Preparing for College: A Timeline for Parents

by Scott Jensen, CFP®, ChFC®, CLU®, RICP®, AFFP®, Manager, Financial Planning Support

If you’re like most parents, you have watched your children grow up in what seems like an instant. One day you’re leading them hesitantly into their kindergarten classroom, and the next, you’re packing the car for college. While we can’t slow down time, we can offer some steps and a timeline to help you navigate that journey.

Kindergarten As you are adjusting to your little one starting kindergarten, take the opportunity to start preparing for college. If you are no longer paying for full-time daycare or childcare costs, shift some (or all) of that money to college savings. Also, when birthdays and holidays roll around, consider directing cash gifts from grandparents and other family members to college savings.
Junior High Encourage your kids to get involved in sports, charities and clubs that match their interests. Not only will it enhance their education, but those activities will look great on college applications.
8th Grade Take good notes during high school orientation. Connect with the guidance counselor to make sure your child schedules the course they need to meet college admission requirements.
Freshman Year

Start thinking about financial aid and talk with your child about college costs. Be honest about how much you are planning to contribute to college costs and discuss a plan for after high school. Consider all options including 4-year schools, community college, trade school and the military. 

Start looking ahead for financial aid options. Review the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and meet with your tax preparer to see what aid you could receive.

Sophomore Year

Make sure your child is keeping track of academic, athletic and extracurricular activities and any community service to include in their scholarship and college applications.

Have them meet with their guidance counselor to discuss plans and get tips for scholarships. Consider opportunities for AP and CLEP options to get credit for intro-level college courses at a fraction of the cost.

Start considering college options. Look for schools with programs that meet your child’s interest while balancing the cost of attendance. CollegeBoard.org and other online resources can help with that process.

Junior Year

If you haven’t started college visits, you should hit the road. Make sure to budget for those travelling expenses. Consider planning your vacation around potential college locations. 

If your teen hasn’t been working to make college money, strongly encourage a summer job. Not only can it help with college expenses, but it will also look good on the college applications. Work with your teen to create a budget that includes savings and look at the status of your college fund to make sure it is on track.

Senior Year

Application time! Apply early since many schools have “early decision” programs. Complete your FAFSA and make sure you are following all current rules to maximize your opportunity for aid.

Start stocking up on college must-haves. If you child needs new technology, consider those for birthday or holiday gifts, and have your relatives gift some of those dorm needs.

Research and have your child apply for scholarships. See if your employer offers scholarships, check local organizations and scholarship sites. 

Talk about budgeting and managing expenses. Make sure your child will have access to no-fee ATMs on or near campus and consider helping them secure a low-limit credit card. You will likely need to co-sign for the credit card, so watch your child’s spending habits until they get used to these financial guardrails. Building these financial habits will serve them well and jump start their credit rating. 

Use these tips to help keep you on track as you and your children prepare for life beyond high school.

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COUNTRY Financial® is the marketing name for the COUNTRY Financial family of affiliated companies (collectively, COUNTRY), which include COUNTRY Life Insurance Company®, COUNTRY Mutual Insurance Company®, and their respective subsidiaries, located in Bloomington, Illinois.