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It’s Never Too Early (or Late) to Plan for College Costs

Pay.CreativeMarbles2013After talking with News10 Sacramento this morning about financial aid and paying for college, thought I’d share a few additional tips and expand on a few points we discussed:

  • Understanding the Family’s Finances: The more parents can understand the family finances, the better planning can take place for the additional expense of college tuition.  Some expenses, like food and gas money, will shift with the child to their college.  But, knowing the discretionary funds to help defray the costs, will help parents guide their children to not only apply for scholarships, but explain the importance of scholarship money within the context of what the family budget can afford.   The more information teens have about how their college expenses affects the family unit, particularly for other siblings, then the less misunderstanding and greater responsibility the college bound teen can have.  No teen wants to burden their family, and oldest siblings can feel “guilt” about possibly limiting younger siblings opportunities for college. More information and frank discussion amongst the entire family about college expenses can dissipate any pressure.  (See our 6 part series of posts about understanding personal finances.)
  • Community CHere.CreativeMarbles2013ollege Transfer Admissions: While the fees and costs for community college are less than a 4 year university, especially since most students continue living at home, then the attraction to spending a few years completing “general education requirements” doesn’t seem like too big of a sacrifice.  However, as Dan Elliot and I discussed this morning, the crowded, growing student population at community colleges can create pressure for students to take classes at multiple community college campuses in order to take required courses.  Also, (and this I didn’t discuss on the news segment), transfer admissions processes can admit students by major, requiring students to have already completed lower division required classes to even be ELIGIBLE for admissions to the 4 year college.  Thus, community college students and their families who think (as is typical) that “I’ll be able to figure out what I want to study at a lesser price, while in community college” may actually have to decide sooner than their 4 year college counterparts, as they’ll have to compete for admissions to a particular major as well as the college itself, when applying to transfer.  
  • Selecting Colleges: Defining what a student wants in his/her college experience is fundamental to finding an affordable college.  Then, the “risk” of spending tens of thousands of dollars during college, or possibly needing to repay after college graduation, will be minimized.  The student and her/his family will be confident that the financial exchange was worthwhile for the academic, career and life training the tuition dollars “purchased.”  Several CMC podcasts last fall discussed the value of college selection in relation to financial aid.
  • Student Loans (i.e. Student Debt): While no parent wants to saddle their children with a financial burden after graduation, thinking through the advantages and disadvantages of student debt to finance a college degree is an individual family decision.  The more parents can talk with their children (even if the conversation seems to fall on deaf ears), about what monthly payments will look like (and in terms they’ll understand, like number of Starbucks drinks, nights out with friends, rent), the better understanding maturing adult children will have about their responsibility in the future.
  • Saving for college:  Dan Elliot stated that saving for 10 years may not be enough, when it comes time to pay for college.  This statement may be true for a few reasons.  Depending on how much a family is able to save and how many children’s education costs are being targeted for savings will influence the amount of “subsidy” in savings that is available for college costs.  Plus, families expecting to save the full amount for college expenses before the child actually attends college may be setting unrealistic goals, given that  college tuition has continued rising annually for the past 30 years.   Putting aside money for higher education can also be challenged by parents trying to balance retirement savings, alongside college savings, as guest blogger and financial planner, Cynthia S. Meyers previously discussed.

To see the full News10 segment, click here.