At this point in your child’s journey to college, here are a few things that should be in the works already (but if you haven’t, take the time now to jump in!):
- Started a savings plan specifically for college
- Talked with a financial planner
- Begun cultivating your child’s interests through classes and clubs
- Researched resources like college calculators and checklists
PLANNING FOR COLLEGE IN HIGH SCHOOL
If you’re just now starting the process . . .
That’s okay! Any amount you can put into savings will make a difference in the long run, regardless of how big it is. Here are the three biggest steps you can take today to make a dent in your college plan:
Open a savings plan
As soon as you can, start a savings plan for your child. A 529 Plan allows you to have multiple contributors, so any birthday gifts, parental contributions or paychecks from part-time jobs could go into this account tax-free and accrue interest.
Meet with a professional
Utilizing resources like a financial planner or a college planner can get you on track towards the right goals. Make sure you are using your final years of saving opportunity wisely by consulting with the people who do this every day.
Create an activities resume
Just like a job resume, start logging your child’s activities, interests and how much time they spend doing them. You’ll be able to see gaps in time, but also it will come in handy when the time comes for scholarship applications.
High School by the year
Each academic year of school has a different goal, so it’s essential to plan for and approach them differently.
- Set up a four-year plan of study
By now, your freshman probably has an idea or inkling of what they may like to do, and where they may want a career to take them after high school. Even if they don’t have the exact map plotted out, you can still plan high school courses around a general idea. For instance, if they’d like to pursue something in the math or sciences, then each semester of high school should have at least one course in one of those two disciplines.
- Talk to a guidance counselor
This free in-school resource can lead you towards resources, answers, and opportunities that you may not find elsewhere. Take advantage of it!
- Understand college options
Start looking into what kind of school your child may want to explore—a 4-year university; a 2-year college; or maybe a trade school? Whatever path they are leaning towards, make sure everyone in the family understands the criteria and expectations for admission to the program and tuition options. Do they offer many scholarships? What about programs like Missouri’s A+ Program? Ask many questions, and ask them early.
- Buckle down academically and financially
January 1 of the sophomore year starts the financial year that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will use as a base when evaluating your eligibility for financial aid in two years.
- Continue the activities resume
Keep tracking activities that your child is involved in—and invite them to take responsibility for it. They should track what they are involved in; like communities, clubs, organizations and more. This “activities resume” will inform scholarship research and academic path.
- Start scholarship research
Start reviewing scholarship requirements; not with intent to apply but to understand what all is needed to prepare for application. Be ready to gather what’s needed for the applications, ask for letters of recommendation in a timely manner and note what scholarships funds will cover.
- Take standardized tests
This will most likely be the ACT but check into your preferred colleges to make sure what their test requirements are. If you haven’t taken any standardized tests yet, it’s important to take the first one in the fall of your junior year.
- Make your school list
Put together the list of top schools—anywhere from 3 – 5. Know where you want to apply, what the important dates are and visit the campuses. As well, have 2 or 3 safety schools ready to apply for. Now is a time that a cost comparison calculator becomes a true game-changer. You need to have an idea of what it could cost to attend any school that ends up on the list.
- Fill out the FAFSA
Start to understand what financial aid looks like for your family, based on the net price of your top schools and what you’ve been able to save. When you start to fill out the FAFSA, don’t be intimidated—seek help! The FAFSA needs to be filed annually, and it opens every year on October 1.
When it comes to scholarships, understand what they cover, what requirements you need to meet to maintain eligibility, and if there are strings. Not all financial aid is free—for example, student loans are an “aid” but are not free money.
- Apply to school!
It’s the time now to get your applications in. National Decision Day is May 1st. After you choose your college, make sure to write down important dates like new student orientation and housing deadlines. But also remember to weigh your options. The money you’ve set aside in a 529 Plan will wait for you if you choose to put off college until you’re more financially, academically or emotionally ready for college. You’ve invested a lot into this decision—you should be confident in it when the time comes.
- Plan out finances
If you have decided college right after school is best for you, now it’s time to plan out what four years of finances may look like. Consider not only tuition and room/board, but also groceries, textbooks (buy used!), trips home, school supplies, a social life, and as always, plan for the unexpected. Once you determine the total expenses of life in college, decide if this means a job for your student, who will set the budget and other important questions.
Through all of high school, keep these things top of mind for college prep.
Check in with your child on how they feel and what the plan is.
Keep good academic habits in practice.
Start researching scholarships and financial aid options.
The College and Career Planning team at CommunityAmerica Credit Union is a 2018 National Parenting Products Award winner. In addition to college planning help, CommunityAmerica provides a full suite of financial products, including checking, savings, mortgages and a variety of loan products to meet consumer and business needs. As a not-for-profit financial institution, CommunityAmerica offers highly competitive rates on deposits, loans, and fewer, lower or no fees at all. For more information, visit https://collegeroadmap.