March 4, 2024

If you have one or more children in high school, you can start to feel the pressure of planning for college admissions. This is what my husband and I are doing for our daughter. Believe me, this process can be intimidating.

Zaneilia Harris Harris and Harris
Zaneilia Harris is a Certified Financial Planner and President of Harris & Harris Wealth Management Group.

Kevin Allen

The problem that plagues many parents is cost. How do we pay?When kids are young, I encourage parents to put money in their state 529 Savings Plan If they are considering out-of-state universities. Our state of Maryland offers a state tax credit, and I encourage others to explore if their state does the same. If parents want to lock in in-state tuition, then I recommend the prepaid college option.

As financial planners, we have to help parents stay on top of college savings and money while helping them plan for retirement. This is my idea.

canvas your choice
When children enter high school, parents must discuss college planning with them. My husband and I have been doing this with our daughter for a while. I believe in talking to her about money and the impact of her decisions. Discussing the budget is important. For example, what can your family afford? Explain to your child how much you are willing to contribute to their college education each year.

Some parents I’ve met see an obligation to fully fund their child’s college education as a family value and therefore don’t want to talk about money with their kids. However, parameters may need to be worked out due to competing financial family goals.

If a family sets financial boundaries for college spending, I encourage parents to start evaluating scholarships, especially if their children know what subjects they want to major in.

Some scholarships are available to students as early as eighth grade.Freshman year is a good time to go to college websites and check out those institutions Expected Family Contribution Calculator. This helps gauge what your family can expect to pay for colleges your child may be interested in.

educate yourself
One of the most powerful things I have gained from social media is access to information and research. Want to learn more about the college admissions process? Use Facebook groups to learn from other parents who have gone through yours. You can get information about a specific university, FAFSA, financial aid, merit awards, and school culture. I recommend listening to financial aid presentations offered by local colleges for tips and insights you can use no matter which college your child attends.

Many high school students are taking dual enrollment classes at community colleges, in part to save money.However, according to a recent report by the Associated Press article, students may end up paying more and extending their tenure because all of their community college credits may not transfer. The resulting frustration leads students to drop out before completing their four-year degree.

Prepare your students and yourself
The process of minimizing college costs can be stressful. One parent told me it’s like having a second job, which is why some parents are willing to pay for college counselors, whose average cost starts at $850 and can go as high as $10,000.

Some parents may consider hiring a college counselor to help take the stress out of the college admissions process. However, when hiring a consultant, be clear about what you want and state your expectations. Some help your students with college searches, essay writing, submitting applications, and keeping your students organized and focused. Others may contribute to scholarships. More and more colleges and universities are choosing the test. But taking the SAT or ACT and doing well may open the door to merit scholarships.

New high school students should learn about their counselors and the services they offer. Relationships with teachers are also important, especially those teachers your students like and who can provide college recommendations.

Preparing for college is not the same as it was more than 30 years ago—when I was a high school student handling the admissions process alone. Today, it has become cumbersome, confusing and downright frustrating – if not overwhelming. I learned that it’s okay to not know, to ask questions, and to ask for help. We tell our customers this all the time. It’s okay to take our own advice.