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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. We know saving for college can feel overwhelming. You're likely wondering, "how much should I be saving for college?" and "am I saving enough?" We're here to help plan for college with a timeline that can help keep you on track. 

Birth - PreK

It’s never too early to get started saving and planning for college. The longer you have to contribute to a college savings account, the more opportunity you have to build compound interest. It can be difficult to prioritize savings goals when you’re also trying to save for retirement, or for a large purchase like a home. A financial advisor can help you prioritize your goals and build a plan to keep you on track. 


As you’re adjusting to your little one starting kindergarten, take the opportunity tore-assess how much you’re saving for college. If you’re 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 courses 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’re 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 College Level Examination Program (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 interests while balancing the cost of attendance. and other online resources can help with the college planning process.

Junior Year

If you haven’t started college visits, you should hit the road. Make sure to budget for those travel 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

College 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 your 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’ll 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 help jump start their credit rating. 

Learn more and compare the benefits of our college savings options, including 529 plans, Roth IRAs and Uniform gifts/Transfers to minors act (UGMA/UTMA), then talk with a COUNTRY Trust Bank Financial Advisor about the best way you can start saving for college. 


Updated 5-15-23

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The information contained here is general and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Laws of a particular state and your particular situation may significantly affect the general information presented here. The availability of the tax or other benefits mentioned here may be conditioned on meeting certain requirements. State tax deductions mentioned here may only be available if you invest in a 529 plan offered by the state in which you reside. COUNTRY Financial and our representatives cannot give tax or legal advice. You should consult your attorney or tax advisor regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

529 College Savings Plans offered by each state differ in options and benefits. The plan for you depends on your specific objectives and circumstances. Please consider each plan's investment options, fees and state tax implications.

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