Deciding which college to attend is technically up to your child, but if financing his or her education is a family endeavor you’ll have a pretty big say in the matter. Some parents have been planning and saving for college since their kids were infants; others—often those who didn’t attend college themselves—have no clue where to begin.
Tuition and fees continue to climb steadily, which is undoubtedly discouraging, but a college education has nearly become an entry level job prerequisite in today’s market. Wherever you fall on the college planning spectrum, it’s important to be involved in the process. Here are eight things to think about:
1. Education is vital to your child’s success. Going to college is expensive, especially when you factor in room and board, textbooks, meals, and everything else associated with those “best years of your life.” If you’re wondering whether or not it’s even worth it in this day and age, consider this—according to a study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce, over the course of their lifetimes, people with bachelor’s degrees earn 74% more than those with just a high school diploma. Those with more advanced degrees generally have even higher lifetime earnings.
2. The type of degree your child earns is becoming more and more important. Picking a future career based only on salary potential is not the wisest decision in the world, but be sure to point out that choice of major will most likely play a very big role in their earnings potential. Not everyone wants to or has what it takes to become an engineer, but majoring in history or art may lead to a job in retail. Kiplinger reports that a few of the worst college majors include:
3. There are different types of colleges, too! There are dozens if not hundreds of college majors, and there are different types of schools, too. Do you know the differences between a research university and a liberal arts college? How about between a community college and a trade school? Public state universities are different from private universities, some of which are non-profit and some of which are for-profit. Whew!
4. Do your homework. That said, schedule an appointment with your child’s guidance counselor or search for colleges and universities together right here on StateUniversity.com as your preliminary research. Find out if a school is public or private and whether it is nationally or regionally accredited. Once the time has arrived to get serious about selecting a college, create a list of questions that should be answered by college admissions representatives. Here are just a few to get you started:
5. Talk to each other! Communication is a big key to relationship success. Many tweens and teens would rather text and hang out with their friends than talk to their parents about school and the future, so make an effort to bring up education at least once or twice per week. Your conversations will vary depending on your child’s age and level in school, but take the time to ask and answer questions.
6. Find out what is required and offer encouragement. Stay involved in your child’s life and their college application process. Is there anything special that they need to do? Standardized tests? College entrance exams? Volunteer work or community service hours? Offer encouragement to help him or her get everything done on time, but don’t take over.
7. Resist the urge to help too much. Parental involvement is a big plus, but don’t take over completely. Visit schools and take campus tours, but let your child speak for himself. Attend college fairs together, but don’t jump in and brag about your kid’s accomplishments. According to TIME Health and Family, helicopter parents—parents those who constantly “hover,” just as the name implies—send a message to their children that they’re not competent, and the kids often wind up unable to solve their own problems.
8. Don’t go broke to help pay for college. CNBC reports that over 70% of surveyed parents with teenagers would dip into their retirement savings to pay for college. Some parents even wind up draining their savings accounts completely to help their kids pay for college. Financial experts advise against this habit. Not only will the funds count as taxable income, there will be less money come retirement time.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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