Preparing for College: A Timeline for Parents

by Joe Buhrmann, Manager, Financial Planning Support at COUNTRY Financial

If you’re like most parents, your children have grown up in what seems like an instant. One day you’re leading them hand-in-hand to kindergarten, and the next, you’re packing the car for a college education. There are many steps and road markers along the way.   Try our timeline for staying on track to reach your post-high school goals. 

Kindergarten As your little one heads off to school, it can be a good reminder to start saving for college expenses.  Consider using cash gifts from grandparents and family members for college. 
Junior High Get involved!  Extracurricular activities are an important and fun part of the education process.  Check out sports, groups and clubs that match your interests.
8th Grade Take good notes at those High School orientation meetings.  Meet with the guidance counselor early on so you can schedule the high school courses you’ll need to prepare for your college admission requirements.
Freshman Year

Start thinking about financial aid. If you haven’t had “the talk” with your children about college and the costs – now would be a good time to start. Be honest with your teen about how much you are planning to contribute to his or her college costs, and discuss a strategy for after high school. Discuss all options including 4-year schools, community colleges, trade school and military. 

Start looking ahead at positioning your family in a favorable light for aid.  Begin reviewing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) paperwork and meet with your tax preparer to assess your situation.

Sophomore Year

Keep track of your academic, athletic and extracurricular activities and any community service to include in scholarship and college applications. 

Check back in with your guidance counselor to talk about your plans and to get more tips for applying for scholarships and choosing the right college for you.  While you’re there, ask about opportunities for AP or CLEP credit with your local community college.  These can provide college credit for intro-level college course material at a fraction of the tuition cost.  You’ll have a leg up on your incoming college freshman peers.

Start researching colleges with programs of interest and balancing them with the costs of attendance.   Review the college search features at 

Junior Year

Don’t put off those college visits any longer!  Those applications will be due in less than 12 months! Don’t forget to budget for college visits, especially if you’re traveling. A great way to save is to bundle those campus visits with vacations. 

If your teen hasn’t  considered a summer job, now’s the time to do so.  In addition to offsetting some of those college expenses, consider how summer work might look on a college application. Help your teen create a budget for their summer job income that includes saving for future college expenses.

College is just around the corner! Assess your savings and budget to be sure you’re prepared for the upcoming expenses. 

Senior Year

Applications are due!  Get your paperwork in, as many schools have “early decision” programs. 

Start gathering up your financial information – you’ll need it to complete the FAFSA form.  Note – be sure you enter the correct income and asset information, as rules have changed.  For example, for the 2019-2020 FAFSA applications, you’ll be using your tax return information for the 2017 tax year.

Don’t forget to start stocking up on all of those college student must- haves.  Consider used cars, laptops and dorm essentials into gift-giving dates year-round to spread out some of those “back to school big ticket items.” 

Research scholarship opportunities aggressively.  Have information at your fingertips concerning activities, interests and academic performance. 

Have “the budget” conversation with your teen, so they know what expenses you’ll be covering and which ones you won’t.  Discuss a strategy for ways your student can contribute, such as a part-time job or a work-study program. Make sure your child has access to a large network of no-fee ATMs where they’ll be attending school, perfect for those late-night pizza runs.  Setting up a secured credit card or a joint credit card with a low-limit can help your child learn how to manage their cash flow and debt, and build a credit history, without getting into too much financial trouble.  

These tips should help keep you on track as you and your children prepare for life beyond high school. 

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Ready to start?

Connect with your local rep or call us at 866-COUNTRY (866-268-6879). Find out more about college savings plans.

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.