Are you dreading the “paying for college” talk with your student? This is never a fun discussion, but it is an essential one, so you’ll want to jump on this as soon as possible.
Have “the talk” when your student is still a junior in high school so your child will be able to begin preparing. Explain how much you expect to be able to pay and how much you will need your child to pay. Investigate public resources about how much college usually costs and what types of education you can afford to pursue.
Explain how merit financial aid is linked to grades and performance on the ACT or SAT tests. This will help your student prepare diligently for the essential college entrance exams and will motivate your child to get good grades. Show your student how many scholarships are based on community service and academic excellence so your student will know to volunteer and to join clubs at school.
Use this talk as a learning experience, something that will help your student learn some of the most important lessons in life: responsible spending. Calculate out how much college will cost and discuss what will happen if your student takes out too much money in the form of student loans. Talk about credit ratings, financial responsibility and good investing principles. Use this time to prepare your student for the realities of independence.
Investigate all Options
Your child is probably set on a college or two just because all his or her peers have been talking about the most popular colleges. Look into all your options, discussing what your student wants in a college experience and what you can afford to provide.
Then look into financial aid options, making it clear to your student that the only “free” money comes from grants and scholarships. All student loans, although labeled as “financial aid” by the colleges, are indeed nothing more than loans. Make sure your student understands that he or she will have to pay these loans back, plus interest.
Look into campus jobs and early college options, such as programs where your child can take classes at a local college while in high school (and on the high school’s bill.) You should also investigate AP class options (where your child will take a college-level class while at high school and then can try to test out of the class, getting college credit for the cost of a test, which is far less expensive than traditional college.)
You can also check out online colleges and low-cost colleges. These are good options for saving money.
One of the best compromises is this: asking your child to live at home for the first year or two of college so you will save on room and board.
Another good compromise is to ask your student to take the first two years’ of classes at a local community college (which usually costs a third of the price of a state college and less that a fourth of the price of a private college) and then finish out at the college or university of your student’s choice.
Get the Facts
Make sure you check out the FAFSA forecaster, a program that will help you determine how much college will cost and how much you can expect to get in financial aid from colleges. This will help jump start your discussion with your student.
While it may seem intimidating to talk to your teenager about college expenses, it can also be a bonding experience where the two of you tackle an adult-sized challenge together. If you keep a positive attitude and work together with your student, you’ll find solutions that will set your teen up for a successful future.