Planning for college
When the countdown to college begins, the pressure and deadlines can strain even the best family relationships. You and your parents should watch out for these potential conflict areas.
Time bomb 1: Clashes over colleges and courses
Before you know it, you’ll be up to your ears in college planning materials.
“The college admission process is all-consuming for families,” says Judy Anderson, a partner with College to Career, a consulting firm in suburban Minneapolis.
You may soon discover that you and your parents have very different ideas about which college you should attend and what you should study. It’s important to discuss your differences. Your parents might be able to help you see other factors in a college choice, or you might convince them of another school’s worthiness.
“Where you go to college does not guarantee success,” reminds Anderson. It’s what you do with your education that matters most.
Parent tip: There are lots of terrific universities. Help your student explore the possibilities. Remember, getting into college is the easy part, but getting out with a degree is what matters. If your student is excited about their coursework and campus, there’s a greater chance they will succeed.
Time bomb 2: Misunderstandings about money
As you’ve probably heard, there is a magic formula that indicates what your family is expected to put toward college.
“It’s fairly common that a family can’t or won’t be able to pay,” says Helen Nunn, director of financial aid at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa. Talk to your parents about money now, before you get to deep in college planning. Don’t wait until the first bill is due to discover they can’t pay as much as you hoped. The earlier you can start your search for funding, the better.
Before you decide to cover your tuition with college loans and credit cards, consider getting a job. According to Nunn, students who work during college tend to be more organized and earn better grades. If you work on campus, your boss will probably let you work around your class schedule. “A job on campus can be like a home away from home,” says Nunn. “It’s nice to know that someone on campus knows you and is looking out for you.”
Parent tip: Discuss money now. Help your student find a job and open a banking account. Teach him how to use credit wisely so he doesn’t impact his ability to get loans later on.
Time bomb 3: Difficulties with details and deadlines
According to Michael Alexander, former chairman of Student Financial Aid Services in Davis, Calif., “One error on the FAFSA could keep you from attending your college of choice.”
Don’t let that error be missing your school’s financial aid deadlines. Check to see if additional financial aid forms are required by the colleges you’re considering, and keep a calendar of deadlines in a prominent place.
If you need your parents to complete certain paperwork, let them know immediately. Don’t wait until the last minute to ask for help.
Parent tip: Your teen has a ton of work to do right now. Look for ways to lighten the load. Doing simple things like making copies, running to the post office or pulling information from a few Web sites can demonstrate your support. Don’t admonish them if they take a day off now and then…after all, they’re human!
College is just around the corner, and the clock is already ticking. Make plans now so that a college education can become your reality. And remember, as hard as it gets, there are people available to help you every step of the way.