Last Updated: Sep 12, 2012
Ideally, the connection between a parent and a child will become firmer than ever during the college search. You’re helping your student take his or her education—and life—to the next level. But this step doesn’t come without a high cost, being one of the most important investments of one’s life. It’s hard enough for teens to wrap their heads around the idea of an intense and varied class schedule, living in a dorm, and being in a strange place, so you’ll do your child a lot of good when you properly communicate and educate them on the implications of funding the next four years of their lives.
It’s a challenging balance: you want them to take the reigns on their college finances—applying for federal loans, searching for scholarships, developing a budget, etc.—yet there are aspects you will likely still need to control, like providing information for the FAFSA. Either way, you don’t want to totally leave your student in the dark. Here are some tips on how to make the cost of college more accessible for your teen:
Look at the big picture
You can tell a student how much tuition is per year, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t cover the total cost. As you know, college is far more than just tuition: it’s late-night pizza runs, textbooks, traveling to/from campus, and so much more. Plus, at this stage of your child’s life, a five-digit price tag is pretty much an intangible, abstract number. Sit down with your student and give a rough estimation of how much every single aspect of college will cost, and the resulting grand total. It may be intimidating for them, so try to reassure your teen that these kinds of costs are normal—if not expected.
Think long term
In terms of any loan repayment, it’s hard for students to grasp what exactly they’ll be paying, and for how long. It’s even harder to understand because, chances are, they’ve never had a yearly salary, rent, insurance, and all those other grown-up bills to pay. So help them put together a typical budget for a new graduate and give them an idea of what an average month might look like. Make some guesstimates regarding salary and loan repayments. Unless students see what payments would be like at 24 years old, it’s hard for them to comprehend how the difference in tuition and lifestyle costs can truly make a difference.
Explain your resources, explore your options
You likely have some funding saved up thanks to a 529 plan or any other savings you’ve been collecting over the years. Don’t hide this fact from your child: make him or her aware of the contribution you’re making, and encourage them to make a dent of their own, whether through scholarships, looking into work-study options, or the other myriad sources of college funding resourceful students can uncover.
Take it slowly
As easy as it is to sit down and list the costs like mentioned above, don’t slam this information into your teen’s face. It’s overwhelming, so if you address everything piece by piece, they’ll be able to properly wade into the waters of college financing. Let them start their college search without regards to cost. But when they have their first list of potential colleges compiled, make sure it includes the tuition for each school. This should help students prioritize their schools and prepare them to consider ways to pay for those colleges.
Let them follow their heart
If your teen falls in love with a school, you both can find a way to make it happen financially. If you plan ahead, you’ll have many years to save up for college, which will make an education attainable at more and more institutions. Search out all possible resources to make those college dreams come true, and make sure they get as much bang for their buck when they finally arrive on that college campus they longed to attend.