are very flexible and guarantee work hours that are compatible with his classes. He also does not need to leave the campus, which is great since he doesn’t have a car. The money he makes at this job he is able to use for books and supplies; keeping his loans down.

boy playing guitar

5. Student Loans

Judah was really hoping to avoid these entirely, but there was no way to do this and still allow him to attend university this year.  We encouraged him to go head and take the loan, but to work as much as he could and not let those loans pile up! College Avenue Student Loans has launched a brand-new parent loan. With College Ave parents save an average of $1000 over other loans. Not only that, parents have the option to begin paying back this loan right away, or limit the monthly payments and choose repayment terms from 5-12 years. Another option is to deposit $2,500 into the parents’ bank account to pay for books, dorm rooms, etc. You can use this simple College Ave qualification tool to see if you qualify. 

We chose not to take out a loan to cover our portion, but have been making payments each quarter, while Judah contributes as much as he can. 

6. Summer work

Judah is already looking into training and job opportunities. He is hoping to get a job in the construction field so he can make as much money as possible this summer and take out fewer loans next year. Chuck and I have been so proud of him. Not only does he have a work/study job, but he worked at his old job as parking monitor over Christmas and over spring break.

Judah knows the value of hard work and it doing his best to come out of university owing as little money as possible. Since he has already completed his first two years, he only has just over one more to. At that point he will be too young to be in law enforcement (he will only be 20 and he needs to be 21) so he will have another year to work and hopefully pay off any remaining loans.

Do you have a college savings plan for your kids? How did you pay for college? 


I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


  1. thissquirrelsnest

    I got mostly merit scholarships and grants for my education. I also had a couple loans that took me about 10 years to pay off. My parents expected me to go to college and to also pay my way. I had work study too, and I loved every minute of college. I in no way regret the debt.

    We don’t have college funds for our children mostly because we spend $1700 a month paying medical school debt. And that’s the income based repayment. In 20 years we can petition the government to forgive the remainder.

    It’s pretty crippling and we wouldn’t encourage our children to go into medicine (for many reasons ). But that debt does restrict our lives in ways we didn’t fully appreciate. Given that for two years of medical school you’re paying a huge sum to work 100 hour weeks for free.

    . My spouse LOVES his job, and living frugally isn’t a bad thing. But when a single loan is triple your mortgage there’s a lot you think/worry/wonder about.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      I have a doctor friend in his 40’s who is still paying of student debt. One thing we told Judah is not to let the debt pile up…he doesn’t want to be paying these of in 20 years. The amount he is taking out, shouldn’t cripple him and he doesn’t plan to defer the payments.

      It’s great to know that you don’t regret your debt.

      • Liz

        It’s so interesting to me to hear the above stories..Hmmm.. My husband is also a Dr…Emergency Medicine. We married the day after he graduated med school 15 years ago. In the last 15 years we have paid off his student loan debt, maybe 10 years ago?(he had scholarships to his first 2 degrees not med school) We have also adopted 5 times and paid cash(very expensive) and we just recently paid off our house that we bought 7 years ago. This is all on my husbands income. We both were living on our own before we married so we didn’t have any money coming into the marriage. We lived WAY below our financial means and still do. It makes me wonder at how much the difference may be in different Drs pay. Again, I know we are not living a “Dr lifestyle” All our kids wear hand me downs, we homeschool, no fancy cars, dinners,vacations etc. I am so happy we are debt free now and hopefully our kids will be too. This is not meant to boast, just I wonder sometimes when I see my husbands colleagues speccing lots of money elsewhere and not putting it towards their loans or mortgage.

  2. Melpub

    I had nine thousand dollars worth of college loans–this was back in the seventies, and many friends had to pay of more–and it took forever to pay the dang thing. I’m now lucky we’re living in Germany–university education is vastly cheaper, sometimes basically free except for books and housing. At the university where I teach, students have had to pay (under protest!) around $500 a semester. The middle class life is still possible here.

    • Julie

      Melpub… I recently read an article about American citizens (who weren’t living in Germany) going to university in Germany, practically for free. Do you know anything about this? Sounded like the classes were taught primarily in English… in Germany.

    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Melpub, thankfully he only has two years instead of four and since he will *have* to work at least a year before he can even seek a job in in law enforcement, and if he lives at home he should be able to pay the amount of his loans off.

  3. Julie

    Renee, hurray for Running Start! We’re about to launch our second into the program. Don’t forget that Tech Schools also participate in Running Start. Our son is heading for a program he can complete in two years. They have about a 90% employment rate within a year of graduation, and average salary is in the 60K range. No debt, and a living-wage job that could support a family. True, there’s not a lot of upward mobility in that job field (with the two year degree), but the larger employers tend to pay for continuing education.

    Our older son (at the community college) is looking at the military for further training and possibly to pay for further education.

    And don’t forget Mike Rowe’s “Mike Rowe Works Foundation” and their Work Ethic Scholarships for training in the skilled trades 😀


    • bakersdozenandapolloxiv

      Yes, true! I have had friend’s whose children have done the tech school. Our kids so far have been interested in the community college and the possibility of university in the future.

  4. Anna

    Living in Germany i got to study basically for free. I had to pay for books and living, and dorms are not the norm here. I shared an apartment and needed money for rent and food. We can apply for student loans from the government, depending on the parents income (and only for a certain number of Semesters). Half of the money has to be paid back. You do get refunds if you pay back faster. The money didn’t cover all the costs, so i took on whatever jobs were available.

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