Unplugging to Reconnect: Homesteading and the Kids’ Higher Education, Part 4

Reader Contribution by John Atwell
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You can read the previous posts in this serieshere.

Financing a college education? Did I fail to mention the beauty of Advanced Placement (A.P.) high school classes before getting to college? A solid score on the national A.P. test will land a student free college credits that can be applied to a 2- or 4-year degree. My wife and I had some personal experience with this.

For my part, ever the slacker, I only took one A.P. course in high school (biology) but entered college with a half of a semester’s worth of credit that only cost me (my parents) the $50 fee for taking the A.P. test. We both had high school classmates that used A.P. testing to knock out more than a year’s worth of free credits before they were even admitted to a college.

Our next to oldest child, as a sophomore, scored well enough on her A.P. World History course to garner 6 credits and, as a senior, nailed an A.P. Literature test score good enough to garner 4 credits. Our boy, at age 15 and a sophomore, tackled A.P. biology (still waiting for those results).

(In our family, we have agreed to cover the kids’  testing fees, unless they fail to secure a score that grants credit; then they pay the $50.  Money is a great incentive for better studying.)

So, a key financial principal for us has been to have the kids start college with as much free credit under their belt as they can manage.

“Then what?,” you ask. “That can only take you so far.” Yes. Did you know that if your child, homeschooled or not, takes the GED exam, the scores could qualify the student for more free college credits?  Our second eldest gained an additional four credit-hours just through this route. For her, between the A.P. and GED tests, a full semester of college course credits will be covered at no cost! The things they do not tell you in life.

Also, way before we got to these points, where we could start executing these plans, the very month that each kid was issued their social security number, a month or so after birth, we began putting money into tax-free 529 plans.

By the time we quit our careers, each of the four children had enough funds in just those accounts to completely cover at least full two years of college here in Hawaii (more than had we stayed put in Virginia and they had gone to in-state schools). A little money here and there in tax-exempt Coverdell accounts and tax free educational bonds issued by the Treasury Department (from us and birthday gifts from relatives) will help pay for some of the remaining coursework.

The kids will cover some costs themselves, too. For example, our three oldest have taken jobs (no more than 10 hours per week) to help fatten up their savings accounts for expenses that lay ahead, to prevent them from having to go into debt before they enter the career workforce, and to gain some life skills experience. I’ll note here that this requirement of the kids is not aimed at easing any financial burden on dear ole ma and paw — though it certainly helps.

Simply put, we want our kids to come out with a greater sense of responsibility than they would if we handed everything to them. Again, going back to our own experiences with alternate paths taken by student-peers of ours, I’ll say that I graduated with kids who paid their entire way through 4 years of college by themselves through a combination of work and grants and scholarships or ROTC, and I can tell you that they emerged with a different mettle, a good measure of grit, compared to the rest of us soft bellies, and they did not waste time partying. That is not a bad thing, by most measures, and I am confident that our kids — as most — are up to the task.

And that about sums it up.

John and Esther Atwell and their four kids’ journey into sustainable living, organic food, and homesteading began while living in the San Francisco Bay in the 2008-2010 timeframe. Their current grand life experiment — detaching from a fast-paced, conventional, urban lifestyle to establish a sustainable, organic homestead, homeschool their kids, and become more involved in community and church — began in earnest in early 2014. The couple, graduates of Duke University and the University of Virginia, have homeschooled their four children — two of whom are now in college — and Esther previously ran a tutoring business focused on hard sciences and math up through calculus.  Find them online at Sojourn Chronicle and read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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