The “Talk” being the dis­cus­sion with your child on what they want their future to be and how to get there.

Not just one talk, but mul­ti­ple con­ver­sa­tions about hob­bies, inter­ests and col­lege. Choose an appro­pri­ate time and loca­tion for hav­ing these dis­cus­sions. It will typ­i­cal­ly be when the child choos­es to talk to the par­ent. For some it’s at the din­ner table. For oth­ers, it could right before bed. Regard­less of the time­frame, take the time to lis­ten to what your child is saying.

Hav­ing said that, it can be dif­fi­cult to get your teenag­er to open up about what they want to do in life. Many times, they don’t know what they want to do tomor­row much less for the rest of their work­ing lives. The key though is to get engaged with your child as ear­ly as pos­si­ble dis­cussing col­lege and why it is impor­tant to have a degree … then flesh­ing out what their inter­ests are.

Key “open­ers” might include ask­ing them about how their class­es are going, what sub­jects they enjoy, what they think about col­lege and how they feel about stay­ing at home or going away from home to go to school. As a par­ent, take time to notice those things that inter­est your child. Things that cap­ture their atten­tion to the extent they actu­al­ly want to dis­cuss them with you.

Also, get your child involved in oth­er activ­i­ties that will help them refine their inter­ests. This can be done as ear­ly as mid­dle school in many cases.

  • Get a sum­mer job that is relat­ed to some­thing that they are inter­est­ed or pas­sion­ate about
  • Get involved in the com­mu­ni­ty through vol­un­teer­ing or by inter­view­ing and/or talk­ing with peo­ple who work in areas that inter­est them
  • Oth­er activ­i­ties can include attend­ing and/or par­tic­i­pat­ing in job fairs and oth­er community/school spon­sored events.

Not only will this help the fam­i­ly, is it also helps when apply­ing for col­lege. Col­leges are very inter­est­ed in how stu­dents use their sum­mer breaks. Using one’s sum­mer break to include chal­leng­ing activ­i­ties and/or mean­ing­ful ser­vice work demon­strates your child’s abil­i­ty to take on addi­tion­al respon­si­bil­i­ty. This enhances their chances of get­ting accept­ed into a col­lege of their choice.

Late Stage College PlanningDur­ing these dis­cus­sions, hone in on your child’s feel­ings toward loca­tion and envi­ron­ment. By that I mean whether or not they are inter­est­ed in stay­ing near home (i.e. liv­ing at home) or mov­ing away (i.e. going to an out-of-state col­lege and liv­ing in a dorm). The obvi­ous dif­fer­ence is that the over­all cost goes up if your child wants to go away to school.

Final­ly, deter­mine if your child is ready for col­lege. All chil­dren mature at dif­fer­ent rates. For some, the tran­si­tion from high school to col­lege can be dif­fi­cult. Grades should be used as input but should not dic­tate the deci­sion. Many chil­dren grad­u­ate with less than stel­lar grades from high school only to thrive and excel once they get to col­lege.  For oth­ers, the oppo­site is true – great grades in high school but mediocre results once they get to col­lege. Hon­est­ly ask your­self and your child if the time is right for them. If not, con­sid­er hav­ing your child go to a local Junior Col­lege. Use the one or two years to let them mature and take the class­es they need to begin a suc­cess­ful four year pro­gram at a college.

Next, it’s time to crunch the num­bers. Col­lege is an invest­ment in your child’s future and, just like your invest­ment port­fo­lio; you need to care­ful­ly con­sid­er your and your child’s finan­cial goals and needs. Your child’s career goal must gen­er­ate enough income to off­set the poten­tial cost. Oth­er­wise, they may be sad­dled with suf­fi­cient debt that will take them years to payoff.

One way to assist them in this process is to find the col­leges that (1) have a degree pro­gram that they want and (2) min­i­mize the net cost of get­ting that degree. There are a num­ber of things to con­sid­er when going through this review process. All col­leges offer dif­fer­ent pack­ages or pro­grams. They include finan­cial aid pack­ages, avail­abil­i­ty of online degrees and/or dis­tant learn­ing pro­grams, and cred­it-by-exam (e.g. Advanced Place­ment or CLEP pro­grams). Oth­er things to con­sid­er include under­stand­ing a college’s admis­sion require­ments, whether or not the col­lege has a refund pol­i­cy or requires an enroll­ment contract.

Speak­ing of cost, there are a num­ber of online col­lege net price cal­cu­la­tors to help with this process. A net price cal­cu­la­tor helps you bet­ter under­stand what the true cost will be for spe­cif­ic col­leges. I like using these cal­cu­la­tors ear­ly in the process to bet­ter under­stand the “stick­er” price a par­tic­u­lar col­lege. Using it ear­ly gives you the worst case cost sce­nario and, hope­ful­ly, pro­vides you the incen­tive to find ways to reduce this cost. One exam­ple of a net price cal­cu­la­tor can be found at the College’s Board’s web­site; http://netpricecalculator.collegeboard.org/.

As you get more infor­ma­tion from each col­lege (such as finan­cial aid pack­ages), con­tin­ue to run the num­bers through a net price cal­cu­la­tor. The col­lege with the best over­all cost-ben­e­fit pro­file may sur­prise you. If your child is dead-set on going to a spe­cif­ic col­lege, make sure they under­stand the true cost of going there and what the poten­tial impact could be on their future.

Work­ing togeth­er, you and your child can devel­op a plan that will take into con­sid­er­a­tion both their goals and aspi­ra­tions and your finan­cial sit­u­a­tion … all with­out your child going into unnec­es­sary debt in the process.

To read all of the Late Stage Col­lege Plan­ning blog series click here.