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In a blink, it seems that everything changes. You are now a parent of a soon-to-be high school graduate. That is incredible! Parenting, as with most things, is about planning ahead to be as prepared as possible for what is coming next. You can do that now with college planning.

It is important to get a jump-start on college planning before your child enrolls in their senior year. How can you start to prepare for college? What are the best ways to set you and your child up for their future?

Let’s find out!

Which Colleges Are In The Mix?

When your teen hits the half-way mark of their high school career, college planning starts to be at the forefront of their mind. As you navigate this journey with them, it is time to start turning hypothetical conversations into real options. How can you do that? One way is to sit down with your child and make a list of potential colleges they want to attend.

List them all! You both can dream big here. Perhaps your child dreams of the highly regarded astronomy program at Iowa State, or wants to pursue creative writing close to home at The University of Iowa. Write them all down. After you have this list, you both can discuss the following questions:

These are tough questions that will take a lot of time and research to answer. Does it really make sense to travel across the country for school or is there a specific program that will help them in their future career?

When you are focused on the financial stipulations it can be easy to overlook a school’s basic entrance requirements such as GPA and test scores. Don’t forget about these items! It is also important to know that your child does not have to attend Yale to receive a wonderful education, so it is important to set realistic and attainable expectations.

Each place will have its own financial expectations, and knowing that upfront will help you and your child understand which options are more financially sound. Having a realistic sense of your family finances and the cost of your child’s dream school will also help both of you understand how much you can afford and how much money would need to come from grants, scholarships, and loans to make that dream a reality.

The why question here is really important and will help you both narrow down your choices. It is important for both of you to be open-minded of the other’s opinions. Once you have winnowed your options down to the top 3 or 4 you can begin to look at setting up college visits.

Choosing a school is such a difficult decision, therefore having these financial and goal conversations earlier rather than later will help you and your child focus and feel less stressed when the time does come to apply.   

Keep Saving

The years leading up to college can be difficult ones: between grades, SAT prep, college visits, applications, and finals you will have a busy household. But that does not mean that you should forget about saving!

These last years of high school are your big push, the time where you should buckle down and focus on your saving avenues. Take a look at the amount you have saved so far. Are you close to reaching your goal? Checking in on your progress is a great way to keep you and your family motivated to meeting that savings goal.

At the home stretch, it can also be good to call in some reinforcements to help you with your saving adventure. You could suggest to other family members that in lieu of a present for a birthday or other event, that they contribute the amount they would have spent to your 529 college fund or another savings account. This way you can get the whole family involved and extended family like grandparents can be involved in the whirlwind of college prep. The gift of education cannot be overstated, it is a wonderful experience whose value will not diminish.

As always, I encourage you to involve your soon-to-be high school graduate in your savings plan and have them contribute to the fund as well. This practice will help keep you all on the same page working toward a unified goal.

A Financial Planner Can Help

College planning is not a simple task. You can’t just put money in an account and hope for the best, so it is always good to work with someone who knows the business and can help you find the best option for your family.

My team and I love talking about college planning. It is one of the biggest financial goals you will save for and is something that will impact you and your family for years to come. Education is one of the most important facets of our society and it does come with a hefty cost. I’d like to help you understand your options and see how your finances can support college planning. Give us a call!