Talking to Your Child About Money and Their College List
Talking about finances is difficult—more so when you have to tell your child that their dream school may be too far out of reach. You have to talk about money if you want to pave a successful road ahead. This article will cover the basics so that you can discuss college finances early enough and encourage your child to apply to plenty of scholarships in advance. Based on their grades, test scores, and leadership factors, such as extracurricular activities, volunteer experience, and family background, they may be eligible for plenty of these scholarships and need-based financial aid—so much so that loans may not even be necessary
Where to start
The first step is to ask your child what schools they are considering. If they haven’t really created a list yet, use this opportunity to create one together; try brainstorming with them to create a list that works for both of you. Research the cost and campus experiences of these institutions, and if your child is adamant about schools that seem financially out of reach, start looking up national private scholarships that your child is eligible to apply for. Use this opportunity to discuss the methods of financing schools.
Avoid touring schools without knowing that there’s a realistic chance you can afford them because unless you or your child are open to heavily taking out loans, it’s best to only visit schools within reach. Why get excited about an institution only to find out it is hundreds of thousands more than planned?
Narrowing it down
To narrow down schools, talk to your child about what they’re looking to get out of school. Are they looking for a big city, a small town, or somewhere in between? Your child can apply to a combination of these or one type of school. Do they already know what they want to study or specialize in? If they don’t, this may lead to extra schooling, as changing majors might add more classes than the university requires for graduation. Do they want to go to a school that’s slightly out of reach—and out of state? They can consider going to an in-state institution for their first two years and transferring to their dream school, should they still want to later on.
Talking to your child about what’s on the table can be tough, but there are multiple questions to ask yourself, including how much money you can afford each month; how much money, if any, has been put away for school, and how much will be available by the time your child is a college freshman; how much financial aid the family qualifies for; and whether the student will be working through school or taking out loans to afford college. This will all help determine how much you can afford—and how your child can fill in the gaps if they are truly set on attending a more expensive school.
Keeping your options open
Talking to your child about the consequences of taking out too many loans is important. If they get a full-ride scholarship to a school that is a good fit for them may be a better option than taking out $300k in loans that they’ll struggle to pay down post-graduation, especially if entry-level jobs in their field of study don’t pay enough to justify this increase in tuition.
Consider community colleges, technical schools, and four-year institutions as you discuss your options together. Learn about how college loans work, if you haven’t had experience with them, and teach your child how the application process works. Talk to them about what loans will mean for their future, whether you’re willing to take some out, and what kinds of jobs, if any, they can work that won’t interfere with their studies.
With adequate preparation and diligent research, your child may have the opportunity to attend his or her dream school. Work-study opportunities are available across many institutions, and there are also many private scholarships available, so make sure to apply to scholarships on time. If you don’t think you’ll be able to pay for their entire college education out of pocket (which is totally fine—most people can’t), this is a conversation that must be had sooner rather than later.
You can also use our Scholarship Bulletin to find new and current scholarships for students.