How I made sure all 12 of my kids could pay for college themselves


My wife and I had 12 children over the course of 15 1/2 years. Today, our oldest is 37 and our youngest is 22. I have always had a very prosperous job and enough money to give my kids almost anything. But my wife and I decided not to.

I will share with you the things that we did, but first let me tell you the results: All 12 of my children have college degrees (or are in school), and we as parents did not pay for it.

Congratulations to the Thompson family. Maybe not a blueprint for everyone but there are some good ideas in the article for new parents.

  • lkalliance

    These sorts of articles make me feel like a failure as a parent. I’ve read comments on articles such as this, that accuse the writer of just taking the opportunity to brag, and I rarely feel this way…but for some reason I felt that about this article. Perhaps my own shortcomings as a parent color that reaction.

    • totalitat

      I get exactly the opposite reaction. If I wanted my child to grow up in the military, I would have enlisted her as an infant.

    • well, at the same time, as Totalitat points out, this was a more than slightly regimented household. No option on playing a sport or being in a club? Guessing not a lot of writers or artists or musicians in that clan.

      You can’t judge yourself as a parent by what someone else accomplished, especially from a millimeter-deep feel-good piece like that. I figure, if my kid is able to have the life he wants, I did okay. Unless that involves being a serial killer. Then, yeah.

  • well first of all, it never comes close to telling you how they made sure all 12 of his kids could pay for college on their own. It’s a collection of homilies that are nice, but have to be take as at best, a nice set of guidelines. It’s classic bootstraps literature: raise them right, and the right things will happen.

    But in terms of applicable tips to helping kids finance college? None. Not a single one other than AP exams. Which are handy, and if you do enough of them, can help you skip up to two years of college.

    It’s an article that says “We didn’t pay for their college”, not “How my kids were able to afford college without going into massive debt.” Make sure you’re not trying to make the article fit what you want it to be, which is understandable given the link-bait of a title.

    • Joseph Blake

      Mr Welch is right. This is a nice collection of ‘well isn’t that nice’ but where exactly does it show how his kids paid for college?

      And, the author was fortunate that he had a job that allowed him to have so many kids and presumably a wife that didn’t work. He says he didn’t “give” his kids anything, but I assume they got more than he’s willing to admit.

      The person above who feels like a failure shouldn’t. Just because this guy raised his kids this way doesn’t mean you have to. And the article glosses over plenty of problems that kids of less successful families have to overcome. I suspect this article is supposed to be an answer to why we should as a society invest in kids’ education, but it fails miserably.

      Rich white guy’s kids didn’t have to want for anything in life, news at 11.

      • JDSoCal

        Nice class warfare, dope. Guy raises his kids right instead of making them little mindless Paris Hiltons, and you still hate.

        • choke

          Class warfare owns, idiot. I hope the guy from this article chokes.

    • I found an annotation by the article’s editor in response to a reader’s question about this:

      “About 1/3 of the children had athletic scholarships. About 1/3 had academic scholarships. The rest worked in the summer, worked part time during school, and took out school loans”.

      You’d think the editor might think it would be wise to add this into the body of the article itself. Then again the editor probably wrote the off-point title too.

      • right. so what we end up with is about what you’d expect in any group. Some paid for it by athletic ability, others via academic ability, and others via working and loans.

        this is not news nor even that special in terms of paying for college.

    • Tom

      Concur. It does mention a weekly allowance, but no indication of how high it might be. Having known some families like this when I was growing up, my suspicion is that it was high enough the kids could invest/save for college from the time they were in middle school. But, as there is no indication in the article, this is only speculation.

      • if he’s buying them cherry ’65 mustangs, he’s not hurting for cash. But as Shawn pointed out, the kids got scholarships or loans. Other than parental guidance, he doesn’t seem to have directly done anything to financially help them at all.

        However, the article is again, a collection of homilies, not a useful guideline for helping kids pay for college.

        • “Other than parental guidance, he doesn’t seem to have directly done anything to financially help..”

          It could be argued, perhaps weakly, that the “parental guidance” did help them financially in the sense that it gave them the responsibility and knowledge about and over their money.

          I speak from the experience of never learning jack about money, budgeting or the like and pay for it often as an adult.

          • as an indirect influence, absolutely. No one is questioning that, but the article doesn’t talk about it. Which it’s not supposed to. The title does it no favors.

        • C. Albert Thompson

          I am child #8 in this family. No one in the family got beautiful cars to start with. My dad would buy a piece of junk for $400 and we would have to fix it ourselves.

      • The weekly allowance got as high as $20 in high school. It started off at about $0.50 when I was in grade school. I remember having to save for a month just to buy a bag of candy. I know what it means to budget money now.

  • totalitat

    I’d love to hear from the kids.

    • C. Albert Thompson

      Child #8 here. I haven’t eaten vegetables in about 9 years now, due to the “Picky food policy.”

