How to pay for college

These three families got creative about funding their education. Here's how they did it.

2 of 3
Strategy: Pick schools that pay
The Bambicos
San Jose

Dentist Michael Bambico and his wife, Mary, counted on paying much of the bill for college for Ava, a high school senior, and Evan, a sophomore, out of current income. They're already shelling out about $30,000 a year on private school and figured they'd just redirect that money toward tuition when the time came. But once Ava started applying to colleges, the Bambicos realized they'd fall far short of what the schools actually cost.

So they enlisted the help of college consultant Manuel Fabriquer, who assured them there was plenty of merit aid to be had, as long as they targeted the right schools. "Based on historical averages, we know which colleges award the most money - the key is making sure you're in the top 25% of their incoming freshman class," says Fabriquer. He also advised Ava, who has good grades and SAT scores, to apply to her top choices early. "That's when the most money is available," he says.

Fabriquer's advice is paying off - literally. Three schools (Whittier College, Dominican University of California, and the University of Redlands) have offered Ava substantial merit aid, averaging around $18,000 a year. She is thrilled with the response, and so are her relieved parents. "It's great to know Ava has so many really good options," says Mary.

NEXT: Strategy: Have a backup
Last updated March 19 2009: 6:46 AM ET
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