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Tips to pay for postsecondary education—through the ‘ages’ 

Students head to classes at Gateway Community & Technical College’s Edgewood Campus. Photo: GCTC
Students get hands-on lab experience at Kentucky Wesleyan. Photo: Kentucky Wesleyan College
Posing with the artwork at Kentucky Wesleyan College. Photo: Kentucky Wesleyan College

Earning a degree can be an expensive investment, but one that is attainable with careful planning and perseverance. “I want to encourage students out there who think they can’t afford college,” says Teri VonHandorf, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Gateway Community & Technical College. “There is a lot of money out there. If there is a will, there is a way in the state of Kentucky.” 

Here, she and other Kentucky financial aid experts advise students and families about how to afford the education they desire and what steps to take at any pre-college age. 

Ages 0-10: Start saving 

One of the best ways to save for college is a KY Saves 529 plan. Contributions to federally designated 529 plans are taxed, but growth earnings are tax-free. Funds can pay for tuition, room and board, and supplies at almost any university or vocational school in the United States. Parents, friends or grandparents can all give to a student’s fund—contributions make great gifts. 

Ages 11-13: Look ahead 

Middle school is a great time for students to consider their career aspirations and educational options. One helpful resource is the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA). Its website shares planning tools and a wealth of information about higher education opportunities and financial aid programs. 

Ages 14-15: Making the grade 

Kentucky has a unique funding opportunity for all high school students: the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES). It automatically accrues based on a student’s grade point average and can be used at any college or university in the state. Students can earn as much as $2,000 in KEES money during high school, renewable each year in college if they meet certain requirements. 

Bonuses also are possible in several other categories (ACT or SAT score, for example). 

Age 16: Research scholarships 

“The biggest advice I would give students is to build a relationship with their high school guidance counselor,” says Crystal Hamilton, the director of financial aid at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro. Counselors are a conduit for community and specialized scholarship opportunities. 

Persistent students can find funds based on their major, hometown, ethnicity or parents’ occupations. “It can be so specialized,” says Hamilton. “Take the time to do the research. It will pay off.” 

KHEAA’s annual Affording Higher Education booklet lists every scholarship available in Kentucky, broken down by county and by institution. It includes close to 6,000 scholarships. 

Age 17: Choose a school 

Hamilton encourages students to go through the entire application process for schools that interest them, no matter the sticker cost. Private schools like Kentucky Wesleyan often have scholarship funds based on need and merit. Hamilton says her college sends accepted students a financial aid estimate so they can make an informed decision. 

Gateway’s VonHandorf encourages students to consider one of the 16 Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS) schools spread across the commonwealth. “Choosing a community college is a wealth management strategy,” she says. “Scholars can complete their general education requirements at half the cost of a four-year school. Degrees are highly transferable, especially to Kentucky’s public universities.” 

Many graduates from KCTCS schools are ready to launch their careers after graduation. The state Work Ready Scholarship covers full tuition for Kentucky residents who pursue a degree in key industries, like nursing, construction and transportation. “It is the best-kept secret in the universe,” says VonHandorf. 

For a better understanding of the price of an education, “Getting the Facts” on KHEAA’s website provides a personalized breakdown of costs and estimated financial aid. 

Age 18: Consider a loan 

After choosing the right school and seeking grants and scholarships, students might need additional support. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the application for federal loans. KHEAA’s sister public agency, the Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation, offers the only state-based educational loans, called Advantage Education Loans. Since Advantage Education Loans are private, KHEAA recommends using federal loans, scholarships and grants first.


Need help choosing a college? Find information on tuition, room, class size and more for colleges across Kentucky in our 2021 College Guide.

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