Every Dollar Saved for College Will Give You Options Later

Meredith Clement, MEFA's Managing Editor, provides helpful advice for families who have middle school students as they look forward and plan for college The more families know, the better prepared they’ll be for all the decisions they need to make during the student’s senior year of high school. If you enjoy the MEFA Podcast, please leave us a review.

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Penny Hauck: Welcome to the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority MEFA podcast. In this episode, MEFA will answer important and frequently asked questions specific to planning, saving, and paying for college. Today's featured expert is Meredith Barnhart, Director of Integrated Communications. Meredith joined in 2012, after gaining a decade of experience in finance and undergraduate financial aid at Boston University. As one of MEFA’s college financing experts, she provides knowledgeable and transparent guidance through several avenues while spearheading MEFA’s vast communication efforts to educate the families of Massachusetts on all aspects of college planning.
Meredith, thanks so much for being with us today and for sharing your knowledge about such an important topic for families. Why don't we get started? Great. How do families with children in middle school get started? How do they make college planning a priority?
Meredith Clement: One of the thing that families can do who have children in middle school is just to start saving. A lot of families haven't saved for college yet, and that's okay, but they can begin immediately.
So families can open a 529 account, which is a college savings account, and start putting money in right away. As families grow that money, they'll be better prepared when college costs come due when those students go to college. Another thing that families can do is to start looking at high school academics and think ahead to college.
So students can start thinking about what career they might be interested in, what major in college, and families together can research the high school classes that students should take in order to pursue that major or career. And then finally students can, with their parents, start researching colleges.
So learning about the different college options two year versus four year. Technical schools and certifications and start visiting those college campuses, maybe on a road trip or a family vacation, so that they're learning about the different opportunities available to them.
Penny Hauck: That's incredible. It sounds like I have a lot to learn myself. I have a middle schooler, so yeah. You've given me some homework for sure. What advice do you have for these families? So they can work college planning into their everyday routine.
Meredith Clement: That's a great question. One thing that families can do is just to begin talking about college. If parents went to college, they can start sharing about their college experience, how they decided, where they wanted to go, what they majored in, and what they did immediately after college.
When there are relatives coming to visit aunts and uncles, grandparents, if any of those people went to college, start the conversation where they can share their own college experience. And as families save, they'll be getting annual income, um, oftentimes monthly statements showing how much they've saved in each college savings account. Parents can share those statements with their children, show how much they've saved for college, and then also encourage their children to save as well. Some middle schoolers have already started working mowing lawns or babysitting.
So parents can encourage those students to take a portion of their money that they've earned and put it into their own college savings account.
Penny Hauck: Wow. I know that MEFA’s advice for families in middle school is to start planning. Now, can you explain why this is so important?
Meredith Clement: Definitely. College is such a significant investment for families, and it's also a significant change for everyone in the family when a student goes off to college.
And so there's a lot of decisions to be made throughout that process. And that's why it's helpful for families to start preparing for it. Even when their children are in middle school. So because of the significant investment, families can begin saving and really put money aside to help with that large college costs that will come as well, because there's so much to learn about the college admissions and financial aid process.
And because there are so many college options available, it's helpful for families, little by little to start learning all they can to be prepared for when it comes time to apply to college.
Penny Hauck: How does MEFA maintain relationships with families who are in this process of planning and saving for college?
Meredith Clement: We love to stay connected to families every step of the way.
And one of the things we do to stay connected to the families that we serve in Massachusetts is to send them emails. And we're not emailing families too frequently, maybe once or twice a month. But the information in that email is catered to the ages of the children in that family. So MEFA is anticipating the information that that family will need based on how old their children are.
So families that have younger children, we're sending them great information about how to save and savings tips, families, and school. They're learning again about savings, but really how to start preparing for high school academics and the college application process, and then families that have children in the later high school years are going to get a lot of great details about admissions and financial aid.
What's great about these emails is they're short. They can be read in about 30 seconds, but they include great nuggets of information that can help families every step of the way. We also in Massachusetts travel across the Commonwealth, talking to families in person at seminars. And that's a great way to maintain that face-to-face relationship we're getting in front of parents and a high school auditorium or cafeteria giving them the information they need.
Right. But then talking to them one-on-one after those seminars, we have webinars that, well, that allows us to connect with families where we're giving them information. But at the end of every webinar, we have a question and answer session where families can ask as personal of a question as they are comfortable doing in a public forum.
And we're able to answer those. So there's a lot of ways that throughout this process remaining that relationship as well. We have a great team here at MEFA answering emails and phone calls. So families can connect with us anytime. If they have a specific question or a situation they'd like to talk about.
Penny Hauck: And Meredith, what are some common misconceptions about the college planning and saving process that you encounter when you're talking to families in middle school?
Meredith Clement: Some families believe if they haven't started saving, it's not even worth trying because they see the cost of a college and they believe that they can't save that whole amount. So why should they even dedicate any of their money toward it? And we try to encourage families always to save every dollar that a family saves will go toward college costs.
It will open up opportunities for that student and it could potentially save that family from having to borrow and repay that money later with interest. Families also believe that saving for college will hurt them in the financial aid process. So they do think if they have any type of college savings account, they won't receive financial aid.
And actually that's untrue the financial aid equation. Calculation really benefits those families who have saved because it only assumes about. 5% of their savings will go to pay for college costs. So those families that have saved aren't really significantly hurt in the financial aid process and they're opening doors for their children by giving them the opportunities available.
Penny Hauck: So it sounds like if you're saving there, you just have more options available in the future for paying for college, really. And like you said, the more you save the money won’t have to borrow later on.
Meredith Clement: Exactly. Exactly. So every dollar in that college savings account can help pay for books for personal expenses for that tuition, the fees, everything, so that students won't have to borrow and they won't be scurrying to figure out how to pay that college bill when it comes due.
Penny Hauck: And Meredith, how easy is it to, I guess, connect with MEFA or become a part of the community? Do you go to me for a website? How do I do that?
Meredith Clement: That's a great question. It is as simple as going to our website mefa.org and right on that website on the very first page, families can sign up for our email service.
So they simply put in their name and email and the ages of their children, and right away, they'll start getting our great content. Also on our website, families can go right to the events page where they can click on a certain topic, whether they're interested in college savings or admissions or financial aid, they'll find those seminars that are in the community that are catered to really the topic that they're interested in.
We have webinars as well, all over the website that are posted and our content is in great sections so that families can really put in the age of their child and then find out the information just that they need for that time.
Penny Hauck: That concludes this MEFA podcast episode. We think today's expert Meredith Barnhart. To get more information on how to plan, save or pay for college. Visit mefa.org, email info@mefa.org, or call a MEFA expert directly between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM. Eastern standard time. MEFA experts are here to answer your questions, one-on-one, invite you to upcoming events or seminars, or steer you to an online webinar, packed with the information you need.

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