College Planning: It’s a Family Affair

By on May 22, 2018

Let’s start by stating the obvious: every student needs to take the lead role in his or her college planning and university search. It is their future and they need to take responsibility for how it unfolds. And while it is their future, the savvy college applicant uses every possible resource at his or her disposal. This includes guidance counselors, teachers, coaches, mentors, online resources — and of course, parents and family members.

It is important to acknowledge the helpful role family can play in the college planning process. Parents and graduate family members often have wisdom to share and can help broaden a student’s perspective. Healthy family involvement, whether it is from an older sibling who has just finished college or a parent who can help navigate the financial aid process, can be an invaluable asset to help them become a more knowledgeable and effective applicant.

It Takes a Family to Prepare for College

The college admission process is all-consuming process for families. And planning for college can be stressful enough without adding parent-teen angst into the mix. Here are five steps to ready families and students for the total college experience:

  1. Research, Prepare Applications and Apply
  2. Pay for College
  3. Enroll at College
  4. Navigate the College Experience
  5. Prepare for Life after College (Employment, Graduate School, etc.)

Students will need their parent or guardian’s input to complete certain paperwork; let them know immediately. And remember, as hard as it gets, there are people available to help your family every step of the way.

The College Planning Process

Before you know it, you’ll be up to your ears in college planning materials. You may soon discover that parents and children have very different ideas about which college they should attend and what they should study. It’s important to discuss these differences and opinions and how each option aligns with long-term goals.

Discuss Your Child’s Future and Goals
Planning out your child’s future is one of the most important factors to long term success. Continually ask your child what they want to be when they grow up. Monitor their strengths at a young age and encourage them to learn more about careers that interest them.

One of the easiest ways to waste money in college is by not knowing what you want to do when you grow up. Don’t let your child fall victim to this confusion. Encourage your child to job shadow both professionals and other college students. Have your child attend a college level class as a guest at your local community college to give them a real life glimpse of what college will be like and facilitate discussions to map out their long term plans.

Discuss Options for Colleges and Universities
Where a child goes to college does not guarantee success, it’s what they do with their education that matters most. When it comes down to decision-making time, family input is important, but ultimately the student needs to be satisfied with their choice.

There are lots of terrific universities. Help your student explore the possibilities. Remember, getting into college is the easy part, but getting out with a degree is what matters. If your student is excited about their coursework and campus, there’s a greater chance they will succeed.

  • Openly discuss the student’s considerations – While students may have a list of “dream” schools in mind, every high school senior should keep his or her parents informed on their rationale for selecting and applying to those schools.
  • Parents should NOT push their alma mater – If students are applying to schools that their parents, siblings, or other relatives attended at one point in time, students should not feel pressured to attend that school solely to carry on the family’s alumni status but because it aligns with their personal goals. Colleges may change tremendously, so be willing to consider other options.
  • Think about the proximity to home – Whether the student wants to remain close to home or parents don’t want their child to be too far away, experts recommend students consider colleges in other states as long as their programs satisfy their needs.
    Schools like students from other parts of the country and sometimes they give them better financial aid packages. Students who attend school close to home may not embrace the whole college experience because students have a tendency to come home to get laundry done or hang out on the weekends with old high school friends rather than take advantage of new college experiences, friends and opportunities for independence.
  • Discuss the cost of tuition, books and housing – Although the sticker price of a school does not always reflect what families will actually pay, cost is often a major factor in the decision-making process. Parents who are paying for their child’s education may have the mindset that if they are shelling out big bucks, they should have heavy influence on the student’s decision. Discuss this openly with your child.
    And while students explore all available federal student loan options, it is important that parents be upfront with their prospective college students about the family’s financial situation and how that will affect their choice of school.

Paying for College as a Family

The rising cost of attending college coupled with a post recession economy is causing serious financial stress for families across the nation. With proper planning, the challenges of paying for higher education can actually bring some essential financial planning lessons to light and create a great family project. Spend time with your children teaching them about the basics of saving money at a young age and encourage them to open a college fund. Some simple methods can help lighten the burden of college expenses and encourage financial knowledge for you and your children.

Match Your Student’s Savings Contributions
Just like your employer matches your 401k contribution, match your child’s savings contribution. Each month combine your child’s savings and your match. A little bit of savings each month by you and your child can really add up in the long run. Open up a high yield bank account that will encourage long time savings plans and deposit the savings each month. Review bank statements together and show your child how the money is adding up. Introduce the concept of compounding interest and teach your child the added benefit of savings at an early age.

Encourage Part-Time Work and Entrepreneurship
Children have immense potential to be creative at a young age. If your child has a marketable skill – fixing computers, producing art or making lemonade – encourage them to make a business of it in high school. This is a great way to earn and save money, give them great confidence and motivation for their long term success as adults. Don’t forget to have them save some of their earnings for tuition or spending once they get to college.

There is no easier way to save money, than by having a paying job. While your child is in high school and you are paying for their housing and food expenses, your child can save a lot of money. Encourage your child to obtain a job in high school. A few hundred dollars a week can make a huge impact in their savings account. Furthermore, they will learn responsibility and accountability at a young age.

The benefits of a college education are immense. Unfortunately, college tuition payments can be a huge burden on family budgets. Student loans, a common method to pay for college, can really hinder the financial growth of young adults, however, the burden can be lessened with proper planning and saving.

Prepare Students for the Next Stage of Life

During their college years, students are moving into a new stage of independence, and they need to be developing personal management skills including decision-making, time management, and financial management. Nevertheless, parents need to be aware of their student’s financial decisions because the choices a student makes can affect the family budget in several ways.

Talk, talk and talk some more. Make college planning a family affair and become a savvy and smart family together!

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About Terri A. Kamoto

Senior writer for FSN - Terri is a former financial analyst dedicated to making personal finances, budgeting, investment and insurance advice accessible, up to date and easy to understand. It is hard to find professional advice written in a language someone without a financial background can understand. Terri helps companies synthesize industry lingo and expertise into clear and informative content which builds smarter, financially successful individuals. You can find Terri on !

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