When should we start talking about college to our children? Is Jr. High too soon? What should I say?
As parents we deliberately do many things when we care for our children: make sure they don’t touch the hot stove, teach them principles and values to live by, allow them to make mistakes that we carefully calculate the outcomes of to ensure they learn from but don’t get too hurt by. College planning and finances should be just as calculated decisions that parents and children make together. Unfortunately money and many areas surrounding money (such as the expense of higher education) are viewed almost as taboo and are whispered and not spoken of intentionally. Money is not taboo and money should not be an obstacle or challenge, it should be the enabler of all the things you wish to do.
Many families do discuss college but the reverse planning and discussions start later than they need to. Let us do some reverse planning.
College age: 18years old
Things that affect college:
- Community Involvement
Place of Study
Focus of Study
Looking at the things that directly affect the college decision we can now start reverse planning the decision and addressing some questions you might have.
When do grades start to affect college acceptance?
Many would say high school. However, can a child simply wake up and start getting good grades? Can a child go from a mediocre work ethic when it comes to school as an 8th grader to starting as a freshman in high school and have the discipline and consistency to do homework and make the grades? Probably not. So this means we as parents need to start helping our children with these things prior to high school. We need to build the character and resolve for our children to know the right things to do and the discipline to do them even when they are in high school and all the distractions start to overwhelm and influence them.
Our oldest daughter is in the 6th grade and she understands that she has a college fund and will be going to college. She sees me pursuing another degree and the work ethic it takes to go to school, work, and be the best father for her. She is starting to ask questions about college and what to study and where to study. As a 6th grader she has the beginning discipline that it takes and understands that we sometimes have to postpone what feels good so we can do what is right. I saw this from her when she was in Taiwan with me. We were in taiwan while the rest of the family was in the US taking care of some legal and medical concerns. To keep up with the expectations of this strict, foreign school she had homework that many nights lasted until 8 or 9 pm. This also was working around my work schedule where she had to wake up around 5am. She was a trooper while it was just us two. She understood that there was a reason we were doing this and why the rest of the family was in the US. The only reason she understood this was because of intentional and well thought out communication that my wife and I talked about before sharing it with her. We as parents feel the need for intentionality with our children is one of the biggest callings we have on our lives.
Because we instilled these values and the knowledge about the future in her early to build a firm foundation, she will carry that all through Jr. High and be able to go into High School prepared to put in the work, thought, and effort to achieve the grades she needs to.
So, we recommend to start discussing college and the importance of good grades with your children just before they enter Jr. High. If you have a child around that age, just sit them down and ask them what they love doing, what they would love to do when they grown up (even if its several things), and then start talking about what steps they might need to take to get there. Talk about the importance of education, but more importantly, the importance of a good work ethic.
When should we discuss the costs of college with our children and make decisions on how it will be paid?
Money was discussed in another blog for this series and that planning for parents can be found here. That blog tells you how much to save, where to find some great calculators, options for where to put that savings, and options for the different revenue sources the costs can come from (parents saving, child’s savings, scholarships, etc.).
You’ve already laid a good foundation down for your child when they entered Jr. High, so when they are about to enter High School, I recommend sitting them down and really showing them the costs that will be thrown at them immediately after they graduate.
College is expensive and thats not the only thing they have to pay for in the upcoming years. When they turn 16, they will want some sort of transportation (and you will probably want them to have it too), and whether they are paying all of it or you will be matching their contribution, thats a very large expense. This is a good spring board to teach them about saving in a sinking fund for an upcoming expense. They will be getting their first jobs usually as a freshman and they need to have a good plan for that money.
They also should understand that while scholarships and grants are an amazing way to take the cost of college down, they need to have good grades (or a lot of community service for some) to win those. BUT the more outside assistance they get, the less money they would have to put away now to help pay.
If your child is getting ready to enter high school or start their first job, sit down with them to look at some different in-state schools and the costs of those schools. Let them know how much of that (if any) you will be covering and come up with a reasonable amount for them to save in advance as well. Look briefly at some of the available scholarships and what the qualifications are for those, so that they have an idea of what they need to accomplish over the next 4 years. Remember, however much is not saved for in advance or covered by outside assistance will determine how much they will need to work through college to cover the remainder. Loans should NOT be an option. (Read my blog about the statistics of college loan debt)
When do we start planning where my child will go to college?
My recent trip to Boston had my daughter asking questions about not only my work but also Harvard. I intentionally sent her pictures of Cambridge and campus to spark questions. She may not understand what the school is but she does understand that there are choices in the decision of school and college and that she has a major decision in her future to make pertaining to what school she wants to go to. She is now asking to visit Cambridge and see what college students are like. She is starting to dream of possibilities and her future.
Because the costs of colleges can be so different depending on where your child chooses to go (i.e. local community college, in-state university, out-of-state university, private university, etc.), the earlier you have this conversation, the better. Now, I’ve never met a young person that hasn’t changed their mind about something within 5 minutes of talking, so this choice doesn’t have to be set in stone, but its important to have goals and a plan. Most careers today don’t care at all where you went to school, just that you went and learned skills that you can apply in the real world (read an article by Time here). We recommend either going to a local community college for the first 2 years or attending all 4-years at an in-state public university to keep costs down. But whatever school your family decides on, get some pennants, mugs, shirts, etc. of that school and hang them up in your child’s bedroom. Keep that goal in front of them, so they can see it everyday and never forget why they are working so hard.
I hope I’ve answered some of your questions and concerns about when you should start talking to your children about higher education and just the future in general.The other parts of the reverse planning can be done simply by laying out the goals for each and timeline for those and then working backwards. If you feel like your child is already too far along, too old, or that you’ve missed your chance: you haven’t! There is no time like the present. More importantly then when you do it, is that you do it.
When it comes to our children, we will always have some kind of impact on their lives, but we only have a short while that they will be under our roofs and an even shorter amount of time that they will want to hear what we have to say. Over all, we want to preface those difficult years of raising teenagers and young adults as best we can with intentional teachings and intentional communication. College planning is one of those things. We start communicating college to our children young and as they get older we intentionally add more information and more opportunities for growth.
The greatest thing is that these discussions will cause your child to dream about their future. That is what we as parents want and we don’t want them to ever lose that.
Charles Moore is a veteran, rocket doctor, financial coach, and blogger. If you’ve decided its time for you to suit up and fight for your financial freedom, check out his website at www.CAMFinancialCoach.comwhere you can get information on the coaching process, package options, and an unbeatable library of knowledge on winning financial battles.