College is getting more expensive every year, but in many career fields your child might choose, a four-year degree is essential. In years past, society expected you as a parent to contribute to higher education costs or cover them totally. Now, it’s important that you consider your financial situation and options available to you ahead of your student accepting school admission.
Household finance considerations
In a perfect world, you would have started saving in your student’s college fund from their diaper days, but it’s very possible that life events and economic challenges prevented that. Before you talk to your children about paying for college, take a close look at your own financial situation to make sure contributing to school is within your means. Anna Helhoski of NerdWallet points out in a November 2018 article that while your student can take on loans to pay for classes, you can’t do the same to finance your retirement. She also says that other high-interest debt, like credit cards, should take precedence over tuition, and paying for school should never jeopardize your financial emergency cushion.
You should know if you plan to pay for your child’s college tuition well before they start applying for schools, if possible. Kim Clark of Money suggests always being open with your children about finances and education costs, but you should have a comprehensive conversation about next education steps no later than their junior year of high school. In this discussion, lay out what support you are prepared to offer their higher education (if anything), and what you expect them to contribute. That way they start their college search looking at schools that are within their means, and they can start looking for scholarships early.
Make them work for it
Even if you have the financial means to pay for a four-year degree with no stress, you should still set expectations with your student about applying for scholarships or grants. Erin Lowry of Forbes reports that her parents offered to pay for half of her tuition through school, and the other half was her responsibility. She could pay for her portion with savings, summer jobs, loans or scholarships. In the end, Lowry financed her piece by choosing a school she won a 50 percent scholarship to instead of a pricier alternative that offered no financial aid.
Use the FAFSA
While students do have easy access to loans for school costs, debt places a heavy burden on your child and limits their opportunities once they graduate. When you’re preparing for that first year of school, make sure that you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is a universal tool that the government uses to determine what you should be able to afford for school, and it can qualify your student for aid, grants, federal loans and work-study programs.
Whether you pay for your child’s higher education relies on your family’s financial position and how expensive a chosen school is. Before you write a check, consider talking to a financial advisor.