When it’s time to prepare for the nest to empty, mixed feelings abound.
Preparing for college can be exciting and stressful for everyone in the family. If your child is a rising senior, you have a year of testing, deadlines, applications, and nail biting. For your graduate, they’re probably nervous about everything: living away from home, living with a stranger, the pending workload, and even the pressure of balancing grades with their social life.
For you as a parent, you’re likely consumed with one single thought: are they really ready?
I’m here to tell you, don’t fall into the trap of “today being the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”
Trust me, it won’t help anything.
Follow these tips on planning for college I’ve learned by coaching clients through their financial plans, and by listening to smart friends and colleagues share their experiences.
First, if you’re facing your final year in high school, apply to at least three colleges for three different reasons. Let’s call them The Reach School, The Safe School, and The Fallback School. The Reach School is the university that your child wants to get into but acceptance is uncertain. The Safe School is the university that they know they can get into and would be happy attending. The Fallback School is the university that exists as a back-up plan. It’s also a good idea to make this one an in-state choice.
Second, while selecting the universities that your child will apply to, talk to them about the finances involved. If they have funds set aside, let them know what tuition will be best to stretch that fund for as long as possible. No matter what, it’s always a good idea to stress the importance of staying in-state, not only for general scholarships but also for cheaper tuition. If your child is dead set on going out-of-state, then stress the importance of applying to as many scholarships as possible to offset the cost. You don’t want your child to leave college with too much debt.
Once you’ve made your final decision, preparations go into high gear. You only have a few short summer months to get them everything they need for their freshman semester. Time to implement some college savings tips:
- Stress summer jobs. Summer jobs are a great way for your child to save up extra cash for spending. This will give them a little of leeway when it comes to eating out, their social life and other expenses.
- Stress the meal plan. The meal plan is there for a reason; it gives students the option of a prepaid, easy-access meal three times a day. We all know cost of eating out adds up quickly!
- Give your child a weekly budget for groceries. Although the dining halls are always making food, your child might not want to go there for every meal every day. Whether it’s from your own wallet or theirs, fifty dollars per week is more than enough to give them for groceries to keep in their dorm room and the occasional pizza delivery.
- Find the cheapest options for dorm supplies. Decorating is not cheap. There are good reasons big box stores like Target market to the back-to-school crowd. Resist the urge to blow your budget on coordinated everything and take advantage of offer bundles through your dorm. They usually include items like bedding, towels, desk supplies, and even fun little extras like a ramen cooker. Not only is this hitting the ‘Easy’ button for you, but it’s also better for your bottom line.
- Research options for buying textbooks. Never buy or rent textbooks from the university store. Compare online sites that rent them for much less like Chegg.com and Amazon.com, and before you buy, make sure your child will actually need it. Many professors don’t require textbooks on the first day, and sometimes books are listed on the syllabus that won’t be used. A quick conversation with a professor can save you hundreds in the long run.
In the end, the kids will forge on despite any unforeseen bumps in the road.
Remember, life is a journey. Don’t forget to enjoy the ride together!