As college decisions roll in, many families are reacting to the news with mixed emotions. For some, the acceptance into their desired school was all that stood in their way of fulfilling their dream. For others, the reality that an admission acceptance was not their only barrier, struggle with a dilemma that they had not prepared themselves for…affordability!
As parents, we try to protect our children in many ways by avoiding anything that may be uncomfortable or troubling. I am guilty of doing this as well, even as my four “children” navigate through their 20’s. But what I found throughout their teenage years is that what we are protecting them from usually cannot be ignored. Whether it be a health scare or financial insecurity, teens should not be left in the dark. This is never truer for those parents of high school juniors who are starting the college admissions process.
At Peak, we discuss with parents all the time the importance of transparency regarding their family's financial health. First, we encourage parents to complete the NetPrice calculators on each college website. Second, we suggest completing the Federal government's Expected Family Contribution calculator. Third, and most importantly, each family should discuss with their student how much they will feasibly be able to contribute to the yearly tuition bill. Most high school students are not looking at the cost of schools when reading about desired majors or the exciting social scene, especially if their parents have not discussed college affordability at all.
Unless you can pay 100% of your child’s tuition bill, discussing your family's financial health is essential. Merit aid, scholarships, and loans are not guaranteed and should not be “the plan” for financing your child's education. By not sharing our financial abilities to pay for college, we may be setting our children up for some disappointment, frustration, and even anger. Nothing is worse than witnessing a student being accepted into their dream school and being told they cannot attend due to affordability. It is a much easier pill to swallow for our children, to be told ahead of time what the financial situation is and what limits your child has, before falling in love with a school and working hard to get admitted. I have seen it with my own eyes! It is heartbreaking and confusing and often takes the joy and excitement out of the acceptance.
When looking at schools with your child, please don’t focus on the school's name, how others rank it, or the acceptance rate. Most importantly, is the school a good fit for your child? Second, can you afford it? It is not the name of the school that will define your child’s success; it is what they do with their education and the opportunities provided to them. But don’t get me started about that…to be continued.
Some students have lofty goals and unreasonable expectations; however, it is our job as their parents to manage those as best we can. Be honest and explain to your child there is not just one school out there that is a great fit and to keep options open. It is ok to disappoint them, but ripping the bandaid off as early as possible gives your child time to heal before the wound gets too deep.