Paying for College

Kitchen Table Conversations

For the past five years, during the month of April, I crisscross Massachusetts attending MEFA’s popular spring program, After the Acceptance, where we help families figure out the next steps in paying for college. While meeting with college-bound families, I am continually surprised at how many have never had a family conversation about how they will meet college costs. In reality, I have witnessed their first conversation right there in the auditorium of the local high school!

I really shouldn’t be surprised. Just last week, MEFA and Fidelity released the results of our 8th annual College Savings Indicator Study. There is a lot of very interesting and good data in the study, but one data point that was particularly telling to me is that, although many families expect their children to contribute toward their college expenses, only 50% of parents with children ages 13 and older have talked with their children about how their family will pay for college.

[caption id="attachment_1658" align="aligncenter" width="300"]college conversations Pictured is one family who makes conversations about college a priority - even with the grandparents![/caption]

As we head into a new school year, with new goals being set by parents and students alike, what better time than now to have the “kitchen table conversation” about how your family will meet college costs. As parents, it is easy to focus solely on academic goals when thinking about college, but it is just as important to focus on the financial planning goals that need to take place to make the college dream a reality. Whether your child is in elementary school or high school, here are some key times to introduce these conversations at your kitchen table.

Back to school time: As your child prepares to return to the classroom, connect your back-to-school conversations to questions about your child’s educational and career goals. Share your own path and how you got there. And then discuss how as a family you will work together to achieve your child’s aspirations.

Birthdays or other holidays: On birthdays and holidays, children often receive small monetary gifts as a token of love. Let your child know that you are putting some (or all) of this money aside for college and why. Hearing that a specific sum of money has been given and will now be allocated for college helps your child understand the financial significance of college costs.

Education Milestones: Every education milestone that eventually leads to high school graduation is a time to talk about the future and college. Graduation from preschool, elementary and middle school are all great times to recap successes and think about the future.  

Children often see themselves in the future but are not exactly sure how they’ll get there. Plan it out. Sketch the path and talk about areas to consider. And discuss as a family how you plan to meet college costs.