Q: We are a lesbian couple with two daughters in middle school. We’ve already been saving for them to go to college for years. As they approach high school, how can we help them begin to better understand the importance of higher education and begin to think ahead toward college? A: The planning required to send a child to college may seem overwhelming, but parents do not have to do all the work. Getting children involved in college planning may be an excellent way to teach responsibility to young people — a lesson that could reap benefits well beyond their college years.
The right age
Some experts believe that if children are actively involved in planning for their future, they may be more committed when entering college and ultimately have a more successful experience than they would have otherwise. But what age is the right age to start talking to children about college planning?
The U.S. Department of Education says the best time to introduce children to college planning is the middle-school years when they are in the sixth, seventh or eighth grade. At this stage, you may want to start talking about college and explain the importance of developing good study habits and getting involved in extracurricular activities.
When students are in the latter part of middle school, they can also start planning to make the most of high-school experiences with an eye toward college. Remind your budding scholar that success in high school depends on skills and attitudes that are developed in middle school or earlier. For example, time-management skills developed in middle school may eventually help a high-school student manage schoolwork, a job, sports and other interests. And when the time comes to pick classes for the first year of high school, a good mix of college prep courses may be important.
Help your child establish a savings account that could be earmarked for education expenses. You can use this experience to teach basic lessons about compounding, investing and other money management issues. And to help students gain a deeper appreciation of their family’s financial sacrifices, share current college cost information with them (see following).
Average Annual Costs, 2011-2012 Source: The College Board
Private four-year college: — tuition and fees, $28,500 — room and board, $10,089 — total: $38,589
Public four-year college: — tuition and fees, $8,244 — room and board, $8,887 — total: $17,131
Public two-year college: — tuition and fees, $2,963 — room and board, n/a — total: $2,963
A higher gear in high school
Many high-school students are mature enough to plan for college at a deeper level. Appropriate planning may include the following:
— Matching personal aptitudes with vocational interests: High-school guidance counselors can help students learn about careers that utilize skills in math, science, language arts, social studies and other areas of interest, as well as postsecondary courses of study in these areas.
— Maintaining high academic standards: Colleges prefer applicants who have exceeded basic requirements and taken more challenging courses in language arts, math, science, social studies, foreign languages and other areas. Many high schools permit qualified students to earn college credits by taking Advanced Placement courses. Excelling in these classes may demonstrate motivation and reduce the number of academic requirements after a student enters college.
— Researching scholarships: There are numerous websites with information about sources of financial aid. For example, www.fastweb.com and www.finaid.org provide data about thousands of scholarships with varying eligibility criteria. In addition, www.fafsa.ed.gov provides an overview of federal student aid programs, including Pell Grants, campus-based aid programs, Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans and others. Also, local libraries and high-school guidance offices may have information about state-sponsored aid programs and scholarships sponsored by local organizations.
— Earning money: High-school students can set aside a portion of their wages from part-time or summer jobs for higher-education expenses. Also, students may be able to obtain jobs that build on career interests as a way of solidifying their future plans.
— Getting organized: College planning involves many details, including visiting institutions that a student may want to attend, applying for financial aid, obtaining transcripts and letters of recommendation and meeting deadlines. A high-school student can take responsibility for making sure that important matters are tended to ahead of time. For example, he or she can use school vacation time to help organize a family trip to visit colleges of interest or spend time completing college applications.
Some useful Web resources include collegeboard.org, fastweb.com, finaid.org and fafsa.ed.gov.
You and your prospective student may be able to think of more ideas that could add value to your family’s efforts to save for a college education. Getting your child involved in the process — financially and otherwise — could ultimately be a pivotal lesson in responsibility that impacts his or her later success in life.
Jeremy Gussick is a financial advisor with LPL Financial, the nation’s largest independent broker-dealer.* Jeremy specializes in the financial planning needs of the LGBT community and was recently named a 2011 FIVE STAR Wealth Manager by Philadelphia Magazine.** He is active with several LGBT organizations in the Philadelphia region, including the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund the Greater Philadelphia Professional Network and the Independence Business Alliance. Out Money appears monthly. If you have a question for Jeremy, you can contact him at [email protected].
*As reported by Financial Planning magazine, 1996-2011, based on total revenues. **Award details can be found at www.fivestarprofessional.com.
This article was prepared by McGraw-Hill Financial Communications and is not intended to provide specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual. Consult your financial advisor, or Jeremy, if you have any questions.
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