7 Ways to Help Your Child Plan for College

7 Ways to Help Your Child Plan for College

College can be thrilling and exciting for your child. But it can also be stressful if not properly planned. Help your child navigate the muddy waters of college by creating a plan with them. Help them make good decisions, both with their money and time, so they can enjoy their experience instead of focusing on the wrong things.

The College Landscape Has Changed

Years ago, kids put undue pressure on themselves because high school was considered college preparation. SAT scores kept kids up on sleepless nights. Parents hired tutors for their kids to get better grades so they could make it into their prestigious schools. But the college landscape has changed. People realize young adults don't always get their dream jobs straight out of college, leaving them wondering why they even went to college at all. But with a bit of planning and help from parents, that doesn't have to be the case.

Here are seven ways to help your child plan for college:

1. Save Quickly

Do your best to save as early as possible. But if you find you are running out of time, try to pay down some bills – or even better, pay bills off—so that you have more money to play with each month. The more money you have to spare, the more you can save. Building your savings is similar to a snowball; once you pay extra towards your bills, they get paid off quickly. Once bills are paid off, it frees up more money to save towards college, tuition, room and board, and meal plans. If money is tight, try to see if your child can room with a friend off campus. This will help save additional money and let your savings compound even more.

Another way to grow your savings is to get an extra part-time job. A temporary job will help all that income be designated only for college. Ask your child if they will get another one as well. There may be difficult days, but in the end, when you are enjoying college relatively debt-free, it will have paid off (in more ways than one.)

2. Dream Big

Millennials don't hold the same values as previous generations. They don't care about building a big home or working until they're 65. They just want to know they're making a difference in people's lives. They may choose a college based on if they can afford it, knowing they may choose many career paths throughout their lifetime. While their love for frugality is admirable, it is important as parents to help them dream big when it comes to choosing their college. Entrance requirements for SAT scores and other criteria are much lower than they were years ago. Therefore, your child may have an even better chance of getting into the school they've always wanted to attend. Help them dream big by applying to their top choice and a couple of schools they would love to go to but don't think they can get into. It's a good lesson in taking a leap of faith while also teaching them how to handle rejection.

3. Evaluate Your Wallet

While there's no harm in dreaming big when it comes to your college, dreaming big may not be possible, given the amount in your wallet. Allocate funds from your weekly or monthly paycheck and put them towards your savings if you receive any additional money. There's no need to take another mortgage out on your home or empty your savings to help your child plan. In the end, it won't matter which college they went to as long as they graduated. Additionally, with the plethora of jobs on the market, it is easier to help your child plan now than it was years ago. Don't be unwise with your money, but at the same time, there's no need to go into debt for college, either. Discern what is right for you and your family's budget before making this important decision.

4. Set Measurable Goals

Nothing can feel more overwhelming than when faced with the insurmountable costs of tuition. It can feel like college is an unattainable goal for your family. But is it, or do we just need to plan properly? Set small measurable goals for your child. Ask them to get a job and designate a certain amount from their paycheck. Give them an incentive to save more by matching what they save. They'll see their savings grow in no time and feel like they are saving for something worthwhile.

5. Prioritize Your Prerequisites

Choosing a major can cause anxiety and stress for your child. Before choosing a major, focus on getting your prerequisites out of the way first. This way, it gives your child time to make a final decision. Even if they think they know what they want to major in in college, chances are they may change their minds. If they choose classes in their major only, they will have wasted precious time and money on courses that didn't matter in the end. Take the stress out of choosing a major by encouraging your child to do basic 101 classes. This way, they always transfer to another major—or school—if necessary.

6. Get to Know the Community

If your child is going away to another state for school, take time to get to know the community. Survey the area and help them identify grocery stores, theaters, pharmacies, and other essential landmarks they will need to know while there. If they need to take a bus or subway, get a schedule and take a trip on the bus with them so they can get used to that mode of transportation. Figure out where the hospital is as well in case there is an emergency. They instead can take action instead of feeling helpless.

7. Leave a College Legacy

While not every person can go to college due to academic standing or financial issues, some may simply be undecided on whether college is in their future. Have an open and honest conversation about your college memories. If you had a good experience, share that with your child. They will not only want to hear more about your story but also about their family's legacy. Encourage them to go to carry on the legacy of your family's love for education. If they are torn about where to go, give them a tour of your alma mater. Show them the dorm room you stayed, the dining hall where you ate your meals, and the quad where you hung out with friends. Create a hands-on experience of what college can be.

College can be fun and exciting. But if poorly planned, it can cause anxiety for your child. But it doesn't have to. Make your child's college experience a family affair. Share in your child's fears about being away from home and share your own fears about letting them go into adulthood. You may not be able to quench every fear, but you can make your child feel like they are not alone. And that's the best plan you can give them.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages

Writer Michelle LazurekMichelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.com.