How To Manage The Stress Of Paying $50,000 In College Tuitions

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$100 bills fanned out in hand.

If Sarah had to pay tuition bills in cash, she would need something bigger than her hand to carry it all (like a U-Haul).

$14,375. $18,333. $14,860.

These three numbers glared at me on from my children’s school websites, right next to the line “Total Due.” As I made the last payment, I became officially $47,568 poorer—and felt somewhat sick to my stomach.


I have no doubt that an investment in three college educations will pay off for my family. Still, I felt shock as I hit send on those bills. Because no matter how much you mentally and financially prepare for it, the cost of college is very expensive—and actually paying it is stressful.

Your “Total Due” is different from ours, but I imagine the number you and your parents pay is probably painful too. Short of finding more money, what can you do to help your family manage that out-of-pocket stress? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Put Tuition Due Dates On Your Calendar

It may seem obvious, but knowing when your tuition is due is key. I was recently reminded of this the hard way, as I almost missed a tuition deadline (I think I was in denial). If I had been late, my daughter would have been at risk of losing her class registration—and there would have been late fees as well.

Fortunately, there are some easy ways around this. First, you will most likely get all tuition bills by email. Even if your parents are helping pay for college, they will not get these messages or access to the bills unless you grant them permission. So, grant them permission!

Also, be involved and proactive. To prevent another near-disaster, I asked my kids to remind me of these important deadlines going forward. You can do the same. Trust me: your parents will appreciate it.

2. Read The Fine Print—Then Pick Up The Phone

It is really important to review all the charges on your statement. Check to see if the balance due reflects any loans you have taken out. If you have not yet accepted your loans and done your pre-loan counseling, the balance may not show the loan credit.

Also, tuition bills may not reflect any outside scholarships you may have earned. And if you applied for a health insurance waiver, check to be sure that the school provided health insurance plan was taken off the total amount due.

A lot to process, right? To make sure you know exactly what you are paying for, nothing works better than calling the office of student accounts or the financial aid office for clarification. That’s what they’re there for.

3. Continue Applying For Scholarships

Regardless of what you or your family’s income status is, there is a scholarship for everyone. By spending a few hours applying for well-targeted scholarships, you may be able to bring down the cost of your future tuition. Earning one could really help reduce your overall college cost—never mind how great it could look on your résumé down the line.

We Are Almost Halfway There

As for us, I feel fortunate that both my husband and I have full-time jobs, which makes a big difference in our ability to pay these hefty tuition bills. And as I get through paying this year’s college bills, I can console myself that I will have 6 of the 12 years of tuition payments made.

Once the last tuition bill and student loan are paid off, maybe someday I will find myself with an extra $50,000 or so to spend on whatever I want. What would it go toward? The gently used Ferrari my husband has always wanted? Something for my three college graduates? OK, scratch that, I’d rather take that cash and go around the world…

But until then, the due dates for spring tuition are in huge letters on my calendar.

Have you found yourself overwhelmed when paying your tuition bills? Tell us about it in the comments. 

(Photo: speaker4td)

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