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I have heard from several parents who are worried about not being able to send their teens to college. Either the college fund has plummeted or the parent is jobless or both.

Teens themselves are worried about the economy and wonder what their future will be if the job market does not improve.

I got this email recently from a high school junior who wrote, “My dream of going away to college has been shattered. My mother is ill and can no longer work and my father is being laid off. They are using money they put aside for me to live on. I know this is what they have to do but I can’t help being disappointed. I was going to be the first girl in my family to go to college.”

My reply: “You WILL be the first girl in your family to get a college education. It may not be the way you dreamed of going to college but you can make it happen without the help of your parents.”

Teens need to believe in the American Dream. But they also have to recognize that the American Dream is not something that is handed to you. It means that if YOU, the individual lucky enough to live in America, work hard enough you can achieve just about anything you set your heart on. It may be harder today because of the economy but it is not impossible.

Here are Dr. Heins’ suggestions for teens without means. This is how teens can go to college on their own the old-fashioned way with little or no help from their parents. To put it another way this is how teens can make their own American dream come true even if the college fund has tanked.. Parents: share these with your teens.

• Work hard in school and get GOOD GRADES. Be serious and turn yourself into good college material even if you goofed off in the past. Follow your passion into extra-curricular activities so your application reflects a well-rounded student.

• Sit down with your parents and have a frank DISCUSSION ABOUT FINANCES, now and projected into the years you will be going to college. Even if they cannot give you any money don’t give up on college. Millions of Americans worked their way through college including my late husband who worked from the time he was 12 when he sold newspapers and managed to put himself through both college and veterinary school. (Disclosure: I was lucky and my parents did put both me and my sister through college although it was not easy for them.)

• BE AN EARLY BIRD. Start early. Look at colleges on line and check out financial aid and work opportunities at each college. Work closely with the college counselor at your high school on the best fit for you, your aspirations, and your pocketbook. Fill out applications and financial aid packets early. Funds are limited so you don’t want to miss out because you were late in applying.

• Consider a local COMMUNITY COLLEGE to get started. Tuition is lower, living at home saves dorm fees. If you do very well the possibility of transferring to a university on a scholarship exists.

• GET A JOB! Yes, you. Yes, in this recession. There are still jobs out there. I have been on both sides of the teen job fence. Research has shown that most teens who work do so to buy “stuff” not to save for college or help out their parents. So I have felt teens could make better use of their time preparing themselves for college and the tough competition out there in today’s global economy. But tough times require tough action. If you are a junior in high school and put aside $50 dollars a week from your salary in a year you have $2600. This won’t pay for a private elite university but it could get you started at a community college. Service jobs around your neighborhood exist if you look for them especially yard work, running errands, baby-sitting. The health sector is very promising. If you are old enough you might consider getting CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) training so that you can help care for the elderly in their home. Hustle both when you look for a job and sell yourself to prospective employers. Dress and talk appropriately. Make eye contact.

• CUT DOWN SPENDING. This is not the time in your life to buy designer jeans. You should have more important things on your mind: your very own future. If you don’t invest in college your chances of being able to compete for a job go way down.

• HELP OUT YOUR FAMILY. If your family needs your help and you must go to work to pay the mortgage or put food on the table, don’t despair. Help your family out for now. But keep your eye on your own dream. Lots of university graduates had to take time out but figured out a way to go back.

The teens I am most worried about right now are not those from working class families who have always known they could not count on much parental help. Rather I worry about those kids from PWFs (Previously Wealthy Families) who have always felt entitled to their free ride to a college education in an elite school. These teens have to do some serious rethinking. Start with reading my suggestions and find a new path to your dream. You can make it happen on your own just like my husband did.