A couple of weeks ago, I explained that college is not the goal for my children, because what comes after college is even more important. But that said, for my husband and me, paying for college is a huge goal.
In fact, for the last couple of years, I’ve spent many hours learning about how people pay for college. And one of the the things I’ve learned is that there are as many views about parents paying for college as there are families.
My husband and I were lucky enough to have generous parents who paid for our undergraduate degrees. His even paid for law school, and mine provided much financial support while I got my J.D. So perhaps it’s not surprising that we want to pay for as much of our children’s educations as possible.
At the other end of the spectrum are parents who don’t want to pay a penny toward their children’s college educations. Maybe they can’t afford to, maybe they believe children should be independent upon graduating from high school, or any of a million other reasons.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to parent in this regard, because every family is so different. But I do believe that all of our children can use our help in paying for college, whether it’s by paying the bills directly, or helping them figure out how to pay the bills themselves – or maybe both. Because I think one thing all parents can agree on is the less debt our children graduate with, the better.
If you agree with me, let’s talk about the ways we can help our children whether we are or aren't contributing financially toward their education (we’ll cover how to maximize our own financial contributions next week).
Have an honest talk.
Tell your child how much you are (or aren't) willing to pay for their college education. Of course, this requires that you yourself know what you're willing to do. For my husband and me, with our oldest being a high school freshman, the plan is to keep saving, pay as much as we can, help them earn scholarships, and identify schools that we can afford without anyone taking on any debt. Our children know this, and that their job, right now, is to earn good grades. We haven't talked specific numbers with them yet, but when it's time to make a list of which schools to apply to, we'll have a more detailed talk about how exactly how much we're willing to spend.
Make sure they earn good grades.
Not every student is going to get straight A's, but every student can maximize their potential. The higher their grades, the greater their chances of earning merit scholarships to reduce the cost of college.
Help them maximize their test scores.
There are many test prep courses, and you may want to pay for one. But you don't have to - there are free resources to help improve scores, including Khan Academy and study guides from the library.
Learn, and then teach, how the college financial aid system works.
Whether or not you intend to help your children pay for college, unless they meet specific criteria (such as being married or in the military), your finances will impact their financial aid eligibility. So you should both learn about the FAFSA, the CSS profile, how to understand a financial aid award letter, and more.
Help them find and apply for scholarships.
Unless your child gets a full ride from a college, there will still be expenses. But it's possible to get outside scholarships that can cover those costs. There are books, websites, webinars, and free and paid courses that can help you and your student find scholarships that they actually have a realistic chance of winning. One of the best pieces of advice I've seen in this regard is for the student to apply for one scholarship every weekend during senior year of high school. You might also want to read and/or have your child read Confessions of a Scholarship Winner: The Secrets That Helped Me Win $500,000 in Free Money for College - How You Can Too!. If you're serious about finding scholarships, this book is full of strategies that will help.
Assure them that college is about more than the reputation and status of the school.
Read, and encourage your student to read, books like Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania and Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents. Both of these books opened up the way I think about college, and I highly recommend them.