Attending college is life-changing for many reasons, not least of which is the financial burden. Although parents have roughly 18 years to think about what will be financially possible for their student post-high school, students may be just beginning to consider their options. That’s why we encourage parents to have honest conversations with their students about affording higher education. It may feel a little awkward, but the conversation will become much harder when acceptance letters (with financial aid packages of all sizes) start rolling in.
(Best not to wait until this starts. Source: giphy.com)
Below are three topics to jump-start your conversation:
What types of schools should be looked into and with what timeline?
Start first with the “when.” There are many reasons for students to take a year off between high school and college, including family responsibilities, the desire to gain job experience before launching back into school, or the necessity of working to increase a college fund.
Next, add in the “where,” not yet focusing on specifics like distance or size. Is a four-year college the best option? What about a local community college? Or a combination of the two, where a student’s credits from a community college are guaranteed to transfer to a larger university? It’s not necessary to decide on the exact post-high school journey, but it’s important to examine all of these choices and rule out options that won’t work for either the student or the parents.
Where will the money come from?
No matter what type of school is chosen, higher education is a serious investment, demonstrated by 1 in 5 American adults having student loan debt. Discuss as a family from where funds for tuition, room and board, and spending money will come. Will the student or parents take out loans? Will current college savings cover a lower-cost school but not a higher-cost school? Will scholarships be factored in, and is financial aid likely to be given? Students and parents choose to pay for college in a variety of ways, but it’s hard to explore all options if everyone isn’t on the same page about what is financially possible. (But no matter what – fill out a FAFSA!)
How will responsibility be shared when paying for college?
A 2018 study by Fidelity reported that an increasing percentage of parents are expecting students to pay more towards college than in the past. More importantly, the study pointed out that 40% of parents of students in 10th grade or above hadn’t talked about sharing college costs. Setting realistic expectations can decrease students’ stress as they’re navigating high school.
Parents – do you expect your student to have a part-time job to save money?
And students – is a part-time job possible with your school workload?
Similarly, how many scholarships is the student expected to apply for? Assuming expectations without communicating them can lead to significant tension in an already stressful time.Have you had a conversation about college finances with your family? Maybe today is the day! Small steps, like saving money early, exploring higher education options, and taking an SAT or ACT prep class, add up to a family well-prepared for the college admission process.