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.