Does today’s chore list read, “Laundry, optometrist appointment, college savings”? No? Maybe it should be. As you finish washing sippy cups or kissing boo-boo’s, you probably aren’t thinking about getting your little one into college someday. But the fact is that the people who are best equipped to pay for their children’s educations are those who had the topic on their minds long before even pre-K.
This is not meant to throw you into a panic just because you don’t have a pack of high-yielding CD’s piling up the green for an Ivy League degree. But there are some easy, helpful things you can do right now to make the tuition, room, and board a lot more affordable when that time rolls around.
Take Care Of Your Credit
There are two basic types of people who struggle to get a loan at an affordable rate: Those with no credit, and those with bad credit. Rest assured that the son or daughter you have just watched graduating from high school is likely to have no credit. No job history, no loan history, no payment history. Even if your kid is a saver and has money-smart ideas, he or she is an unknown. And banks dislike the unknown.
So the financial needs of your children fall on you even as they legally become adults. If you are in the no-credit category, or worse yet, the bad-credit group, you are ill-equipped to take on that responsibility for them. This includes the student loans that you’re likely to co-sign.
Take care of your credit NOW. Be responsible, be smart, be discerning. The lessons you learn about your own credit should be passed along to your children. If you need to, sit down with them and look over a guide to credit scores so that when the time is right, they will have the necessary education to be financially independent and responsible.
Don’t Neglect Good Grades
There is a lot to be said for a good, well-rounded elementary and high school experience. It’s true that college admissions personnel love to see applicants who have done charity work, traveled the world, and played sports. But facts are facts, and one is inescapable: Good grades matter.
And their importance is beyond admission. It’s not just easier to get into college when you have good grades, it’s also easier to pay for it. Many states have programs that guarantee you a certain amount of money towards college for each year of good grades you achieve in high school. Informing your kids about that as they hit 9th grade will set them on a track of earning college money early. These programs are especially helpful because they send statements to students each year to advise them of their progress toward these financial benefits. And anything that turns grades into dollar signs makes sense for kids!
Help Them Get Good Test Scores
We return to the evolving idea of what’s important in admissions. Like grades, standardized test scores are viewed as disproportionately important for getting into college. That debate will rage on, but the impact of ACT results on scholarships and financial aid is undeniable.
The important thing is, once again, to start early. Register your child for the test as a freshman or sophomore in high school. Emphasize your expectations that he or she do well, but note that you’re also just helping him or her get familiar with the test for those later dates when the score will matter. Understanding the format, content, and time constraints can go a long way toward improving scores, because those junior and senior year examinations will be much less stressful, allowing your student to concentrate on getting correct answers and not on timing or bubble marks.
The message here is that you aren’t raising a child, you’re building an adult. Taking that long view will help not just with college expenses but with everything in the life of your child–er, future adult.