Low-wage jobs might help your kid foot his or her sky-high college costs, but some financial experts — who are also parents — say there are more lucrative and meaningful ways to contribute to the bill.
By branching out, students can also improve their long-term career prospects. “Clubs and professional associations can help students gain valuable insight, access to mentors, employment opportunities, to name a few,” says Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, a financial management firm in Rockville, Maryland.
Below we’ll dive into three tactics experts recommend: joining professional organizations, checking out co-ops and networking on campus.
Join professional associations
In her junior year of college, Cheng’s daughter, Sarina, received $8,500 in scholarships. That covered about three-quarters of tuition and fees at the University of Maryland and reduced her need for student loans. One thing that boosted the business major’s success: She joined an association for supply chain management, her area of study.
Membership fees cost about $20 per year but turned out to be money well spent. Sarina met professionals in her industry and learned about opportunities for young people, including a $2,500 supply chain management scholarship. She also attended a conference, which provided rich fodder for her application essay. She won the scholarship and several others.
“We need to manage our expenses, but an expense for some club or organization helps you meet people,” Cheng says. It leads to new opportunities, she adds, especially when students follow up with the people they meet.
Co-ops, or cooperative education programs, let college students alternate between taking classes and working full time for local employers. This helps them offset college bills while gaining valuable work experience. The first co-op programs were offered by engineering departments, but now co-ops exist in biotech, business, humanities, social sciences, technology and many other fields.
“Co-ops are similar to an internship, but they differ in that the work experiences and projects the student works on are integrated with the student’s field of study,” says Melissa Sotudeh, a wealth advisor at Halpern Financial, also in Rockville. “The cherry on top is that the money students earn from these programs does not count against federal financial aid.”
That’s right: Co-op earnings, unlike income from a regular job, won’t affect a student’s estimated family contribution.
Not all colleges and universities offer co-ops, so students should check with the schools they’re considering if they’d like to take part in one.
Networking on campus
Just as your kid would network to find a job, he or she can find scholarship opportunities by cultivating relationships at school — through paid or unpaid internships, mentoring other students, studying abroad or visiting professors during office hours, for example.
“Take the time to get to know one faculty or staff member per semester,” says Cheng. “It’s important to be genuine and authentic in your purpose and intent. … Do it because you’re really interested and have a passion and interest.”
And if your student develops personal relationships, he or she will have an easier time getting heartfelt recommendation letters for scholarship applications.
A part-time job can be great, but proactively seeking all types of money for college could have a bigger financial impact on educational costs and your student’s skills. Networking and co-ops may reduce the necessity for student loans while giving your kid rich experiences that will benefit him or her for a lifetime.
Jeanne Lee is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jlee_jeanne.