      My mom was the best throughout the whole experience. A great example of teaching me the importance college. After she finished having 12 kids she went back to school got a masters in math, and a teaching credential, all while raising us.

      I think the upbringing was a bit tough and I agree while I was a kid my parents were not my friends. Yet as an adult we are now building a good friendship.

      • I don’t think it was a bad article at all, and had a lot of solid advice. I think the title comes across as linkbait given the content, but the article itself isn’t bad.

      • totalitat


        Thanks for the response. I’m glad to hear about your mom. She sounds pretty amazing.

  • David Malcolm Puranen

    I read this whole article and a few of the ideas sounded interesting. Having the kids build their own computers and rebuild their cars is smart since it does force them to understand how things that other people take for granted work.

    That said most people can’t afford to buy 12 cars, even junkers for their massive families. My parents didn’t buy me a car, though they did buy me a computer and allowed me to learn a crap load of things with it on my own.

    Tricks like feeding them things they did’t like before things they did like make sense, and I do wish my parents had taken more of an approach like that with me. My mother instead just insisted I liked peas when I always remembered that I didn’t (this also made me realize my mother lied when convenient).

    This article says that all his kids went to college and all of them know how to get ahead in life. What it doesn’t say is whether any of them are good people who live interesting lives.

    • “What it doesn’t say is whether any of them are good people who live interesting lives.”

      Interesting assumption built in though, isn’t it? “They went to college so they must be good people with interesting lives”.

      But to be fair, it is the dad writing the article so I wouldn’t expect “Johnny is a PhD but man…what an asshole!” 🙂

      • right. It’s a nice feel-good article and should be read as such.

  • Lukas

    Weird. The word “debt” doesn’t appear in the article. I wonder how much debt the kids accrued when their parents didn’t help pay for college?

  • Jeff Zugale

    It sure helps to start from “Already Affluent Caucasian Couple embracing traditional ‘breadwinner’ and ‘homemaker’ roles.” Starting with plenty of money makes lots of things work better, and being North American white people is starting the game on “Easy” with all the cheat codes anyway.

    Let’s maybe hear from people with lots of kids but without lots of income, and see how that works out, k?

    • I was wondering how long it would take for the misapplication of the privilege argument to show up.

      • Jeff Zugale

        There’s at least one comment above that points to it already, but do go on.

    • A little more insight to us being “Already Affluent Caucasian Couple” The article does not say is: We live on hand me down clothes. Cheap cars, mine cost $400. Many worked while going to high school. We grew up in a poor neighborhood in southeast LA. We got free food from local stores.

      • Jeff Zugale

        wow, ok. thanks for responding, C. The article was clearly far from complete. I guess I bit on the linkbait title and it pushed a couple of my buttons; I apologize (to all) for my snark tone.

      • asian

        Good post, but southeast LA is a dense area. How did you keep all the cars in one spot? How did you avoid crime in the rough area, yet still be able to fly to Europe? How did you guys even have cars with NO LESS than 450 net hp (supercar territory)? The kids had to learn how to work on cars, but that doesn’t necessarily presume they knew how to modify them into street machines. It seems believable to an extent, but not much free time. And your father had engineering connections. josh

        • I do not mean to sensationalize: We did not avoid crime there were a few times that cars were burglarized. We did not go outside as children after dark due to the crime. We had police helicopters over head telling us to go in doors often because of lose criminals. I was so excited to move out of the area where I could feel safe walking outside at night.

          As for the cars we did not keep them in one spot. we parked all along the street. Moving them was a pain for street sweeper day.

    • asian

      also, it doesn’t taek into account that they are mostly engineers and their father’s Northrop connections got them jobs that paid them well enough to move out after college. No journos in the bunch; all engineers.

      • Times have changed a lot in my family since I was a child. My dad is doing ok for himself now. Sadly it was when most of the kids were moved out of the house. My dad connections never got me a job. You can look at my resume on my site to see my previous jobs.

  • Kevin

    I think the polarizing effect this article has had (based on reading several different comment boards on different sites) stems from the major issues facing children and parents today. There is absolutely nothing wrong, or even remotely military, about parents expecting children to participate in physical activities that help them develop new skills and boost endorphins. There is nothing terrible about expecting kids to abide by a curfew, do chores around the house, and most importantly, work hard at their schooling. I am a teacher and I find that students tend to perform best in classrooms that have clear structure, routine, and rules. Many of the high school students I teach have no set bedtime and are up until 3am, do not have “study time” at home (it’s amazing how open and candid students will be about their desire for more structure) and often come to school with no lunch. With rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and depression/anxiety largely due to poor diet, lack of fresh air and exercise, and media saturation, it is important for us to remind ourselves that there are alternative ways to living that help us to be more in control of our lives rather than constantly scrambling to get things done and feeling overwhelmed. Can anyone really say that they don’t wish they were more disciplined in their lives and wouldn’t be all the better for it?