Somewhere around April or May, high school seniors and their parents start thinking about the upcoming first college semester. It’s a big step, and one that should certainly be celebrated, but one that should be planned for as well. While the student finishes up those last few weeks of saying good-bye and moving on to the next adventure, start looking ahead with this college preparation checklist:
→ Really think about the meal plans: This can be a big part of the out-of-pocket expenses, so make sure you are doing it right. Many parents find that they over-paid on the meal plan, and still end up giving their student money for food. Some students are perfectly happy eating everything at the dining facility, while those who live in a dorm or suite with cooking capabilities might only want to have occasional meals there. Check the social media sites to get a general feel of what other students do, then set a food budget and stick to it.
→ Start looking for textbook options now: It might be too late to get the best textbook deals after classes begin. Once your student has a class list, find out what textbooks the professor traditionally uses and start a search for them. You might be able to find used or digital versions that can save a lot of money.
→ Plan the student loan usage: Some families will max out the amount of funds they borrow through student loans, and utilize the money without really thinking about where it is going. After graduation, they are often surprised to find out just how deeply in debt they are. Really compare the costs of college and out-of-pocket expenses with the amount of available financial aid to determine the amount you might have to borrow. Look at ways you could be able to earn money to reduce this amount, and project earnings in the future to calculate whether you will have enough available to make those monthly payments. If you are going to borrow additional money for spending purposes, make sure the student understands exactly what is appropriate and what is not.
→ Set a budget: For most students, this is the first time they are on their own and managing their own finances. Talk to your child about how much money you can provide for day-to-day needs, warn him or her about the dangers of easy credit, and talk about fiscal responsibility. Lay out your expectations for what your student will need to earn, and discuss now whose responsibility it will be to repay student loans after graduation.
Learn about financial aid and find out more about preparing students for college in my book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro! You will find information on completing the FAFSA, saving and paying for college, comparing financial aid offers, making decisions on student loans, and searching for scholarships. Order it now, and get all the information you need to be fully prepared for college.