Though some parents avoid talking about finances until after their student has been accepted somewhere, the truth is that students need to know the financial realities of paying for college before they even begin their college search. Including your student in the discussion of how their college education will be financed helps them to understand and take a role in the process.
Not sure where to start? Below are a few things that may help you begin this very important dialogue with your child.
Start talking about this early. Freshman year of high school is usually a good time to start having this discussion in earnest. It’s also a good time for you to start attending some of the free financial aid presentations offered by your school and in your community. This is especially true given the new changes to FAFSA.
Be Honest. Throughout this discussion it’s important that you are up front with your children about how much money, if any, you will be able to contribute to their education. You also need to be clear about your expectations of them. (e.g. Do you expect them to get a job and set aside a specific amount of each paycheck for college?)
Do some research. The better you understand how financial aid works and what the current costs of college are, the more credible you will be when you discuss this with your student. There are lots of websites out there that offer excellent, understandable information about paying for college. Be sure to also check out schools that offer merit aid. Parents are often surprised to discover that attending a private school may be less expensive than a public university because of the amount gift aid they are able offer.
Help them understand the importance of limiting their debt. Most students lack the life experience that will help them know how much debt is too much. They need you to help them set reasonable limits on the amount of loans they take out for college. They also need your expertise in how to budget their resources. These types of conversations now can help them avoid future problems.
Encourage them to take responsibility. A student who is involved in helping finance his/her education is likely to be more invested in it. That same student is also more apt to apply for scholarships and set money aside from gifts and paychecks.
Financing a college education is more complex than it used to be. I highly recommend that you speak to your student’s guidance counselor, independent college counselor, or college financial planner about this early on. They may also be able to give you some ideas about other schools that may be a better fit for your student needs and your budget. The important thing is not to wait till the last minute