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By Stephen Sellner | Citizens Bank Staff
Nervous about your first day of high school?
Well, here’s a news flash: your parents are already envisioning your last day of high school.
To them, you’re already trying on your graduation gown and telling your best friend’s grandparents where you’re going to college in the fall. That college bill — the thing your parents have been anticipating for all these years — is about to shift from a problem to tackle another day to one that needs addressing today.
In case you didn’t know, it’s expensive. (In other news, the sun is hot.) Your parents have probably been saving for years to help pay for college, maybe even since the day you were born!
But, what’s your role in all of this? Here are four ways you can help your parents save for college:
A critical part of paying for college is knowing its annual price tag. Then you and your parents can better plan for this final phase of saving for college.
So, how can you help? Start to do some general research on schools you might be interested in. You don’t have to have your dream school or major etched in stone just yet. Maybe you have a few schools you’re mildly interested in. Or maybe you have no idea which schools you want to eventually apply to, but know you want to stay close to home.
Take those schools and research the price of each one. College Scorecard is an excellent resource for this research. Not only can you compare the cost of each school on your list, but you can find other valuable data on each school, like:
Providing this information to your parents will not only make it easier for planning, but they’ll appreciate you wanting to be a part of the process.
Having “The Talk” about college savings will help both you and your parents.
By doing your research, you’ve proved to your parents that you’re serious about going to college and making the price work for everyone. Now, it’s time to have an open and honest discussion about how much they can afford to pay.
This can be an emotional conversation for your parents to have. Think of it from their perspective: They want to help you attend your dream college, but they might not have enough saved to reasonably afford it. That would mean either they or you would have to take out a student loan to make that dream come true.
But this conversation is so important to have, for a couple of reasons. First, it’ll help you realize your college price range. Second, it gives you advanced notice on what sort of scholarships or other money will be needed to help make up any shortage in college savings.
Let’s say you have your heart set on going to a private school that costs $40,000 per year. During “The Talk,” you learn that your parents can afford to pay $15,000 per year. That leaves a $25,000-per-year difference to make up.
By having this information, you can research what qualifications you need to meet to be eligible for merit-based scholarships. Maybe the college offers $15,000 per year in merit-based funding if you score at least a 1350 on your SATs. If going to this private school is your dream, you can shoot for that score when you take your SATs as a junior.
If you didn’t have this conversation with your parents, you might have taken the SATs as a junior, gotten a 1280, and felt that was good enough and not taken it again. But since you have all this information at your disposal, you can chase the 1350 score to make your dream school a reality.
Doing well in school is the most clear-cut way to help your parents pay for college. It might seem like college applications are way down the road, but the grades you get as a freshman go on your transcript, which will be part of your college applications one day.
Now, this isn’t meant to scare you. It’s not an excuse to demand an extra point on your essay to change your grade from an 89 to a 90. Think of it as a gentle reminder that colleges aren’t only looking at your junior-year grades. They’re looking at the full transcript.
It might seem like a lifetime away, but how you do in your freshmen classes will impact your college applications one day.
As you probably know, colleges are looking at more than grades and SAT scores when they decide who to accept. They want well-rounded students.
What does that mean for you? Sign up for extracurricular activities! Run track. Join Model United Nations. Become a reading tutor for elementary school students.
Getting into college is very competitive these days; there are lots of kids out there with straight As. Your extracurriculars could be a way to distinguish yourself from the pack!
You might look at the cost of college and think any contribution you offer won’t make a dent. The truth is, every little bit does add up! Maybe you hand off all your birthday money to your parents to add to your college fund. Or if you’ve started working, maybe you can contribute whatever money you don’t spend from your paycheck.
The truth is, over four years, these seemingly inconsequential contributions will add up.
Also, keep your eyes and ears open for potential scholarships. While you won’t be applying for a few years, you’ll be better off knowing now that your church offers a $1,000 scholarship, or the local park and recreation office gives out two $500 scholarships each year.
Hopefully by the time you apply for these scholarships, the people distributing them will know your face and anticipate your application.
While college will truly be here before you know it, don’t lose sight of the present. Yes, preparing yourself for college is important, but you’re still a freshman. Soak up this big stage of your life and start making the memories that you and your friends will reminisce over at your 10-year high school reunion.
Just along the way, see if you can tackle some of these college prep tasks so by the time junior year rolls around, you’re ready to go.
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