My Planning for College Checklist
Every year around this time, in the summer months, my husband and I think ahead to the years our kids will be headed to college. We're often prompted to talk about this because of the many high school graduations we know are being celebrated around town. While our kids' college years seem far off, we are now feeling the window of time before college getting shorter and shorter as the years go by. And yet, if you asked me today the year my first child will start college, I would look at you with a blank stare, and then pick up my fingers and start counting. I don't know it off the top of my head. And it's important to know the answer.
Planning for college is a goal of our family, and we want to make sure we're preparing ourselves and our children for this important step in life. I've come up with a checklist that keeps our family focused on the college journey ahead. Review it below to see if it can help your family as you plan for those future college years.
- Know the number of years until each of your children starts college. Knowing the dates my kids will begin college is important because it tells me how robust my college savings account is – meaning, am I pacing to save a good percentage of the college bill? It's not easy to figure that out, but MEFA does have a helpful calculator that can give you an idea of the projected cost of college in any future year. Once you understand that number, you can figure out how close you are to your college savings goal. I have already come to realize that saving the full amount of college costs is just not possible. But I can still feel good about saving, knowing that our college savings accounts will make a big difference in the future when it comes time to pay those college bills. If you need some help getting started saving for college, MEFA has a lot of helpful information here.
- Talk about college — a lot. The topic of college surfaces organically in our house during various times. Whether it's when our kids see the logo of my alma mater on my sweatpants or pick up the mail and look through an alumni magazine, the questions begin. "How did you like college, Mama? Did you live there? I'm not going to live anywhere but here with you, Mama!" While I know this last comment may not be how they will feel in a few short years as my younger children hit middle school age, I'll take this answer now. Our kids will think about location, size, majors, meal plans, sports, and clubs, among other things. There will be so much to talk about when the time comes. Sharing our college experiences with our kids now can help them start thinking about the many aspects that go into selecting a school. Of course, the college's cost will also play a role in the selection process, but having a solid college savings plan can give your child flexibility to explore many different options.
- Stress that college is an honor and an investment. Growing up with parents who did not attend college, I really appreciate the fact that college was and is an incredible opportunity. There was not a question in my mind or my parents' minds that I would attend college someday. Getting a good education was always at the forefront of my mind. From elementary school, to middle school, to high school, to college, and then to graduate school, I was hungry to learn day in and day out. Was it the fact that my parents did not attend college that made me so eager? Probably so. As a first-generation college student, the importance of college is still very real to me. I have paid back my student loans and am now working to save for college for my own kids. I remind them that college is an investment and an honor to attend. Telling my kids that we are saving for their college education helps them realize that we are already investing not only in their education, but in them.
As your family works together to plan for college, know that there are plenty of resources to help you. MEFA's website, mefa.org, provides key information on making a savings plan, understanding high school academics, navigating college admissions, and applying for financial aid. Bookmark it and return to the site often. Though those college years may seem far off, they'll be here before you know it.