It never fails that just as summer gets rolling and we’re finally starting to adjust to erratic new daycare/summer camp/vacation schedules, it’s already time for “Back to School” planning! For your kids, this phrase is like a pin quickly deflating their balloon of summer fun. For parents, all we can think of are the millions of things we need to take care of – “not” waiting until the last minute to diligently work through the school supply list, finding the “right” in-style clothes, meeting with your kid’s new teachers, etc.
As we prepare our children for important educational transitions such as starting pre-school, kindergarten or even high school, we also find ourselves making more involved decisions on issues like before and after school care, technology purchases to support classroom learning, and tutoring and enrichment programs.
Since many of these decisions have significant financial impacts, now is a time when many families are re-evaluating their household budgets and spending habits. This truly lends us as parents a fantastic opportunity to make college savings a part of these financial and educational planning discussions. You’re already in the mode of equipping your kids with what they will need to be successful for another school year, so consider taking a moment look at the big picture.
Here’s a quick checklist of just some of the important considerations for keeping your children’s future college plans on track as they grow:
|If you haven’t already, start a 529 college savings plan, such as GET. Saving will offset the need for student loans and let your child know that post-high school education is a priority.||We recommend starting no later than grade school, but sooner is always better (even when your child is a baby or before birth). Keep adding to your savings as your kids grow.|
|Talk with your kids about their future aspirations and encourage them to dream big. There’s a much greater chance of them achieving these dreams if they’re motivated and supported.||Anytime! It’s important to continue this dialogue throughout your child’s development.|
|Make visits to college campuses. Get your kids excited about the idea of being college students.||Anytime, but it’s especially important as your kids are entering middle and high school.|
|Encourage your kids to take on extracurricular activities, volunteer in the community and take advanced/honors courses. This can increase their marketability to college admissions departments and open doors to scholarships.||Middle school to early high school is an ideal time to start these activities.|
|Ensure your children are meeting with advisors/counselors, and taking college prep courses and college entrance exams.||No later than junior year of high school.|
|Make sure your kids start their college applications early! Applicationsconsist of several components that take time to complete: essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, test scores, etc.||Applications are typically due by early winter of senior year of high school.|
|Help your kids find and apply for scholarships. The Washboard is a great resource for locating scholarships in our state.||Junior and senior year of high school.|
|Fill out the FAFSA early. Even if you don’t think your family will qualify for financial aid, it’s an important to fill this out – if you don’t you could miss out on some helpful dollars.||Late winter/early spring of senior year of high school. Don’t risk losing out on assistance by missing the priority deadline!|
This is a just a brief overview of some of the stepping stones to college – for more details and checkpoints we encourage you to check out www.readysetgrad.org. There’s a lot to plan for, but don’t get discouraged. The main thing is to be aware of what’s ahead, keep the stress down by staying ahead of deadlines and support your kids in their academic success. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to pick up 50 of those $0.19 boxes of crayons before the coupon expires tomorrow!
Written by Lucas Minor