It’s the time of year when high school seniors are selecting their college destination for this fall.  Many undecided students will use spring break for a campus visit or two as they narrow their choices.  Having assisted countless families with college planning the past two decades, it was a surreal experience to go through the process as a parent.  Here’s what our family learned:

  • Start a conversation early on with your student. Rarely does a 17-year-old know what they want to do or study.  Totally ok, but it’s valuable to all family members to discuss possibilities and make a couple campus visits early on.  City school, rural school, large, small, instate, out of state, private, public.  The idea is to evaluate your choices and see what appeals to your student.


  • As a parent, what is your philosophy, approach, and plan to addressing college costs? Please don’t attempt to “wing it” without careful consideration.  Many moms and dads have different college experiences which may influence the comments and feedback they provide their student.  The financial aspects and timeline of four or five years is significant and may have a direct impact on your retirement readiness (or lack thereof).


  • Some colleges are changing their current “test optional” approach in applications for Fall 2023 enrollment. This may lead to exploring tutoring for your student to prepare for the ACT or SAT this coming fall.  Integrating this prep work into your summer plans worked well for our family last year.  It also supplied valuable time management skills for our son to develop while he was balancing a job.


  • Essays are a part of the college application process. Writing is not always easy as I’ve found by launching this blog two years ago!  We hired a professional who collaborated virtually with our son last summer to identify his strengths and passion.  Then nudged him to create a compelling story that he could share as part of the application process.  The final product was incredible, very touching, and very authentic to who are son is.  Having an outside professional (not mom or dad) coaching and encouraging the writing process was priceless.


  • In November of your student’s senior year in high school you’ll want to complete the FAFSA (financial aid form) regardless of your income. You may have heard it’s a waste of time, believe me it’s not.  I know many families with big incomes whose student was offered/is accepting merit-based scholarship/s.  These scholarships reduce the cost of tuition you pay, though you still need to factor in housing and dining costs.  The FAFSA form is renewable, so if you didn’t complete it last fall you may do so this November.  Our son ultimately decided to select an in state public college, so the FAFSA form was less relevant then had he selected from several private college offers.  It’s good to have options and the FAFSA moves the needle in terms of net costs for out of state and private schools.


  • Submitting college applications via the Common Application was a valuable time saver. Our son input his information once and then answered additional questions unique to each college he was applying too.  Having requested his transcript via the school councilor early in the fall allowed the colleges to have all the information necessary to make an offer.


  • Once all the information was sent electronically it was time (for everyone) to relax and take a breath! No joke, this can be a stressful process for all involved.  Being a planner, and a dad, I tried my best to encourage the idea of getting things done before they were necessary (insert eye roll and “whatever”).  Having most of the work completed early allowed our son to have a stress-free fall and winter.  The acceptance emails arrived, and it was exciting to know that he’d be headed to campus!


  • Now the next question was where? The key, and I credit my wife with this, was to remain cool (I try), and not pester or ask too many questions.  Giving my son time to think about his choices was important and having conversations when he was ready made them more valuable.  That’s the real benefit in beginning the application process early, you have time to reflect and think about what you want.  This same principal applies to financial planning for moms and dads.  Create a plan, reflect on it each year, adjust, and become clearer on what you want overtime.  I couldn’t imagine making a big life decision without having the time to think about your choices.  That’s what planning is all about, be it for college or retirement.

If you’d like to learn more on how college education integrates into a broader financial plan for your family, give us a shout.  More reading on this topic maybe found below.


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Investment Choices for College

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