When should parents have the “talk” with their children?
Of course, I mean the talk about how their college education will be financed. According to comments in a recent College Confidential thread, fourteen is too early and 12th grade is too late. And just like sex education, kids should not be hit with everything all at once.
It’s like the sex talk … Tell them a little at a time in chunks they can understand.
“Parents of High School Juniors: Talk Finances NOW” is the title of the thread, and the original poster wants families to avoid the disappointment that sometimes occurs this time of year for high school seniors.
If you are the parent of a high school junior who will be applying to colleges next year, now is the time to take a close look at what you will be willing and able to pay toward your kid’s college education–and to make sure your kid understands it. You may never have told your kid about your family’s finances–now, you must do so, even if you’d rather not. Don’t be the subject of a thread next year when your kid says, “My parents told me I could apply to any college I wanted and they’d make it work, but now they’re saying I have to go to the relatively undesirable college that’s giving me a scholarship.”
So, look at some price calculators on college websites, get financial advice, think about whether your kid will have to have scholarships, what you feel comfortable borrowing (if anything), what you will expect your kid to contribute, whether you will expect your kid to pay back any of the money you spend on education, etc. And share the result with your kid. There should be no unpleasant surprises when acceptances come in next year–at least, there should be no surprising changes in your position.
In US News, Ryan Lane outlines a series of steps in planning for the talk. It’s important to set clear expectations, and he even suggests putting it in writing to instill a better understanding. Whatever else they do, parents should avoid the mistake of making a vague and uninformed promise that “we’ll find a way to pay” for college.
One way to begin the process is to run a few Net Price Calculators for some prospective colleges, including both private and public institutions. It can serve as a reality check in laying the groundwork for the big talk.