By: Janet Rhodes Friedman CFP® CDFA® Wealth Advisor.
“We can make it work when our child is accepted to their dream school.”
I’ve heard this from parents too many times over the years I’ve spent as a financial life planner.
Parents can be so committed to their idea of what their child’s education should be that they overlook some very important details. Although their motives are undoubtedly good and usually full of love, these parents often create future problems for themselves.
In a recent post, we discussed how parents can talk to their kids about college financial planning and the college-vs-retirement savings dilemma. However, finances are only one of the dilemmas parents face during the college planning process. That’s why it’s so important that parents plan ahead.
Parents need to consider both when and how to approach college planning. Breaking this planning process down into stages can help make it more manageable and hopefully ease your mind.
Let’s begin with when.
When should you start planning for college?
Many parents start planning their child’s junior year of high school but that’s not early enough. I’ve found that beginning your college funding strategy when your oldest child enters middle school is ideal.
I’ve had parents come to me in a panic when their child, perhaps in junior or senior year, suddenly announces their plans to attend an expensive private university – only then do the parents realize all that goes into preparing for college.
There are many factors to consider: the number of children to educate, the unique situations of each child, family income and debt, number of years until your retirement, and many other concerns.
The sooner you start to think about these factors the better, as you don’t want to make rushed, haphazard decisions.
It’s also easy to forget that college prep isn’t without its expenses. There are SAT, ACT, AP exam fees, test preparation courses, college visits, college application fees, financial aid (CSS) application fees, athletic demos, performing arts audition tapes and so much more.
These are all good things to remember earlier rather than later.
How do you find the right college for your child?
Typically, finding the right college for your child is the part of the process that parents spend most of their time on and for good reason. It’s important.
Here are some steps to take when trying to find the best fit.
- Design a college list compatible with your family’s resources.
- Integrate the search with a sound financial strategy.
- Start the conversation early with your child – before you start visiting colleges.
- Understand what your family can truly afford. Perhaps, a state university might be a
better, more realistic option than a prestigious private university.
- Seek admission to colleges matching your child’s interests and abilities. These
colleges may not be the most “fashionable,” but that shouldn’t be a primary concern.
- Consider smaller schools. Many of these schools are excellent, may offer
more aid, and have less competition for admission.
The right choice must be a fit for your child in three ways: academically, financially and socially/culturally. When all three of these are found in one school, that’s a good indicator that you’ve found the right college for your child.
Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive. There are still a lot of details that should be considered carefully – like what major they want to pursue. This process can be overwhelming and if you ever feel unsure about how to move forward, make sure to reach out to an expert.
As a financial life planner, I specialize in helping people to work towards their vision and balance their priorities. I’d love to help you get a handle on your children’s college plan, as well as help you to integrate it into your larger financial plan.
Feel free to schedule a complimentary Financial Life Plan Discovery Session with me to learn more.