The parents of college-bound students are frequently frustrated and confused by the complicated college planning and entrance process. They are quite frightened by the prospect of going broke after sending the kids off to college. Sound familiar? Here are a few thoughts on how to get the process off on the right footing.
How many times have we heard about the college-bound senior who was offered a terrific aid package at a state-subsidized college, but who refused to attend the in-state school and chose one double or triple the cost in another state. Too often parents concede the decision to the child, often after numerous tantrums or the silent treatment.
The potential expense for many families will be larger than anything most parents will face in their lifetimes. The purpose of this article is to provide some ideas that families can utilize to overcome college cost burdens and the anxieties that accompany them. Obviously, a good place to begin is to develop a college savings program as early as possible. That subject, however, will be left to future articles.
I submit that the first item on the family agenda is to craft a partnership between the parents and the student. For many parents this may create a number of obstacles, indeed. That’s because for many students, the choice of school is an emotional one, not financial. For the student, the issue might be: where is the girlfriend going; how large is the student body; how good is the football team, which Greek houses are on campus, etc.? For the parents, the issue is usually just finding a college which is “adequate” in reputation, “reasonable” in distance from home and affordable. Frequently, their choice is equivalent to meaning, “go to Hateful State U.”.
The college-bound student needs to be a part of the financial discussions. From the beginning these need to be open and frank. The student must be made aware of the family’s financial constraints, so that in their search for the right school, the end result will not mean retirement bankruptcy for the parents. A college education can be made available without jeopardizing the financial future of the parents. Thus, the student needs to be aware of parental parameters and not given the impression that the choice of institution is open-ended.
Navigating the entire college search process can be complicated, but in a true, family, college search “partnership”, this can be done amicably and efficiently after an appropriate education on the subject. Decisions should be made on real knowledge, not in reliance on myth or statements made by colleagues at the water fountain at work or the neighbor up the street
That’s where the partnership comes into play. The student and parents should research many schools together and establish a list of 5-7, for example, which come within the pre-set parameters. That research needs to evaluate the affordability of many schools, those which meet the academic standards and emotional needs of the student, as well as finding those which will provide the most financial aid if qualified. Now the family will have a list which should be satisfactory to all, and the student can then establish his preferences.
Experiencing the college entrance process should be an enjoyable one, meaningful and memorable.