Most parents want their children to be prepared for entrance into the college of their choice. They also want them to graduate without a large student loan debt weighing on them. Acceptance into the right college and having the means to pay for it can open doors. In each stage of your student's life there are steps you and your child can take to prepare for this momentous opportunity. Below you will find helpful links and a handy preparation guide.
Before High School. The road to college begins even before high school. As early as elementary and middle school foster your child’s love for learning. Encourage good study habits and get them dreaming about college. A trip to a nearby university or your alma mater may help plant the seed in their minds. When your child reaches middle school, take the time to find out which prerequisite courses may set the right track for math and science in high school.
The earlier you consider how you expect to pay for college costs, the better. The average student loan borrower owes $32,731 in education debt, which amounts to between 65-111% of first-year salary.2
Beginning a college savings account early will allow you to take advantage of the power of compound growth. You can contribute monthly or in lump sums. Consider setting up a regular monthly contribution or contributing a lump sum annually (such as on his/her birthday) or both. The link provided above will give you more information about three types of college savings vehicles. You can also contact our office to discuss which would be right for your family.
Freshman Year. Before the school year begins, consider meeting with your child’s guidance counselor. Discuss college goals and make sure your child is enrolled in classes that are structured to help them pursue those goals. Also, encourage your child to choose challenging classes. Many universities look for students who push themselves when it comes to learning. At the same time, keep a close eye on grades. Every year on the transcript counts. If your child is struggling in a subject, don’t wait to get a tutor. One-on-one instruction can be a huge benefit when mastering difficult material.
In addition to academic performance, many colleges want prospective students to be well-rounded, so encourage your child to engage in extracurricular activities, such as sports, music, art, community service, and social clubs.
Be sure to familiarize yourself and your student with the scholarship and grant programs for your state. It is important to understand the requirements from the beginning of high school to be sure your student is eligible for all available funds. Your child's high school website is a good place to find helpful links and information. Your high school may also offer information sessions with the school counselor(s). If you live in the state of Georgia you can visit gafutures.org for information on the Hope and Zell Miller Scholarships.
It is never too late to open a college savings account. It's important to keep in mind that assets in your non-retirement accounts will have a high impact on financial aid eligibility whereas assets in a 529 College Savings Plan will have a low impact. It may be beneficial at any point in high school to begin contributing.
Sophomore Year. During their sophomore year, some students may have the opportunity to take a practice SAT. A practice exam is a good way to give your child a feel for what the test entails as well as highlight areas where improvement may be needed.
If your child is enrolled in advanced placement (AP) courses, encourage good performance on AP exams. High exam scores show universities your child can succeed at a higher level of learning.
Sophomore year is also a good time to get some depth in extracurricular activities. Help your child identify passions and stick to them. Encourage your child to read as much as possible. Whether they read Crime and Punishment or Sports Illustrated, they will expand their vocabulary and critical thinking skills. Summer may be a good time for sophomores to get a job, do an internship, or travel to help fill their quiver of experiences.
Each year it is a good idea to review the requirements for available scholarships and keep on track. Also if your student has specific schools in mind, you can look together at the GPA and other requirement to ensure those are on track as well.
Junior Year. Near the beginning of junior year, your child can take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT), also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). Even if they won’t need to take the SAT for college, taking the PSAT could open doors for scholarship money. Junior year may be the most challenging in terms of course load. It is also a critical year for showing good grades in difficult classes.
Top colleges look for applicants who are future leaders. Encourage your child to take a leadership role in an extracurricular activity. This doesn’t mean they have to be drum major or captain of the football team. Leading may involve helping an organization with fundraising, marketing, or community outreach.
In the spring of junior year, your child will want to take the SAT or ACT. An early test date may allow time for taking the test again in senior year, if necessary. No matter how many times your child takes the test, colleges will only look at the best score.
Senior Year. For many students, senior year is the most exciting time of high school. They will finally begin to reap the benefits of all their efforts during the previous years. Once your child has decided to which schools they wish to apply, make sure you keep on top of deadlines. Applying early can increase your student’s chance of acceptance.
Now is also the time to apply for scholarships. Your child’s guidance counselor can help you identify scholarships within reach. Also, find out about financial aid and be thorough. According to research by NerdWallet.com, well over $2 billion in free federal grant money is going unclaimed each year simply because students are failing to fill out the free application.3
You can complete your FAFSA beginning October of your senior year for your first year of college. If the student has any assets that are earmarked for large expenditures (such as a car or computer purchase), you may want to spend this before completing the FAFSA. You will need to begin with you (one parent) and your student each getting your own FAFSA ID. Once each of you complete your part of the FAFSA application the college(s) you have selected will let your student know what federal aid is available. You can then decide together what to accept.
Finally, talk to your child about living away from home. Help make sure they know how to manage money wisely and pay bills on time. You may also want to talk about social pressures some college freshmen face for the first time when they move away from home. Be sure you have a talk about credit cards. You will notice once your student has his/her 18th birthday, credit card applications will begin appearing in your mailbox. These companies may also set up on campus offering free t-shirts and other goodies. Prepare your child by warning them of the dangers of credit card debt and communicating your expectations and their consequences of accumulating debt.
For many people, college sets the stage for life. Making sure your children have options when it comes to choosing a university can help shape their future. Work with them today to make goals and develop habits that will help ensure their success.
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
1 - https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm [4/18]
2 - https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-student-loan-debt [12/13/18] 3 - https://www.azcentral.com/story/money/personalfinance/2018/10/17/free-college-money-unclaimed-fafsa/38172299/ [10/17/18]