Parents and their teenagers are accustomed to having never-ending discussions about grades, friends, jobs, curfew times and more. But the one topic that deserves the most attention is probably the one that gets the least time spent on it. Although there is a great public discussion about the cost of college, there is precious little conversation in the privacy of the home.
This can be a crucial mistake. Frank and open discussions about money should occur throughout a child’s life, but need to intensify in number and quantity through the high school years. Here are six things parents and students should agree on about paying for college, to get you talking:
1. What we can afford: Be realistic about what you have saved, what college costs, and the burden on the family budget. This leads to realistic expectations about what the student needs to achieve in high school and what can be anticipated in college.
2. We will look into financial aid: Some families think they earn too much or too little to qualify for financial aid, but you never know for sure until you apply. Make a pact to gather the documents and put the effort needed into filing the FAFSA, and make fact-based decisions.
3. We will set a budget and stick to it: Both the family and the student may have to make financial sacrifices during the college years. Be realistic about how much money you can contribute to your child’s cost of living, and what your budget expectations will be. Talk about the use of credit and debit to pay for expenses, and any long-term impacts that has on financial capabilities.
4. Student loans are a support, not a way of life: If you wait until your student graduates from college to discuss student loans then it will be much too late to make any choices. Talk about student loans before the need for them even arises. Advise your student about the various types of loans, and clearly set out who will be responsible for their payment.
5. We will seek out scholarships: Finding possible scholarships and applying for them can take time and discipline, but they can provide a much-needed boost to the family budget. Make a pact that you will start looking for scholarships early in the high school days and apply diligently for them throughout the college years.
6. Money is not a four letter word: Many families just don’t talk about money because they are uncomfortable with the topic. They think it should only be the parents’ concern, but talking openly and making decisions together can be the best life lessons you can provide for your child.
You have a responsibility to teach your soon-to-be-adult all the skills necessary for success in life. Talking about how you will pay for college as a family is a great place to start.