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Countdown to College

By: Joe Delaney

As the parent of a 17-year-old rising senior, the topic of “college” is front and center. I have been talking to a number of parents about the topic of college preparation, a period I call the Countdown to College. These are the top 10 themes that come up in conversation, which I believe every parent of a college-bound student should consider. (Please keep in mind, every college student is unique; not everything here will apply to yours.)

  1. Cast a Wide Net– Applying to schools has become easier with the adoption of the Common Application. For this and other reasons, acceptance rates have dropped at many schools. Applying to more schools than the last generation of college-goers makes sense. Depending on your child, the right applicant pool could be 8 – 12 schools. There should be a good mix of “reach” schools, “decent chance” and “fairly sure” school options.


  1. Go Visit Schools– This is certainly a luxury, but if you can, go visit some schools while they are in session during the prospective student’s junior year. This allows the student to see class in session, get a sense of college life and begin to form an opinion of what is right for them. Finding the right school the first time can save you the aggravation and expense of having to transfer schools.


  1. Get Started Early– Encourage your student to start the application process early.  They can begin working on the various versions of the essay that many schools require during the summer prior to their senior year, before schoolwork and other demands pick back up.


  1. Take a Break from the College Talk– College-bound students are bombarded with college talk: where they are applying, college preparation classes, applications and lots of other stressful elements. So remember to take some breaks from the college grind and talk about other topics of interest. Moderation is the key to life.


  1. College Funding– Tuition and fees continue to rise at unprecedented rates. Plan to spend more than you budget for the other costs of college like travel and spending money. Set a budget that makes sense for your family. 529 plans are an excellent and flexible way to save and invest for college costs if started early. You can read more about 529 plans here: www.savingforcollege.com.


  1. The “Public School is Cheaper” Myth– Don’t buy into the myth that private schools are more expensive than in-state public schools. Many private schools have significant endowments to attract desirable students (from the top quartile of the applicant pool). Also if you live in a state with impacted public schools (resource constrained), graduating in four years can be a challenge and extra time should be factored into the overall price. Look at graduation rate statistics as part of your research.


  1. Financial Aid– Acquaint yourself early with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This is the first step if you want financial aid from federal and state governments and most colleges. Filling out the FAFSA can be intimidating. Don’t worry, just do it. The FAFSA can be submitted starting January 1st of the student’s senior year of high school. For more information take a look at the FAFSA website: www.fafsa.ed.gov.


  1. Ready, Set … Wait– Not every student is the same and certainly not every 18-year-old is ready for college. Sometimes a gap year, a job, the military or attending junior college makes good sense. The student needs to be in charge of his or her own college plan. With an entire life ahead of them, taking an extra year to get focused can be very prudent.


  1. College Drinking and Drug Use– Again, all kids are different; however, if you have been shielding your child from the real world you may be doing your child more harm than good. Drinking and drug use are prevalent in college and you want your child to be prepared to make good decisions around this issue. Talk to your son or daughter early and often about this topic.


  1. Watch Out for the First Semester– Your child has made it to college. The first semester away at school is an important one to monitor closely. Assess how they are doing with their classes, social life, being away from home, etc. Lots can happen that first semester, so be alert to challenges. If necessary, encourage them to seek support. The good news is that there is more support than ever on campuses; unfortunately, students don’t always take the initiative to make use of these resources.

The Countdown to College is a stressful time for both the student and the parent but it’s also an exciting time to watch your child blossom into adulthood. Help them, love them but also don’t forget to set them free.

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The opinions expressed by myself and other featured authors are their own and may not accurately reflect those of Lifeguard Wealth. This article is for general information only and is not intended to serve as specific financial, accounting or tax advice.

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