Many students and parents start their college search by creating a long list of potential schools. Narrowing down that list isn’t always as fun, but getting the most Return on Life from college requires families to balance dreams and practicalities. Start focusing your own college search by answering these three important questions with your high schooler.
1. What are my child’s goals?
The student debt crisis and 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns forced many families to reevaluate what college is really for. Yes, parents want their children to gain independence, develop socially, and have some fun. But the price tag associated with those experiences is becoming harder for many families to justify without a clear educational goal.
That doesn’t mean that your 18-year-old should have their entire life mapped out by the time they graduate high school. Multitalented students who are still exploring might look to schools with strong liberal arts programs that will help them focus their interests into a career. On the other hand, if your daughter has been giving her stuffed animals medical attention since preschool, have a conversation to make sure she is certain about investing time and money into what will be a very challenging — and expensive — academic track.
2. What are my child’s Needs and Wants?
The educational goal you determined in step one should also be at the top of both your child’s Needs and Wants for college. Next, discuss the other items that fall into those categories. Be strict about keeping these Needs and Wants separate, even for things that might blur the boundaries.
For example, is going to a large school with Greek life and a great football team really a Need? Or could your daughter see herself flourishing just as well at a smaller school where learning and social life might move at a slower pace?
Does your son Want to go to school in a big city? Or do you both feel like he Needs to expand his horizons and interact with a wider variety of people to mature personally and succeed professionally?
There are no judgments here, no right or wrong answers. The goal is to gain some clarity on what’s really important to your child so that you can match those key characteristics with an ideal school.
3. How are we going to pay for college?
When you were preparing for college, your parents might have called this “The $64,000 Question,” in reference to the old game show. Today, according to recent studies by the Education Data Initiative, figuring out how to pay for a bachelor’s degree could be more like a “$400,000 Question.”
Going to college doesn’t just delay your child’s income earning by four years or more, it can also deplete savings and create debt. And that’s before weighing in factors external to tuitions, such as the cost of textbooks, transportation, and basic living expenses. Outlining these total costs might cause you and your child to look back on those Needs and Wants with a different perspective.
Like any other aspect of your financial plan, the sooner we can anticipate a major transition or expense, the sooner we can start planning for it. Many of our clients plot Sending a Child to College on their $Lifelines while their children are still in grade school. With that kind of foresight, we’re able to explore options like 529 accounts that can supplement savings, scholarships, part-time work, and low-interest student loans.
But even if you and your high schooler just had your first-ever conversation about paying for college, your financial plan gives you options. Make an appointment to speak to one of our advisors and we’ll help you get your child the best education possible with the money you have.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.