Financial Resource Center


Talking to Your Kids about Paying for College

by Joel Chrisler / August 2nd, 2020

As students near the midpoint of high school, so begins their college search. This is also the time for parents to begin talking to their child about how the family will pay for college.

The Parent’s Role

If possible, it’s best to start the discussion with your child when they are in their first years of high school. Ask your child about their interests and goals. Do they want to go to a technical college or a university? Maybe they haven’t given it serious thought, but it’s still a great time to get the conversation started. It may also encourage them to be more proactive. From there, you can begin to share your thoughts on financing. When it’s time to fill out the FAFSA, make it something you do together. This allows you to share your current financial situation with your child.

It’s crucial to be brutally honest about what your role will be. Do you have a 529 Savings Plan? A college fund? Or maybe nothing saved at all? Whatever the situation, it is best to be upfront and honest. If your child asks why you can’t contribute more, be prepared to share with them the reality of your situation. It may be uncomfortable, but the more truthful you can be, the better your child will understand. They may be more agreeable about taking a part-time job while they’re in high school knowing the job will help fund their college education.

The Child’s Role

There are times when you’ll need to take the lead. Parents may be uncomfortable because they can’t contribute much, if anything. As a student, how do you begin the conversation? Next Gen Personal Finance, an organization that provides outstanding personal finance information for teachers, has activities that can help kids break the ice with their parents. There’s a great activity that provides students with some pre-discussion strategies, such as when to introduce the conversation and how to discuss several of the important issues. It then follows up with a reflection activity to help students set a plan in place.

This process doesn’t have to be feared or avoided. Being honest and approaching it together will be one of the most important things you can do as a family.

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