By Rehema Ellis, NBC News correspondent
When we took a crew with camera and lights into the home of Steve and Eileen Chao, in Virginia, we got a glimpse of how one family is handling soaring college costs. It's a family affair.
The Chaos are first-generation immigrants from China. Both Steve and Eileen came to the United States as youngsters. He didn't speak any English. For years, before they met and got married, they both worked small jobs. They washed dishes in restaurants, worked in gas stations or delivered newspapers. They never complained because they were working with a specific purpose in mind: their family's future. The hard work paid off and led them to college and a better life in the middle class.
Today, they are insurance agents, with two daughters -- one is in college and the other one is on her way.
"That's our goal," Steve Chao said. "I guess for a lot of parents they want to make sure their next generation is better off than their own".
Like many families, the Chaos believe the way to ensure a better future for their children is to give them the best education. Paying for college however, hasn't been easy even for the Chaos, who live in a comfortable home in the suburbs.
"With the second one going to college, that's going to put a big dent in our budget," said Steve Chao. But he and his wife have taught their girls to aim high, "to reach as far as you can reach...and we'll support [them] all the way," said their mother.
The values of hard work, determination and sacrifice for the family good are now a part of their daughters' lives.
Three years ago, Stephanie, the oldest applied to only one in-state school. Knowing her family would be paying the tuition, she wanted to keep the costs as low as possible. And, her parents said, Stephanie was also thinking about her younger sister. Stephanie knew that if she went to a private college the funding for Samantha, her sister, would be greatly reduced. So Stephanie put aside her own dreams and didn't apply to an Ivy League school so that her sister could.
Now, 17-year old Samantha, an honor roll student, has applied to three expensive colleges but, mindful of the costs, she applied to five in-state schools, too.
The recent announcements from several of the nation's wealthiest colleges that tuition costs will be free for middle income students who make the grade is a relief to the Chaos and to Samantha.
"I can tell that her spirit is up," said her father.
Now the whole family is looking forward to the envelope in the mail.