Paying for college

Consider these smart strategies if you won't be paying the entire bill.

"Amazing as it may seem, some physicians' kids will have to pay their own way through college," says FP Rosanne Hooks, in Mullins, SC. "Skyrocketing malpractice premiums coupled with increased business costs have forced many physicians to dig into their savings just to keep their practices afloat."

Physicians who paid their own way through undergrad and medical school think it's in their kids' best interest to pay their own costs anyway. "Our responsibility as parents," says Morristown, NJ, ob/gyn Vina H. Isaac, "is to prepare our children for 'real life', when Mom and Dad no longer pay for everything and the children are self-supporting."

Mitchell Cohen, an FP in Elma, WA, agrees that children should be responsible for at least part of their education: "Kids shouldn't get a free ride. Having some financial investment in their education is critical to give them a sense of ownership. It's the same principal as copays: If a patient has to pay $20 for a visit, he or she has more invested in that visit."

Put your gifted student on an accelerated schedule Consider having your excellent student take AP (advanced placement) courses in high school for college credit. "Highly selective schools want kids to take the most academically challenging programs they can," notes Kalman A. Chany, an independent financial aid consultant in New York City and author of The Princeton Review's Paying for College Without Going Broke. "They'll expect the student to take AP courses if their high school offers them." Some students can end up skipping the entire freshman year of college and cut their total costs by one-fourth. Not all colleges give credit for AP courses, however, and those that do will require a certain grade before they hand out credits.

Search for scholarships and financial aid Even if you don't think your child will qualify for need-based aid, complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Chany adds, "It's foolish not to apply. Don't assume that you make too much money and won't qualify." Some families making $150,000 to $200,000 a year end up being eligible for need-based aid at certain private schools, says Chany, especially when they have more than one child in school at the same time.

Other schools offer merit-based scholarships for families that demonstrate little or no need for aid, but Chany says to be sure to submit all the required aid applications on time to stay in the running for any awards.

"Don't avoid applying to private, out-of-state colleges just because they'll cost more. Virtually every private school has significant financial aid available and can put together packages that can rival in-state public college tuition," says Mark Sklarow of the Independent Educational Consultants Association in Fairfax, VA.