A Parent’s Guide to College Planning
Your little one is becoming not-so-little, and it’s time to start thinking about preparing them for college. As the process begins early on, you may find that you, as the parent, lead most of the discussion in encouraging your child to start thinking about higher education. As they get older and it gets closer, your child may start taking over the decisions and prep work.
Many different facets go into this preparation, including financial, academic, and emotional. Then there are also the logistical aspects, such as making decisions on school and major, applying to colleges, and getting ready to move out.
This is part of college planning is perhaps the most daunting, yet one of the most critical. It’s no secret that college is expensive, and prices are only going up. That’s why it’s so important to consider college planning early on.
Parent Contributions to College Savings
Every family is going to look different in the way they pay for their child’s higher education. Some parents can afford to pay most of the expenses, others can only help a little, if at all. There’s no “right way” to do this – you need to figure out what will realistically work for your family and your financial situation.
Adopt simple habits to save money throughout the years leading up to the beginning of your child’s adulthood. Little actions – like keeping a budget and collecting loose cash – can go a long way to boost your family’s financial health.
You might also consider other ways parents can save for college, such as putting money into a 529 savings plan, taking out a Parent PLUS loan, or considering a private loan.
Instilling Money Management Skills
Regardless of your level of financial contribution to your child’s education, you can instill the value of hard work and money into your child early on. Encourage them to work and save up money. Steer them toward scholarships they can apply for. Even after they’ve begun (or even finished) college, you can help them make a plan to get out of debt.
As attending university is becoming ever more expensive, competitive, and necessary, it’s also become essential for prospective college students to prepare quite early on.
College Prep in High School
There is plenty your high school student can do to prep for college. In addition to financial, there are several aspects of the process you can support your child in, including:
- Keeping grades up
- Choosing classes carefully (considering honors or advanced placement courses, as well as well-balanced electives)
- Participating in a variety of extracurriculars
- Studying for and taking exams and standardized tests (such as PSAT, SAT, and ACT)
- Researching colleges and creating a list of those you’re considering
- Compiling a student portfolio and writing application essays
- Completing and sending out applications
For additional guidance, check out this year-by-year breakdown of college prep for high school students.
Contribute to Decision-Making
Once the applications are out, it will be time to start making some decisions. Let your child take the lead as you support them in their education choices. They’ll have to decide which school to attend, where to live, how to support themselves (do they need to start job searching?), how to get around (bike, car, or bus?), and which major to pursue.
Support Through the Transition
Your child will also need your help as they make the transition to living on their own, taking intense college courses, and juggling responsibilities. College is a huge adjustment! Continue to build your child’s confidence by communicating openly, congratulating their successes, and helping them pick themselves up when they make mistakes.
If needed, steer your child to the vast resources most college campuses offer to their students to increase well-being, such as health centers, tutoring services, financial aid, and counseling. You may not be physically there with them, but you can still support them from afar and guide them to solving adult problems with increasing independence.