Going to college these days is hard. Being the parent of a college student can be even harder. When you are preparing to send your teenager to college, you may long for someone who can show you how to motivate your student to make the right decisions. You need advice on college planning for parents. With some research and careful thought, you can avoid some of the more common pitfalls.
The college world is large. Every college or university your teen is considering attending has departments with qualified staff eager to help him/her make educated decisions. Sometimes students and parents do not know these programs exist, so they do not take advantage of them. You can help your child by working with them to find out what resources are available at each educational institution. Offer to help your student make appointments with the financial aid and academic advising departments. Encourage him/her to meet with the undergraduate adviser for the major they are considering, to learn if they will be a good fit for the program. These appointments will help you and your child understand what each school has to offer, and to ensure that his/her final choice will be the best one.
Providing Inadequate Assistance
Solid college planning for parents, and knowing when to lend a hand, can be tricky. You don’t want to be overbearing, and yet you also don’t want to deny your teen the help s/he needs. The key to solving this problem is to keep the lines of communication open. Make sure that your student knows the areas that should be covered when discussing various topics, including:
- College selection
- Major selection
- Tuition assistance
- Living arrangements
- Financial aid and scholarships
Offer to come to appointments with your child to serve as support and help to make sure all of his/her questions are answered. But remember that this is your student’s experience, so let him/her take charge wherever it is appropriate.
Failing to plan for expenses
Attending college can be very expensive, and it is even more complicated if you fail to prepare. The average cost of tuition and fees to attend an in-state public college has risen to well over $5,000 per year. Once you add in the additional expenses of room and board, books and transportation, the number looks more like $22,000 per year. This total is more than most students can manage with scholarships and even a part-time job.
If you plan ahead, you can mitigate much of the damage these bills can cause. First, you should be looking for every avenue of financial aid available. There are plenty of private scholarships available for hard-working students with a variety of interests and skills, even if they don’t have perfect grades. While you are perusing potential scholarships, you should also work with your teen to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. S/he may be eligible for grants or federal student loans and completing this application is the only way you will know if you qualify. When you can, invest some money into a Section 529 savings account. When it comes time to pay for school, you can reap the tax advantages. If you’ve exhausted these avenues and it just isn’t enough, you can also apply for federal student loans, state-based loans, or private loans, on behalf of your student or as a cosigner. Just be careful to examine the program details carefully, understand what your interest rate will be, and determine whether or not you will be able to afford the monthly payments.
College planning for parents is an arduous process. You have to give just the right amount of support, make sure your student gets the help s/he needs, and confirm that all the costs will be covered. But if you do, your teen will get a great education and have a bright future ahead of them.