A College Decision Guide for Your Child

By Brett Carolan, CFP® | Oct 02, 2023 |
The Complete Guide to 529 Plans

Talk to your kids about their college selection, associated costs, and their desired field of study. A college decision guide shapes the conversation. 

Recent studies suggest that the average cost of a college education in the United States is around $58,464 per year, including associated costs like transportation, learning materials, and accommodations.

That said, if you would like your child to benefit from a well-rounded college experience, begin your preparations early and implement a solid savings plan like a 529. Planning ahead will offer your college-bound child a wealth of choices and opportunities when the time comes.

However, without sitting down and having a constructive discussion with your son or daughter, outlining goals, desires, expectations, realities, and of course, budgets, chances are that they will not make informed, adult decisions regarding their college education.

To help you help your child make the best choices for their future, we’ve curated a college funding discussion plan so you can have that all-important talk before making a firm commitment.

Put college into context

It’s time to delve into the specifics of your child’s college and course selections, exploring the what, why, how, and where aspects. To assist in this process, consider the following questions that can help guide your child:

  1. What field of study are you interested in, and what motivates that interest?
  2. Can you envision yourself pursuing a career related to this field, and what is the potential for earning in that profession?
  3. Why do you have a preference for a particular location to pursue your studies?
  4. What makes a specific educational institution the best choice for you?

Encouraging your child to reflect on these questions and organize their thoughts will enable them to delve deeper into their core motivations and grasp the significance of what could be one of the most crucial decisions in their life thus far.

Make a budget

Once you and your child have established clear decisions regarding their college education, it’s time to address financial considerations. Initiate a conversation about the designated budget you’ve established for their college education and provide a concise overview of the additional annual expenses beyond tuition fees.

To help you get the most from your 529 savings plan and set your budgets wisely, here are five mistakes you should avoid.

Compare costs

Now that you’ve gained momentum and started to cover costs, you’ll be able to dig deeper into tuition fees and room and board expenses, as well as the shortlist of colleges your child wishes to attend.

Doing so will give everyone an accurate gauge of how much each institution charges and, therefore, how feasible a choice each would be.

This official college tuition comparison tool will help you collect all of the information you need to get the job done.

Align a college decision guide with reality

By now you will have your college decision guide, the tuition costs of each institution, and a breakdown of your allocated budgets. Now comes the revealing part: a magnified look at the gap between your budgets and the cost of each college choice.

Alongside fees, researching the cost of accommodations both on campus and in the surrounding area, in addition to fuel (if applicable), groceries, possible field trips and excursions, and any other relevant expenses you can think of will give you an excellent indication of how far your budget will stretch.

You should do this, with your child, for each prospective college, and note each calculation in a budgeting tool or spreadsheet for reference.

If you don’t quite have enough to cover your child’s college education, read our crash course on filling out college aid paperwork.

The Complete Guide to 529 Plans

Pay off student loan debt

After considering all the preceding discussions and calculations, it’s time to pose these pivotal questions to your child:

  1. Given everything we’ve covered, are you content with your choices and the motivations behind them?
  2. Does the career you’re aiming for align with the kind of life you envision for yourself?
  3. Will you be able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle while repaying your student loan(s)?

Revisiting the initial questions from the beginning of your conversation, armed with a deeper level of knowledge and vision, empowers your college-bound child to make more informed and mature decisions grounded in facts, thoughtful consideration, and a heightened awareness of the decision’s significance.

Choosing a college is a weighty matter not to be taken lightly. A comprehensive college decision guide equips you with the information to make the right choices. By engaging in a discussion about college funding, you assist your child in developing the autonomy and insight needed for optimal decision-making, simultaneously minimizing the risk of squandering effort and resources

Read other posts in our 529 College Savings series:

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