Parents: How Much Should You Save For College?

By Kevin McMullin

 

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There are parents out there who have saved for their kid's college education since Day One.

But many parents find that high school creeps up fast, and that they haven’t saved as much as they hoped.

Never fear. Here are a few recommendations for saving, and some good tips on staying in-the-know about financial aid.

Don’t lose hope

Many parents compare the cost of college to their cash on-hand and become so discouraged they actually do nothing. But doing nothing doesn’t get you closer to your goal of paying for the right college. Save what you can. You may lament that you didn’t start earlier, but probably won’t look back and say, “I wish I’d saved less money for college.”

Don’t rule out colleges that seem too $$$$

If you can find colleges that are in your price range—even if you don’t receive financial aid—this gives you more control over your student’s college destiny. But don’t immediately eliminate colleges based on sticker price alone. The formulas are complicated, and the actual award you receive can take other factors into account like the academic strength of your student. Bottom line: you don’t actually know what the college will cost if your student is accepted. So curate a smart list of schools with your counselor’s endorsement. But don’t cross schools that otherwise fit off your list just because the cost is more than you believe you can afford.

Don’t shield your student

Many parents want to shield their kids from the economic realities of attending college. But I still believe it’s good for parents to have honest, open discussions with their kids about college costs. Having that conversation now— however unpleasant it might be—is much better than having it later if your student has an offer of admission in hand but your family can’t afford the school.

Apply for financial aid

Some of us have a tendency to shy away from topics we’d rather not think about. But the families who actually apply for financial aid are the ones who get the most financial aid. Which camp do you want to be in? Don’t make assumptions that you won’t qualify, don’t avoid the topic, and most importantly, don’t let fear or shame or anything else deter you from applying. Apply for aid and let the financial aid officers do their job.

Pay the knowledge forward

Forward this post to someone you know who has or will soon have a new baby. It’s a generous thing to do and they’ll probably thank you for it even more profusely someday than they do today.

One of my core college planning principles is to focus on the parts of the process that you can control. You can’t control the financial choices or circumstances of the past. But you can make choices today that you’ll feel good about tomorrow.


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