Adulting Transition

How to Talk to Your Parents about Paying For College

August 11, 2022

If you’re considering your next step after high school and are leaning towards higher education, you may want to consider the cost. Whether you’re going to a traditional four-year school, pursuing an associate’s degree at a local community college, or headed off to a vocational school, you’ll need to figure out how to fund your degree.

Having an honest discussion with your parents about how you’ll pay for college is one of the most critical steps before making any major decisions. Here are some of our best tips for getting this conversation started.

Have The Conversation Early

High school will likely fly by, so make sure you communicate your future plans to your parents and loved ones along the way. You may want to sit down with your parents to discuss their expectations for the coming years versus yours. Don’t wait until the night before graduation to make a plan; start as early as possible. Communicate your goals and what level of education you need to achieve them. You also should determine what aspects of a college — from degrees offered to the city the campus is located in — are most important to you before applying.

A topic of conversation that is essential surrounds what kind of schools you can reasonably afford. For many, this is a discussion of private versus public schools, as public schools tend to provide more financial aid and have lower tuition. However, suppose you’re striving for a career that requires post-graduate education, like a master’s or doctoral degree. In that case, you may want to do your undergraduate at a more affordable college to not accrue unmanageable debt.

You also should discuss what level of contribution your parents are willing to make towards your schooling. For example, many parents will pay half the cost of college and leave the rest to you. On the other hand, others may graciously offer to cover the entirety of your tuition, housing, food costs, and more.

Though some families have the capacity and financial stability to do this, you should never assume that outcome until a conversation surrounding finances occurs. Some parents are dead set on not contributing a dime, so finding that out sooner rather than later will put you in a better position to pay tuition yourself. If college is entirely up to you financially, it’s time to start researching and developing a plan of attack.

Come With Strategies

Make sure to remain optimistic and confident during this discussion. Coming into it with some research about specific programs or job placement ratings within certain colleges may prove your dedication, maturity, and awareness about this as an investment.

If you’re looking for ways to make a dent in your college fees, consider exploring work-study opportunities, off-campus jobs, paid internships, scholarships, or resident assistant (RA) programs. Laying out how these positions and opportunities can aid you while in college may make for a less stressful decision process.

You may also want to discuss how your time on breaks or during the summers between your college years will contribute to your savings. For example, dedicating yourself to a summer of working or interning can be a great way to chip away at tuition costs and manage expenses, especially as you won’t be studying and doing homework simultaneously. Your parents may also have beneficial advice about budgeting that you can utilize when you go off on your own and have to manage more day-to-day expenses.

Discuss Financial Aid

The school that you choose to attend will never hinder your ability to receive financial aid. Once you’ve filled out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), you’ll have a better idea of how much financial assistance you qualify for. Your colleges will also use this information to determine whether you are eligible for things like student loans, federal grants, and work-study jobs. You should fill out this application annually to get the most aid possible and be supported if your need-based qualifications change.

Talk to your parents about the type of loans they believe you should take out. They may be more comfortable taking one out for you than having loans in your name. Typically, students will utilize federal or private student loans to pay for their tuition and overall expenses in college. However, if your parents want to explore other options, they could consider an equity loan that would provide money in one lump sum and has significantly lower interest rates.

Federal student loans are typically a good starting point, as they may come with student loan forgiveness or income-driven repayment plans. There is always the option to supplement this aid with private loans from banks or online lenders if you’ve maxed out federal loans too!

Talk About Every Expense

Ask your parents if they have anything set aside for your college fund, like a 529 account. Many parents start an investment account like this for education expenses, which can be a nice starting point when paying for college. You’ll want to ensure you discuss every little cost that can go unnoticed when budgeting, like students participating in Greek life or studying abroad. You may forget to factor in parking expenses, a new computer, school supplies, or emergency funds.

It may be beneficial to invest in tuition insurance, especially if you battle mental or chronic illnesses that could result in your withdrawal from college. Factor in housing costs in addition to tuition, and make sure to include renters insurance to protect you from theft, fire, vandalism, and more.

Though college is a hefty expense, it’s an investment into your future and an experience like no other. Discussing the various ways you can tackle tuition payments and campus costs with your parents will surely start you off on the right foot and ease the stress of your college experience.

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