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You want for your teen to have a college education and wish you could pay for it, but you just can’t. Don’t give up! Instead, let’s consider a new action plan to help them pay for college. It’s going to involve communication and the earlier you can start it, the better.
Not just do I wish this is something my parents had worked through with me, but over the years I’ve volunteered with my alma mater to speak with graduating high school seniors in my local area. These are teens that had already been accepted by the university. My role, as an alumna, was to answer any questions they had about college life at my alma mater. Sadly, some of these high school seniors said they were not sure if they could attend as they were only just discovering their parents could not afford to help them pay for college.
What was weird to me was not that their families couldn’t afford to pay for college, it’s a big expense after all, but that it was never talked about. I started to wonder how different their stories would have been if the families had shared this with their teens earlier on and used that time to guide them down a path where they could work towards saving for their own college. Even if you can’t afford to give them the money, you can always give them wisdom and guidance. Here’s an idea how:
Try not feel ashamed or guilty if you can’t pay for your child’s college education. Life happens to all of us and everyone has to work through it their own way. With that said, it’s important to share this information early so that your child knows what to expect and they are not shocked by the news later on. I would also encourage you to avoid communicating negativity or guilt when you have this conversation. Try to stay positive and approach it as working together to create a financial action plan that you will guide them through. If you think about it, this can actually be a great learning experience!
College costs vary widely
The cost of college can be huge and not all families can afford to pay for this. However, there are many options for higher education – anything from employer-sponsored apprenticeships and vocational schools to community colleges and traditional universities – or any combination of. Within those options, costs can vary widely – according to The College Board, average costs of yearly tuition and fees can range from $3,500 for community school to over $30,000 for a private 4-year university. That’s a pretty wide range!
Encourage your teen to work part-time
Many parents discourage their teenagers from working part-time while in high school or college. They would prefer for them to focus only on their studies. This is a great option, but only if you can afford to pay for their university expenses. Otherwise, you should encourage your teen to find work. This can be at local establishments looking for help or doing odd jobs for people – mowing lawns, dog sitting, etc. For more money making ideas, take a look at my Pinterest board on the topic.
And here’s a secret – even when applying for internships, some employers prefer college students with some sort of past work experience. While it’s rewarding for employers to help train a student by providing hands-on experience in their field, for some it can create an additional layer of work if they also have to also train them in workforce norms and etiquette. You could help your teen get a leg up by encouraging them to find part-time work.
Help your teen create a savings plan to pay for their college
Once your teen has found a part-time job, work together to determine how much they could earn and create a savings plan around that. For example, if they can work just 10 hours each week, even at minimum wage, they could save about $3,000 each year from their wages. Potentially more if they can fit more work on weekends and school breaks. This is almost enough to cover 1 year of community college! The earlier you can have this conversation and put your plan into action, the more money they could set aside.
Open a savings account
If your child is already a teenager, it may be too late to really reap benefits from a newly opened 529 account. But you’ll still want to save this money in an account that can be easily accessed when you need it.
While it may be tempting to create the account under your teen’s name, it would be better to create it under a parent’s name. The reason for this is that, when you fill out the financial aid form (the FAFSA), any money the student has in their name will be prioritized before any money the parents have as dollars that could be used to pay for college.
Also, consider an online bank for this savings account. They pay a little more interest on savings than traditional banks. While it won’t be a lot of money, every penny counts. And avoid investing the money – just imagine the market tanking just before tuition is due!
You could even save any dollars that are gifted – birthday gifts, graduation gifts, etc!
Financial aid packages vary – apply for admission and aid to their dream college AND local, affordable colleges
When your teen applies for admission and financial aid to colleges it’ll be important to consider what they want to study as well as how much money they’ve managed to save – you don’t want them wasting the money on a degree they’re not interested in. With this information in hand, it’ll be easier to target a few schools that offer the degree they want. Given the cost of application fees it can be expensive to apply to tons of colleges.
I recommend applying for local, more affordable college options as well as any school they “dream” of going to. Financial aid awards can vary by school. You never can tell how much money one school will be willing to offer versus another unless you apply. For example, in my case, I attended a 4-year private university mostly because of their generous financial aid package. The local state college offered me only a $600 loan.
And don’t forget to look for scholarships together. Speak with your high school, community organizations and colleges your teen likes. Maybe they’ll get a scholarship or grant so they have a free or mostly free ride to school! That would be awesome! Then the money they’ve saved can become a cushion for their unexpected expenses as they go out into the world.