Family Budget Fridays: Affording College – Part 1

Family Budget Fridays: Affording College – Part 1

You can almost hear Alice Cooper wailing in the background around this time every year: “School’s out for summer!”

For many American teenagers graduating as high school seniors, this time period is accompanied with excitement, anticipation and the thought of the entire world floating toward the grasp of their fingertips. Such an accomplishment serves as an introduction to another life chapter, and a new world of opportunity for the individual who is willing to get out of their comfort zone and go after it. The same can be said of a formal education. Regardless of financial standing, if college lies on a desired life path, it’s an achievable goal.
For parents of graduating seniors, this time period comes with the same excitement, a swelling of pride and for many who are uncertain about how to tackle the beast that is a college education, growing fears. However, like the graduating student, if sending a child to college lies on a desired life path, it is a goal that is achievable.

How to Afford College – A Few Thoughts on Approaching College Life

Regardless of where you are in the planning process, it’s not too late to make a move. There is always an opportunity to move forward with formal education.

Even if you’ve just watched one of your children walk across a stage to be awarded a high school diploma, and yet you’ve never looked into how you’ll help pay for college–it’s not too late. Let’s cut to the chase and consider a few options.

If it’s early in the game, you can start putting money away into a college fund. This is the easiest and most stress-free option to begin saving for college. Instead of lavish holiday gifts and overspending on birthdays, ask family and friends to contribute to your child’s future and potential college education.

This is also the right time to introduce your children to the word “scholarship.” Help educate them on the importance of developing a wonderful work-ethic in grade school and high school, and it may translate to coming out of college debt free, with more life opportunities at their fingertips.

If it’s late in the game, and your student is choosing a school to attend, there is one thing that will greatly help the family dynamic: Enrolling in a school that is affordable. I’m of the mind that an education is measured by what you put into it, rather than “get out of it.” From the effort put into education, I believe more life opportunity, personal contacts and connections and social-educational opportunities will fill the proverbial cup of formal education and overflow it.

While being married to the idea of an Ivy League education may be the dream, or the ideal college option, it shouldn’t dictate the thought that great college educations aren’t also found at other institutions of higher learning. As a parent, however, I understand the desire to help a child realize a dream. There may be need for compromise, and deep discussion and negotiation. Weigh the options, and consider what is best for the overall family dynamic.

A former student, there is one thing I wish I would have done more of–work through college. Many students are afraid that they won’t have time to balance their studies, a job and still take the time necessary for a decent social standing; however, I can confidently attest to the fact that it’s possible. Some of the most dedicated students, and most sociable people I knew in school worked part and full-time throughout their degree programs and came away with no regrets, and little student loan debt.

The key to moving in the right direction: Parents and the potential college student(s) need to come to an understanding that they are working on a team. The process of going to college is something that they need to do together. For many families this may be the introduction to a new family dynamic: Parents, partners and educational peers. An open dialog will greatly benefit all parties involved.

In Part 2 of this Family Budget Friday feature, I’ll offer a few great resources and opportunities available for scoring money for school, both through scholarship as well as financial aid. I’ll also delve into the opportunities offered through online education in the 21st century.

(Image via: eHow)